The Cheater’s Guide to What Business Formal (and Other Dress Codes) Means

We’ve all been there. You’re scanning over the invitation to “that thing” (wedding, business dinner, business meeting, club meeting, sports banquet, school dance, etc.) and you see the dress code line, which should read something like this:

“This is a Black Tie Event.” or perhaps, “Please wear business casual attire.”

Now if you’re anything like me, you jump on Google, type “Men’s business casual outfit” in the search bar, click images because no one uses, and try your best to match whatever outfit the first one or two pictures show with something in your own wardrobe. Even though that gets the job done, it’s nice to have a working knowledge of Dress Code Terminology so that you can be prepared for any sort of event, especially because we know that our viewers are the kind of people that get invited to things. Here are some of the most commonly used Dress Code Terms and what they mean.

Black Tie Event

Men: Fellas are going to want to wear a black tuxedo with matching pants, pleated or piqué (fabric with an outer ribbing) white shirt, and a black bow tie. Cuff links are to always be worn along with shirt studs to cover up those buttons. Replace your leather belt with a pair of black suspenders and either wear a cummerbund (ribbon-like waistband that goes around the stomach and lower back) that matches your tie or just stick with a black vest. Don’t get too fancy with the footwear. Black shoes and black socks will get the job done every time.

Women: Ladies have three options. Wear an elegant evening gown, a fancy cocktail dress, or your best “little black dress” Make sure to break out those prized heels that every woman saves for an event like this and you will be all set for the event. You can’t go wrong, you’ll look stunning.

Black Tie Optional

Men: You guys have a little more leeway to dress formally than you would with a strict Black Tie Event. Like the name says, you may choose to dress in a tuxedo, or you may also wear a dark suit with a white shirt and conservative tie. Be sure to complete either outfit with leather shoes and dark socks.

Women: Sorry, ladies. There’s nothing much more that you can do here, partly because you had so many options for a normal Black Tie Event. What you can do is start experimenting with accessories. Make sure to have fun with them, but don’t overload.


Men: Now you guys can lose the tuxedo and just wear a plain dark suit. The vest here is optional, but you are required to wear a dress shirt and tie. Ties can start having more elaborate patterns and designs, but don’t make them too bold. It is still considered a formal event (well, semiformal). Like the past two events, leather shoes and dark socks should still be worn.

Women: Now is the time to lose the evening gowns and replace them with a nice cocktail dress, long skirt and top, or any “little black dress”. Play around with accessories and dressy separates, just keep whatever you wear within reason…

Business Formal/Professional

Men: Men, same as Semiformal but make the tie pretty conservative. This is a business event after all.

Women: Because you have pretty much had to wear the same things for the fancier events, we’ll give you more options here. You can finally wear a suit if you wish, or pull together a dress with a jacket. Are your feet still hurting from the fancier events? Well now is when you can give them a rest and slip on shorter heels or a nice pair of flats.

Business Casual

Men: There are two styles to go after here: a blazer and slacks or a sport coat and khakis. Both should be worn with a dress shirt or a casual button-down. A tie is not required but if you have a burning passion to wear one, go for it. If you’d like, you can replace your dressier shoes with a pair of loafers.

Women: On top, wear an open-collar shirt, sweater, or one of your better-looking knit shirts. On bottom, wear a skirt, khakis, or slacks. If all else fails, you can never go wrong with a dress either.


Men: Just like it sounds, dress casually, but don’t look like a bum. A plain t-shirt, sweater, turtleneck, button-down, or a polo will all look good. Khakis or a pair of dark jeans can be worn on bottom as long as there are no holes or rips. Any pair of shoes will be okay here, whether it be sneakers, loafers, or sandals.

Women: Sundress, skirt (long or short), sweater, polo, khakis, jeans, blouse, shorts. The options are endless. You can pretty much get away with anything in this event as long as the outfit isn’t a graphic t-shirt and sweatpants.

Thank you for reading and hopefully next time you get invited to a Black Tie Optional Event, you’ll know exactly what to wear…or go to the store the day before and buy. Subscribe or Share if you liked it and have a great and safe Halloween weekend!!! And if you’re thinking, “they should’ve written a Halloween Article for Halloween,” here it is:


Do whatever the heck you want. But remember the most important rule of fashion (and this include Halloween costumes): You have to OWN it. Don’t walk out of that house and think, “Am I a sexy enough mouse?” or, “The zombie bride didn’t work out to0 well for Cady Heron in Mean Girls, but do you think I could pull it off?” or, “Does it look cocky that I’m wearing no sleeves when its 41 degrees outside to show off my subpar muscle tone?” OF COURSE IT’S COCKY! Especially considering you did six sets of curls and four sets of dips before going out that night. BUT OWN IT! And sweetheart, you go out and be the sexiest mouse or scariest zombie bride the world has ever known. Own it. Have fun and be safe!


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