ASK TARYN: Decoding the dress code

I know it’s hard to believe but we’re well into September now and that means wedding season, spring carnival races, end of year celebrations and even Christmas parties are all only just around the corner. I’ve had quite a few emails in relation to what to wear to certain events or asking for advice as to what is suitable to match a certain dress code already recently so while I have answered them all privately I thought I’d put together an explanation of what each dress code really means in an attempt to decode the dress code for you.

Starting from the very top…

White tie:

White tie is the pinnacle of formal dressing. Couture, extravagant formal gowns and even long gloves are all appropriate for white tie occasions. It is very rare for anything to be labeled white tie, even red carpet events usually only fall into the black tie category but if you do ever get the chance to attend a white tie event do not hold back, even wear a tiara if you want to!

Black tie:

The most common dress code for formal events. A floor length gown is highly recommended but doesn’t have to be something that resembles one of those poofy school formal gowns, nor does it have to be black or expensive. The gown should fall to just off the ground but the rest is really up to you. You can go as extravagant or conservative as you like for black tie but use your best judgement to suit that choice to the occasion. If you feel really uncomfortable in a floor length gown a classic little black dress is also acceptable.

Semi formal/cocktail:

Obviously a ‘cocktail’ length dress will be appropriate for this dress code but so will a skirt/pant and top combination. Particularly on trend at the moment are cropped top and midi skirt combinations which can be an incredibly chic take on cocktail wear over the traditional cocktail dress. Toni Maticevski is the pinnacle for this (and everything in general) but Bardot are currently showing very similar pieces for about one one hundredth of the price.

(Lindy Klim at MBFW in Maticevski)

Race wear:

For the races generally follow the cocktail wear guidelines however with a few key differences. While heels are a must for cocktail wear be mindful of where you will be standing at the track when choosing your footwear. Tottering around on grass in your highest heels after a few wines is no easy feat and is likely to result in ruined shoes and possibly a broken ankle. Wear heels but just be mindful of this fact and opt for something with a solid block heel or even a wedge. Also consider saving suede shoes for another occasion as suede and grass do not mix.

A fascinator or head piece is also required. I personally loathe the frilly floral fascinators that you see so much of at the races because I think they look oh so tacky. A milliners hat is a far more chic option and what I would exclusively recommend. Take inspiration from my favourite master milliner Danica Erard of DE Millinery (the incredible lady who created the world’s first 3D printed head piece, who I interviewed here).

(Jennifer Hawkins in DE Millinery at Melbourne Cup 2013)

Business casual:

Business causal requires a skirt or dress pants with an open collar shirt or sophisticated knit. A business dress is also acceptable.

Smart casual:

A somewhat dressy maxi dress, GOOD jeans (if you really, really must), a pant/skirt and top combination. This is chance for you to show off your personal style as you don’t really have to conform to a particular style of dress but this is still a code where you should make an effort. If you are going to wear jeans, make sure they are your best jeans with a dressy top etc.

Side note – Time of day: 

Weddings or other formal events that begin in the afternoon and continue into the evening generally require a more formal dress than morning events. If you are unsure of how formal to dress, consider the time of the occasion.

Finally I will leave you with a little piece of advice I like to live my life by: “If you are over dressed, what’s the worst that can happen, you’re the best dressed person in the room?”. While obviously not ideal, if you’re ever unsure, always go overdressed rather than under dressed, you will not regret it, I promise.

Please feel free to send me a message, here, if you have any other questions you would like me to answer!



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