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Dress code explanation – black tie, white tie, cocktail and more

Table of Contents

Dress code explanation – black tie, white tie, cocktail and more

Dress code explanation with examples and background. What do I wear for a certain desired dress code or event? A little style guide and lots of styling tips. I’ve been getting more and more invitations and events with dress code hints lately. I am certainly not the only one who always has to think about what exactly she should or can or may wear there.

Do I have to do some quick shopping? Can I wear the same dress twice? Which color? I’ll show you my guide and overview of the meanings for some of the most common dress codes for events, if you don’t want to stand out directly uncomfortable at an event.

Dress code explanation - black tie, white tie, cocktail and more

Dress code explanation for different events

Come as You are

Often at birthdays, barbecues or garden parties.

  • She: don’t dress up, but look stylish and festive – e.g. silk blouse, jeans and pumps or vintage dress with wedges possible – should still be able to match the barbecue 🙂 – Sweater, blouse or shirt to the costume or suit pants are quite popular here.
  • He: do not dress up, but look stylish and festive – for example, modern shirt to jeans, but no bum look – at an event after the office, the tie may be removed. Sometimes even the jacket, depending on the boss.


Often at vernissages, garden parties, parties, receptions, fashion events, openings or cultural concerts – usually from 4 p.m. onwards

  • She: cocktail dress – short, ends above the knee – top narrow, skirt wide – high pumps, discreet jewelry, small black bag, updo especially suitable, discreet good makeup – sensual not sexy – discreet body – also ok: the little black dress with free neckline, shoulders and arms – but no beach dress – also plain dresses with flounce or waterfall neckline are possible – generally like pastel colors – also silk (flower) pattern pants with great top are ok, but with HighHeels – overall impression: elegant and restrained
  • He: dark suit with (often dark) tie (sometimes without), or stylish shirt with suit trousers and neat lace-up shoes. No sneakers! Pants should have a crease.
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Often for particularly festive receptions – usually held after 4 p.m. (weddings even earlier).

  • She: discreet costume (long sleeves, skirt goes up to a hand’s breadth above the knee) plus high closed shoes.
  • He: black or midnight blue lap jacket with striped Stresemann trousers, light gray vest, white collared shirt, silver-gray tie. Black leather shoes, with tie pin and cufflinks gladly. In the past also top hats.

Dark Suit

  • She: the little black dress, but color is also allowed – it must be short, e.g. a sheath dress.
  • He: dark suit with (colored or bw, we) tie


Often with creative industry, self-employed people

  • She: look nice and dress up – no rules – be creative e.g. jeans, skirt, costume jewelry, sneakers, sandals, kimono – no transparent tops
  • He: look nice and dress up – no rules – e.g. jeans shirt and dark sneakers – no shorts

Smart Casual

Often in creative industries, self-employed – a bit stricter than casual.

  • She: look nice and dress up – no rules – casual clothes possible, but in muted colors – e.g. dark jeans and classic or twin set.
  • He: look nice and dress up – no rules – casual clothes possible, but in muted colors.

Sporty Casual

Often at outdoor events or events with a sporty character. 

  • She: outdoor look, sporty casual.
  • He: Outdoor look, sporty, casual.

Business Casual

Often for business trips, casual company dinners – “no jeans – no tie” – also Day formal.

  • She: airy version of the business look e.g. suit or black pleated trousers with a blouse with a tie – no jeans and no casual look
  • He: suit without tie – rather in dark blue than black – no blue jeans and no casual look – also possible: dark jeans, polo shirts, knitted sweaters, shirts in decent colors, cotton pants, corduroy pants, decent leather shoes
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Often at executive level, bank, insurance company – formal, restrained wardrobe – also Day Informal, Business Attire, Tenue de Ville

  • She: classic business wardrobe or also refined cuts e.g. special blazers and blouses, but not too experimental – discreet makeup
  • He: high quality suit, preferably black or dark (dark blue, dark gray, anthracite) – with a good silk tie (may be colored).


  • She: short cocktail dress or evening dress, during the day e.g. a knee-length skirt or sheath dress, in the evening is a long evening dress or cocktail dress.
  • He: no tuxedo necessary – usually: dark suit, plain top shirt, tie and e.g. pocket square – caution: no loosened tie, rolled up sleeves and do not throw jacket over your shoulder.

Black Tie

Often worn at weddings, honors, receptions, balls, concert attendance or a red carpet appearance – also Cravate Noire (mandatory = black bow tie), tuxedo or small formal suit.

