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Career Development

Dress Codes for All Business Occasions

February 4, 2020

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Your wardrobe for a work event can help you get motivated to achieve a specific outcome. You may want to speak with your manager about something important with a client and show your interest in a promotion that night. Either way, you need to dress according to the specified dress code to get into the event and make a good impression while you're there.

In this article, we discuss what dress codes are, the different types of dress codes and tips in helping you dress for the event you'll be attending.

Read more: How to Get Motivated at Work

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What are dress codes?

A dress code is a set of guidelines that determines what people should wear to certain social events. In addition to outlining what employees can wear to a work function, it's also the standard code of conduct for what to wear at a school dance, club or other social event. The dress code can vary depending on how employees represent the organization. For example, you may interact with different clients, so they'll expect the organization to be professional and wear attire that aligns with the reputation.

Some smaller companies may prefer you to abide by a casual dress code, but they're willing to be flexible with you and the rest of your coworkers to see that you're comfortable with what you're wearing to the outing. An organization might try to use this mechanism to empower its staff by testing their critical skills to not only come up with a dress code but to position themselves to be successful going forward.

Read more: 4 Leadership Activities to Empower Your Team

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Dress codes for different occasions

Here are a few different dress codes you may encounter for a workplace event:

  • White tie
  • Black tie
  • Lounge suit
  • Cocktail
  • Business casual
  • Smart casual
  • Festive

White tie

A white-tie event is one of the most formal dress codes, as it's typically the signature attire for a fancy dinner or ball. Attendees are expected to wear a dark suit or floor-length dress, with male attendees accessorizing with white ties or bowties and vests. This event presents you with the option to wear accessories that accommodate your outfit, such as gloves, cuff links and a top hat.

Black tie

Black-tie events have the same level of formality as a white tie event. You should consider wearing a gown, dress or tuxedo to the event, but you need to pay extra attention to if the dress code is black-tie mandatory or black-tie creative, which displays some flexibility in changing up your wardrobe. Males should still wear a black bowtie or regular tie, but they can change the color in black-tie creative dress code in comparison to women who can spare jewelry or a purse.

Lounge suit

A lounge suit dress code, also known as business attire, can apply to events held during the morning, afternoon or evening. It's appropriate to button the top button of your suit to look more formal at these occasions, which can range from weddings to funerals. A dress should have a long sleeve or a jacket if it comes with one, but you can ask your plus-one for their jacket when necessary.


Cocktail attire is less formal for parties and other events with your coworkers. A signature little black dress is a common fashion choice for a holiday celebration, a reunion or anniversaries. A skirt and blouse work well if you're in a warmer climate too. Suits are commonly gray paired with a black tie at cocktail events, but you can forego cuff links.

Business casual

A business casual dress code is standard for most workplaces. However, it's suitable for an office event like celebrating a colleague's birthday during the workday, a white elephant drawing or an important company announcement. A button-down shirt, slacks and closed-toe dress shoes suffice for this type of gathering, but you can opt for a blouse or skirt as well.

Smart casual

Smart casual dress code is slightly more casual than business casual attire. This type of attire emphasizes being clean and tidy when you enter the event. Tailored pants with a button-down or polo shirt can serve you well in this situation, and you can adjust this wardrobe if your event is in warm weather. You can also select a sweater with a simple pattern, khakis and closed-toe shoes can be an alternative to consider if you're attending a networking event or cocktail party in your area.


Festive dress code is applied during the holiday season, but it draws similarities to cocktail attire. You're encouraged to leave jeans and a sweatshirt at home—unless the host specifically says you can wear casual clothes—but it's preferable to wear a button-down with a blazer and slacks to fit in with the style of the season.

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Tips for preparing to dress for an event

Here is a list of tips to help you dress appropriately for the next event you attend:

  • Collaborate with coworkers: Speak with your coworkers about the nuances of different dress codes for company events, especially if they have longevity with the organization. By knowing more about the dress code, the more comfortable you'll feel at the event.
  • Overdress when possible: It's better to be overdressed than underdressed when attending a work event. It's important to wear as many accessories as possible at a black-tie event or put on a blazer for a business casual environment, but you'll most likely get complimented for the effort you put into your preparation.
  • Groom before you dress: It's best to tidy up and know the arrangements you want to make to your hair and nails in advance. This way, you can visualize your desired appearance for event night and pick out clothes and accessories that match your look. You should also test out the perfume or cologne you plan to wear, but make sure you apply lightly before going out.

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