Our lives and careers take us into many different environments. When we move into unfamiliar territory, the best way to fit in quickly is to project the image that we belong by choosing appropriate attire. Dress codes vary among industries, offices, cultures, job sites and business occasions. There is no one-size-fits-all philosophy when you are preparing for any new and different occasion such as meeting, gathering, business event—do some research. Learn something about the environment, industry, and participants before going.
When you are in doubt on how to dress for an important occasion:
- Call the host or coordinator and inquire
- Call another guest invited to the same event
- Dress a level ABOVE what you think will be appropriate
- Research or visit where event is being held
The Dress Code Dictionary
The following are terms of dress that are often shared verbally or are printed on itineraries and invitations:
White Tie – Full evening dress. Women wear long, dressy gowns, and men wear a black tailcoat and white pique bow tie or equivalent military uniform. Diplomats wear decorations.
Black tie – Only after 6 p.m.! Women wear short or long evening dresses or very dressy separates, and men wear a black dinner jacket and black pants (or white dinner jacket, in some environments). Military personnel wear an equivalent dress uniform. (Beware of “Black Tie Optional”; it’s a guaranteed disaster. Men who dress in Black Tie feel overdressed, and those who don’t feel like party crashers.)
Informal – Traditional /historic interpretation of “Informal” was one step below “Black Tie.”—in other words, quite dressy. Women wore a very dressy afternoon dress or a short cocktail dress or dinner suit. Men wore a suit and tie, never a sport coat. Today it is misleading to use the term “informal” because of its many interpretations.
Business Attire – When you see or hear this term, it usually means business suit and tie for men; dress, suit or pantsuit for women.
Business Casual – Skirt and jacket or pant suit for women; sport coat with collared shirt (polo or dress shirt) without tie for men. Interpretation of this term varies between industries.
Dressy Casual – Follow the guidelines for Business Casual.
Resort Casual – Attire suitable for patio parties, luaus, pool-side parties. When in the context of a business conference/convention, clothes are more dressy than typical backyard attire.
Casual – Many industries have an extremely relaxed dress code, and “Business Casual” or “Casual” to one firm or community may not mean the same to another. Always check with your host and when in doubt, dress on level above what you think will be appropriate in order to look professional. It is always better to be slightly overdressed than slightly underdressed.
No Dress Stated– If event is held immediately after working hours, business attire is appropriate, o the text of invitation, the occasion for the event or the time of the event will dictate attire.