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WHAT TO WEAR FOR ANY OCCASION – how to understand dress codes

dress code fashion

Have you ever turned up for an event only to discover you were inappropriately dressed?  It’s embarrassing and instantly puts you at a visual and emotional disadvantage. 

Most occasions whether social or professional have an expected code of dress; some are written while others are implied. A dress code ensures the event lives up to the formality desired by the host and allows all attendees to be on a somewhat equal visual footing.  In addition, adhering to a dress code is a form of etiquette that shows respect to the host and assists everyone feels at ease with each other. 

Some stated dress codes i.e. formal and smart casual can be easily researched while working out what to wear to an occasion where the dress code has not been stated requires a little sleuth work and consideration.  

No matter what the dress code it can be applied with without losing sight of your own personal style. Whether it be a wedding, funeral, dinner party, gala event, Sunday brunch, public presentation, job interview, disciplinary review, or even a court appearance, choosing the right look for each is important in order to promote yourself in the best possible light, and to allow others to feel comfortable in our presence.  

Next time you’re faced with the ‘What do I wear to that’ quandary, ask yourself the following:

What is the occasion?

Is it a social, serious or sad occasion? Is it a formal or informal affair?

The occasion, will in most cases will determine the type of dress that will be expected of you. Any occasion associated with business requires a more conservative, buttoned-up manner of dressing. A business dinner and an intimate dinner for two are completely different occasions and should be treated as such. While for the latter it might be desirable to wear something a little revealing, it will be entirely inappropriate and is certain to be misconstrued in a business setting. In a worst case scenario it may be viewed as trying to gain the wrong kind of attention or to distract through sexual means.

Where and when will it be held?shutterstock_1810817601

The location and time will also have a bearing on the clothes you wear. If you are going to a restaurant renowned for its haute cuisine and high level of service, your dress will be expected to be in keeping with the image of the establishment. Local cafes and less expensive restaurants do not require the same level of formality.

The time will also give you a clue as to both the level of dress and the need to respond to the weather conditions like putting on a cardigan or wrap to keep out late night or early morning chill. Evening dining also tends to call for more dressy attire than most daytime dining.

Who will be there?

The entire group attending has to be considered. What is the economic background of those who will attend? What profession or type of work are they engaged in? What is the general age and gender of the group, and what relationship (if any) do they have to each other? Will there be anyone present who you are already acquainted with? If you will be trying to impress people, are they likely to be allies, neutral onlookers/participants, or will they be possible competitors? And if you dress or act in a particular way, are they likely to become confused, annoyed or amused? The more that you know about any group the better equipped you will be to dress and act in exactly the right manner.

Why am I going and what do I want to achieve?

Do you want/need to meet someone that you know will be attending? Will the encounter be used toward building a business relationship or personal one? Do you want to impress those present with your social savvy, knowledge, personality or position, or are you going just to been seen as having attended? The reason behind the intended meeting/gathering and the reason why you are attending will together dictate the type and way in which you will select the clothes for the occasion.

How will I reach this goal?

Your clothes send silent signals to everyone you meet all the time. Hence, if you are there to market yourself you will need to determine the target of your influence and dress in a way that will impress them. Would you have to wear the latest fashion, high quality clothes and accessories, laid back informal clothes, medium to inexpensive clothes, suits, dresses or separates? Often it’s helpful to dress in a manner similar to those whom you are trying to impress or meet. This tactic will remove one possible barrier of ‘difference,’ and can visually invite rapport. Ultimately for every situation one word can be used to sum up everything you do and wear, and that word is ‘Appropriate.’ Dress and present yourself in an appropriate manner and doors will opened to you and opportunities will be made available to you. Dress shabbily and inappropriate and you run the risk of being avoided, ostracized, or even ignored entirely.

Seek Advice

When in doubt, consult with the host or hostess of the event. If you are still confused on the dress code, seek out other attendees and ask what they are wearing so you can gauge your manner of dressing against theirs. 

Each Moring

A Job InterviewInterview

First impressions count therefore your aim is to look capable, credible, confident, and in-sync with the organization’s image. Always dress in a suit even if the job may later afford you the luxury of casual wear.

  • A tailored classic-cut matching skirt or pant suit in a neutral color is your best bet for serious professions such as law and finance. Mismatched suits are fine for many other interviews.
  • A contrasting colored top or blouse in a good quality fabric.
  • Good quality, neutral or blended hosiery in 10-20 denier. Carry a spare pair for unexpected runs.
  • Closed toe, medium heeled pump – well polished and in good repair.
  • Understated medium size classic style earrings and only one other on garment, non-essential accessory. For example, a scarf or brooch.
  • A classic handbag, tote or briefcase.
  • Current, light, flattering make-up.
  • Well-styled clean hair in a style that sits above the shoulders.
  • A smile to highlight your confidence and likeability.




Giving A PresentationPresentation

All eyes will be on you so the aim will be to dress in such a way as to exude confidence, command attention, and generate inspiration.

  • Wear color to be visually as well as verbally interesting.
  • Create contrast either between your top/blouse and jacket or your jacket and a significant accessory e.g., a scarf. A medium to light colored jacket or suit worn with a dark top or scarf has an exciting visual impact.
  • Cover your upper arms to raise the level of professionalism and formality.
  • Skirt or pants suits are often better than dresses as they allow for a microphone to be attached to the waistband.
  • If you will be on a stage or podium never wear a skirt shorter than just above the knee as the audience may be able to see up your skirt.
  • Quality shoes with a medium to medium-high heel.
  • Apply your make-up applied slightly heavier than normal if you are likely to be lit by a spotlight.





  A Dinner Party

Dinner Party

The level of dress depends on the style of invitation; word of mouth invitations indicate a relaxed level dress while those issued by written invitation expect
dressy attire. The more formal or expensive the stationery the more formal the dress expected. Business related dinners call for more formality of dress than those held with close or intimate friends. Curb any tendency to expose a lot of skin.

  • The classic little black dress worn with dressy accessories.
  • A colourful fashionably long or short dress.
  • A pair of grey or black pants with a beaded top or twin set.
  • Dressy jewellery.
  • Strappy and/or high heel shoes that are patent, fabric or beaded.
  • Evening make-up.
  • Small dressy purse.
  • Bare legs (if they look good) or sheer high quality hosiery.






A Funeral

At funerals you are there to show Funeralyour respect to the departed and share your condolences with the family. Modesty and propriety is the guiding rule.

  • Clothes in subdued colors or black.
  • Non-revealing classic garments in conservative lengths.
  • Waterproof make-up.
  • Understated accessories.
  • Classic shoes, polished and in good repair. Do not wear your high heel or fancy shoes if the funeral is to be held at the grave-site as you may find yourself stepping in dirt or mud.
  • A handkerchief
  • Dark glasses if you wish to hide your eyes. However, remove them when inside.



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