Dedicated: How to Dress for All Occasions

Got a date in your diary? One thing is for certain, you’ll need to look the part. While tastes and fashion changes over time the all-powerful law of the ‘dress code’ still dictates what clothes we should wear on any given occasion.

We’ve all been there, too, in that pre-event state of panic wondering and worrying about what sort of thing we should wear. We tend to ask sensible friends attending the same event – with the comfort of knowing that there’s safety in numbers if we all plump for an outfit on similar lines.

But how do you avoid this? The dress code isn’t a definitive list, tidily summed up in one book. That’s largely because it’s flexible and prone to change. Here’s how to proceed and ensure you’re comfortable in knowing what to wear:

Some people might think that different events – weddings, parties, etc – call for their own specific rules but that’s the wrong way to think about it.

As fashion consultant Laura Hunt points out, the first thing you need to do when you receive an invite is establish what the host or organiser expects from the guests. This is crucial and allows you to narrow down the rules from there. Here’s three of the most typical types of dress code (most others you come across will be variations on these themes):

Target's "labworks" Collection

Smart casual

This can be the most infuriating of the lot so we’ll start here. Do they mean smart or do they mean casual? Where’s the middle ground? Ignore the confusing name. What it means in practice is casual clothing, but quality casual clothing.

For men, we’re thinking jeans, T shirt and blazer. The difference is this doesn’t mean a tatty old pair of jeans that you’d bung on for any occasion, try a stylish new pair of jeans from Superdry, with darker shades better for the occasion. For ladies, think of a bright linen day dress or blouse-pencil skirt combo.

ZARA Linen Suit


Got a meeting or interview lined up? This is where your business dress code comes in. While many offices around the country are much more relaxed about what people wear these days, if you’re scheduled to attend a meeting or interview then the stakes are higher and your standards need to match.

This means men and women alike dusting off their best suits – possibly a formal dress for the ladies. Men need a tie (nothing too loud) while ladies can accessorise with their best bag or jewellery. The trick here is to think of the impression you want to leave. It’s much better to stick out in the memory for having been smart than for not.

PRom Dress Queen

Black tie

This is probably the clearest of the lot. Black tie events tend to be the strictest when it comes to dress codes. Women need to slip on their classiest cocktail dresses and men need a tuxedo or super smart dark suit with a tie or bow tie.

Any occasions outside of these three should either be clear on their code – if there is a specific theme for example – or will, on closer inspection, fit roughly underneath our headers.

This needn’t be scary or complicated. Yes, you need to respect the occasion and the appropriate clothing, but don’t feel constrained. Modern life allows us to be much more flexible in many social situations than in days gone. Be aware of the broad themes – and those occasions where the code is still strict – and find your own way of matching this while still feeling comfortable.

Probably watching Netflix.