  • She: long evening dress – may be off-the-shoulder – if necessary, cover with cloth/stole at the beginning – the more discreet the dress, the more generous one may be with jewelry and accessories – in addition clutch or the smaller minaudière and high stilettos – popular fabrics: satin, silk or lace – hair gladly curled – beware of Christmas tree look
  • He: Tuxedo (England: Dinner Jacket, USA: Tuxedo) in black or midnight blue with black bow tie and tuxedo shirt – possible tuxedo vest, cummerbund, cuff links and white pocketkerchief. Originally: a velvet jacket with braids in dark red, dark green or dark blue.

Black Tie optional

  • She: long evening dress
  • He: tuxedo – bow tie may, but does not have to – tie not allowed // alternatively, however, also possible: dark formal suit with a plain shirt, tie and pocketkerchief.
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White Tie

Often worn at festivals, state receptions, premieres, military honors – also cravate blanche, tailcoat or large formal suit.

  • She: long, a particularly festive floor-length evening gown or ball gown – the most beautiful black, white or gray (or discreet) dress with gloves, trains and necklaces. Chiffon silk, lace and tulle – for example, designer gown with glittering stones – all may, but graceful. Wear hair closed – keep shoulders covered on arrival by scarf, stole or bolero – in winter it may be closed shoes, but never pantyhose – only silk stockings – in summer also sandals (without stockings) possible – often stylist help advisable
  • He: Tailcoat, white vest with white bow tie, white tailcoat shirt (shirt with stand-up collar, concealed button placket, turn-up cuffs) – white pocketkerchief, noble cuff links and black patent leather shoes possible. Top hat on request as well. Decorations are mentioned here depending on the event – meant here: to wear the awarded medals.

Holiday Chic

No rules at all – no direct dress code

  • She: gladly summer dress with patterns – during winter time this means Christmas style outfits with a lot of glitter
  • He: light chino with shirt – rather no jeans – during Christmas time this means more formal black suit or shirt style
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Dress code explanation for events

Of course, there are always events and occasions without a direct dress code – here are some guidelines that apply or that you can follow for orientation:

Wedding Guest

Often black tie optional and smart casual – never wear white as a woman

Opera visit

Regular – if not premiere or special performance: Black-Tie, Semi-Formal and Smart Casual are allowed.


No one feels like a fashion show there – so choose the most reserved and dark fashion possible.

  • She: a black suit or pantsuit with a high-necked white blouse – plus a black coat, depending on the weather. No bare legs – always wear tights. Less show is more here – discreet makeup, discreet fingernails, do not use perfume. In more rural areas, a hat is often expected as well. Dark accessories. Sunglasses are allowed in the cemetery. Remember good shoes as the walk from the church to the grave may not be pleasant. Choose hardly any jewelry.
  • He: black suit, white shirt, black leather shoes and preferably black tie, depending on the degree of relationship. If it is more spontaneous also a black, dark blue or dark gray cloth trousers with jacket and white shirt goes.


Semi-formal or smart casual -> i.e. suit


Confirmands: dark suit, light shirt, matching tie (sometimes also cloth pants and matching blazer). Guests: Semi-Formal

Graduation ball

High school graduates: dark suit (dark blue or black), light-colored (also plain) shirt and tie. Guests: Semi-formal – or dark cloth pants, dress shirt and jacket.


Connoisseur/Local: traditional dress. Guests: coarse plaid shirt, e.g. in red or blue with jeans or cloth pants

Job interview

Depending on the dress code of the company or position. Generally well-groomed – pressed shirt and suit.

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Dress code basic rules

Generally – styling tips & styling ground rules

  • always wear stockings or socks one shade darker than the color of the trousers / the suit
  • to the “little black” fits best rhinestone jewelry
  • the size must fit, otherwise the best outfit choice to the dress code does not work
  • you have to feel real and comfortable, but not dressed up – otherwise you will stiffen up and look out of place
  • the later the evening, the finer the wardrobe
  • rather overdressed than underdressed
  • black is beautiful

Button rule for jackets

  • single-breasted with two buttons -> the top button is closed
  • single-breasted jackets with three buttons -> the middle or both top buttons are closed
  • single-breasted jackets may be opened while sitting
  • double-breasted always remains closed! No matter how many buttons and whether you are standing or sitting.
Dress code explanation for events, like black tie, white tie, cocktail, smart casual, cut, come as you are, semi-Formal, wedding guest, funeral,

Conclusion – Dress code explanation for the right first impression

I hope I could give you some hints for events with my dress code explanation and small style listing. Always remember, better overdressed than underdressed. Overdressed can be loosened quickly, a pair of jeans will never become suit pants :).

Do you always feel dressed right or have you ever been wrong with your outfit choice?

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