Hi A&A,

This week I received an invitation to a swanky work event and the dress code is listed as “Black Tie optional.” What the hell does that mean? I’m still trying to figure out what exactly regular Black Tie attire is. Help! I don’t want to look like a slob but I don’t want to look overdressed.



Jemma, we feel your pain when it comes to deciphering the “Black Tie optional” dress code. That’s why we have created a comprehensive list of dress codes and party attire definitions so you don’t show up wearing an over-the-top stole while everyone else is rocking their sneakers!

White Tie (sometimes referred to as Top Hat and Tails)

For occasions that call for the most formal of dress codes, dressing to impress Queen Elizabeth II is essential. Women should don full-length ball gowns and gloves are expected. Remember – nothing above the ankle!

Black Tie

This dress code is still formal, yet relaxed. A long evening gown or tailored separates are sure to make you look your best. If the occasion allows, even shorter lengths will work – just leave those bodycon dresses in 2007! You can still be fashionable and elegant without trying too hard – there’s no need for gloves or ball gowns here. Understand the elegance with this guide to the perfect code for dress.

Black Tie Optional (sometimes referred to as Black Tie Invited)

This can be incredibly frustrating. We wish guests would decide between Black Tie or Cocktail dress code, but this is a polite way of informing people that cocktail attire is perfectly fine if they don’t have anything suitable for a black tie. To make the decision easier, we recommend speaking to other invitees who might have more insight into what’s expected at the event – and if you’re still not sure after that, feel free to ask the host directly! Explore the nuances of different dress codes with ease in this insightful guide.


When we spot Cocktail attire in an invitation, our first thought is usually “color”. Of course, the classic little black dress can still be worn for this occasion but cocktail events are also perfect opportunities to express yourself through bright and cheerful dresses. Experiment with sequins, feathers, or even leather! Just as a reminder; if you’re attending a work-related event, make sure your attire is tasteful by avoiding anything too short or revealing.

Creative Black Tie

Leave your kitschy accessories at home; this dress code isn’t quite a costume party. For the most part, it requires an on-trend version of formal black tie attire but still allows individuals to express themselves creatively. Got that smoking hot tuxedo? Put it to good use! Feeling daring and want to go for Balmain with boots? We say go for it! Dive into the world of fashion and formality with a clear understanding of what are the different types of dress code.

Semi-formal (sometimes referred to as After Five)

Let your signature Little Black Dress do the talking and own the night! Forgo long gowns, jeans are strictly off-limits. Instead, top it off with a cozy pair of heels and you’re good to go.

Business Formal

For the most part, you should dress to impress in tailored suits and dresses. Make sure your outfit is perfect for a power meeting, as this evening presents an excellent opportunity to network – so be prepared!

[Related: How to Dress Professionally for Your Body Type]

This was originally published in The Politesse.

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