How to Dress for Any Occasion

Whether an invitation to an event fills you with joy or dread, it helps to stock your closet with pieces that can function like a Swiss-army knife so you’ll be quickly prepared for any occasion. Dress codes vary depending on the place so even when an event invitation specifies a certain style, it can still be a bit confusing. Let’s examine some common terms you might find on invitations and decode them to help simplify that crucial decision about what to wear.

Dress Code: Casual

Informal events are often assumed to be casual; think picnics, outdoor festivals, and walking tours where the focus will be on comfort (especially for your feet). Depending on the weather, shorts, jeans, yoga pants, or above-the-knee skirts and sundresses are typically worn along with tank tops or t-shirts. The expected level of physical activity will usually determine the best outfit, so think about whether you will sit on grass, perform heavy lifting, or spend long periods of time standing.

General Rule: It’s OK to have uncovered shoulders and knees and wear low-quality fabrics.

Dress Code: Business Casual

Business casual attire is now common in the workplace and suitable for many company-sponsored events. Unless the event is held at a theme park or sports complex, you can expect a lower level of physical activity (think conferences, business lunches, and meeting for coffee). This is a slightly higher level of casual that might not include shorts or above-the-knee skirts. Opting for capris, khaki pants, or a below-the-knee skirt is usually a good idea for bottoms. Some styles of high-quality pressed jeans could also be acceptable depending on the crowd, but ripped or fashion jeans are generally not considered business casual. For tops, golf shirts, short-sleeve collared shirts, or light cardigans are typically recommended.

General Rule: It’s better to cover shoulders and knees and wear medium-quality fabrics.

Dress Code: Business Formal

This is typical working attire for the finance, legal, political, or sales industries. Suits and ties are common for men, and business suit ensembles with matching pants or skirts are acceptable for women. This style works for networking events, high-end conferences, or dinner meetings that would focus on business discussions (rather than social). Business formal attire is usually worn throughout the day and into the early evening. If you have a favorite “Little Black Dress,” you can pair it with a suit jacket to boost your business style.

General Rule: Cover it up, although skirt-suits with above-the-knee skirts are acceptable with high-quality fabrics.

Dress Code: Semi-Formal

Often designated for evening events including holiday dinners, award ceremonies, concerts, or weddings, semi-formal attire allows people more of an occasion to express their individual style with a level of elegance and class. This is where the “little black dress” is the superstar, sometimes paired with a long wrap or shawl. Men typically wear suits and ties for semi-formal events. The thing to keep in mind here is how you want to be remembered amongst your coworkers or social circle the next day!

General Rule: Ladies, it’s OK to show some tasteful skin and style with high-quality fabrics.

Dress Code: Formal

Equate the word “formal” with “ball-gown” and chances are you’ll usually have the right idea: formal dresses and gowns tend to be made of thicker or layered material with intricate beading or lace fit for a princess or queen. Formal events are usually galas, formal weddings, or award ceremonies that celebrities might also be attending. Most formal events are held during in the evening, so make sure to bring a high-quality wrap to stay warm.

General Rule: Dress like you normally wear a crown on your head.

Take note of these tips and you’ll be dressed perfectly for any occasion.