Nail the dress code and you’ll avoid being on the other end of these glares

Know the dress code

No matter where you go there is an implicit dress code

Ever went to an event or location and found yourself feeling out of place? Those old sneakers making you feel awkward? That graphic t-shirt suddenly seems a little too loud?It means you failed to understand the dress code.

First thing to understand is that every venue has a dress code. Whether it’s a wedding, job interview, date or a night out with friends there is always a dress code. Some dress codes are written like in the office environment where there is usually a dress code written in an employee manual. Others are unwritten and can be a bit tricky to figure out like when you go out on a date, or even just meeting up with friends.

There are quite a number of dress codes our there, and some of them have sub categories. It can be a little confusing at first, but if you understand the three basic groups they fall into then you can navigate the various


For the most part this one is easy. If the dress code is casual then you can get away with wearing just about anything. Of course this is no excuse to wear clothes that don’t fit right, have holes, are missing buttons or otherwise damaged.

You can dress for casual occasions in just about anything from shorts and a t-short to chinos and a button up. Look at the venue, activity and company you will be with to inform your decision on how to dress.

The range and spectrum of what casual can mean

Beer with the guys at home on a Friday night? Feel free to put on jeans and your favorite t-shirt or team jersey.

First date at the bowling alley? Maybe opt for a nice pair of chinos and a well fitted polo or Henley with some nice shoes.

Semi casual — sometimes called “smart casual” — is not much more complex. It really just means a nicer version of casual. Stick to button up shirts or polos with a nice pair of jeans or chinos and a nice pair of shoes.

Business casual

This may be the easiest one to understand because it is written down. Consult your employee manual or make a trip down to HR to find out what this entails. You’ll be told in very defined terms what you are expected to wear.

Business casual can mean anything from jeans and a polo to you don’t have to wear a suit jacket but still need a shirt and tie.

Business casual can also be different from department to department depending on the company you work for. People who are client facing may have stricter business casual rules compared to those that work customer service or in IT.

Never try to guess what business casual is since culture, geography and time can make the rules change.

Always check the company dress code manual


It’s a good idea to get your formal wear tailored. You want to put your best foot forward.

By far this category has the most sub categories: Semi formal, black tie optional, black tie, white tie and others are all members of the formal category.

The good thing is that most formal events will spell out which sub category they fall into. Wedding invitations as an example will normally provide their dress code. If no dress code subcategory is provided feel free to call up whoever is hosting the event to find out how formal it is.

Generally in the formal category you can expect to be wearing dress pants, a suit jacket, very nice shoes and a tie of some sort. This is where you want to dress your best. Get the fit right, get your clothes and shoes cleaned, make sure there are no wrinkles on what you are wearing, button up and zip everything.

Bonus tips

  • If you really want to stand out and look sharp, always go one half step above the dress code. If everyone is wearing jeans and a t-shirt at your office wearing a nice pair of chinos with a v-neck t-shirt will set you apart from the crowd.
  • Ask what the dress code is when you’re not sure. Women have known to do this for eons. When they ask a friend “What are you wearing to the party?” they are checking the dress code. Now you probably don’t have to ask what the dress code is for the bar, but if you’re going to something outside of your normal hangout spots ask your friends. Worried your guy friends will ridicule you? Ask a sister, cousin, girlfriend or your mom. Your mom will also appreciate the call.
  • Be sure to pay attention to the fit in any dress situation. Casual does not mean you can wear a shirt that is too large for you. Always wear well fitting clothes.
  • Always wear clean and wrinkle free clothes. Yes that’s right…iron that wrinkly t-shirt and you’ll instantly be a class above your frumpy friends.