The worst part about a dress code is that everyone seems to interpret them differently. If you’ve ever attended a ‘black tie’ event and seen a guest in jeans and t-shirt, that guest got it wrong. It’s easy to go either too casual or too formal, so striking the balance is important. In a corporate environment, it can be difficult to gauge how serious the dress code is, especially if you’re coming in as a new employee. In order to stay on the smart side of smart-casual, familiarise yourself with the dress code terms and what they mean.

Dress Code Terms You Should Know

Black tie

When something says it is black tie, you’d better suit up. Fancy weddings, galas and balls, any big life event (like an anniversary) or perhaps a company party are usually black tie. Men should wear tuxedos with a black tie and black leather dress shoes. For women, a floor-length evening gown is appropriate. Sometimes, the host won’t mind women wearing cocktail attire to a black tie event.

Cocktail Attire

With a cocktail party or any event that requests guests come in their cocktail attire, men are expected to wear dark suits with a dark tie. For women, it was traditionally a dress that finished at the ankles, so not quite floor-length; however this isn’t really the case anymore. Any dress that’s around knee-length can be appropriate for cocktail attire.

Business casual

This is the dress code for most offices. Typically, the rules say no sneakers and no jeans, but sometimes leggings/tights and t-shirts are also a no-no. It’s a tricky code to crack because business casual is somewhat of an oxymoron, they’re two contradictory terms stuck together to form a style. So, when faced with a business casual dress code, men should be wearing dress pants or khakis, with a collared shirt and a belt. For women, pencil or knee-length dresses and skirts with a blouse is the way to go.

Smart casual

This is a dressed up version of casual, wherein you wear your best jeans or trousers, with a button up or polo shirt. For women, it’s very easy to make something smart casual by adding a blazer or tailored jacket to a skirt and blouse combination. Playing with patterns is appropriate for smart casual; it doesn’t have to be dark colours at all.


Jeans, skirts, t-shirts (preferably the ones without holes) and basically anything you wear when you’re being casual. Depending on the occasion, thongs or open-toed shoes and ripped items of clothing might not be appropriate, but that’s event-specific. Some clubs (including RSL and Leagues’ clubs), bars and bistros will refuse entry to persons wearing thongs or torn clothes.

Casual Fridays

In the office, having casual Friday’s breaks up the business or smart casual of the rest of the week. While it’s probably fine to wear jeans and sneakers on casual Fridays, check with your boss. Some workplaces have rules that short sleeved polo shirts and chinos are the limit of casual they’ll accept. No band shirts or short-shorts! But you never know, and if you’re in doubt, just keep it the same as every other day.

If you’re ever unsure of what your host expects from you in terms of dress code, ask. It’s much better to check and have them know you’ll be trying your best rather than rock up in your interpretation and get yourself blacklisted.