Cocktail Dress, Smart Casual, After Five… Crack the Invite Code!

Any invitation to a fabulous event inherently begs the question… ‘what am I going to wear?’

Once upon a time dress codes were strict; to stray outside of them was to risk total social outcasting! Now those days may be over, but certain dress codes can still strike fear into the hearts of guests when they appear alongside the time, date and place.

To help you through this potential fashion minefield, bEx gives some guidance of what exactly you should be wearing when the invite says


‘Smart Casual’ (aka: Casual-Chic, Elegant Casual, Dressy Casual)

This term is perhaps the most used and the broadest of codes, and it can be difficult to know how to navigate it. Essentially, the term calls for pulled together versions of casual looks. For her this could be a summer dress with a blazer or a tailored pant and camisole look. For him, a pant and button down shirt combo is a good option.

As a general rule, you’ll want to avoid denim, anything ripped (even if it is meant to be), leggings, mini skirts, and when it comes to your feet, thongs or suggestive boots. Keep your hair and accessories natural.


Aussie Designer Inspiration: Camilla and Marc, Bianca Spender and Yeojin Bae, SS 2012.

‘Smart’ (aka: Loungesuit, Morning Dress)

Slightly more sophisticated than ‘Smart Casual’. For women, a mid length skirt or a tailored trouser pairs nicely with blouse or a sophisticated short sleeve number. Think softer lines and classic tailoring for a fuss-free minimal look. For men, a lounge suit, also known as a town or business suit is called for here. A darker suit such as navy or charcoal grey is always suitable, whatever the occasion. Shirts can be coloured, ties are appropriate but not essential.

A pair of well fitting pants will make anyone feel a million bucks, so invest in a pair made from natural fibres (silk, linen, wool) and have them custom tailored if necessary.


Aussie Designer Inspiration: Lover, Alice McCall and Karla Spetic, SS 2012.

‘Cocktail Dress’

‘Cocktail’ requires something more dressy than ‘Smart’. Short (knee length to mid-calf) elegant dresses for her and dark suits for him. The LBD (little black dress) is the ultimate cocktail dress and appropriate for most special occasions. Don’t be afraid to accessorise with a bold cuff or a statement ring.


Aussie Designer Inspiration: Yeojin Bae, Alice McCall and Alex Perry, SS 2012.

‘Semi-Formal’ (aka: After Five, Informal)

This dress code is basically a lighter shade of ‘Formal’. Boys should opt for a suit and tie in a lighter colour. Girls should choose a cocktail dress on the longer side of the hemline or a trendy pants-suit.

Remember:  ’Informal’ is often mistakenly interpreted as akin to ‘Casual’, but it actually calls for the same style as ‘Semi-Formal’.


Aussie Designer Inspiration: Carl Kapp, White Suede and Bianca Spender, SS 2012.

‘Business Formal’

It’s the same as ‘Semi-Formal’ for men, but suggests that women opt for more tailored dress-suits and dresses. The idea is to be business appropriate, which means nothing too sexy or slinky but still dressed up. Tone down the accessories to a few classic pieces.



Aussie Designer Inspiration: Alex Perry, Lover and Arnsdorf, SS 2012.

‘Formal’ (aka: Special Occaison)

Girls should choose a full length dress paired with heels, a formal or glamorous suit, or if the event is during the day, a formal cocktail length dress. For Boys, a formal dark suit with a white shirt and tie is the go-to look. French-cuffed shirts are highly recommended.


Aussie Designer Inspiration: Alex Perry, Carl Kapp and Camilla and Marc, SS 2012.

‘Black Tie’ (aka: Evening Dress)

Gentlemen, it’s time to hire a tux. Team it with a French cuffed shirt, a bow tie and formal black shoes. Ladies, crack out the full length gown or a very formal cocktail dress.

FYI: a ‘Black Tie Optional’ dress code basically means that men should really wear a tux but a dark suit will also do.


Aussie Designer Inspiration: Michael Lo Sordo, Carl Kapp and Lisa Ho, SS 2012.

‘White Tie’ (aka: Full Evening Dress)

This is ultra-formal of all the dress codes. Men should always wear a full tuxedo or a long jacket with tails. Depending on the event, white gloves may also be expected for dancing. A full length ball gown is expected for Women. This is your chance go all out with the glam, so dramatic jewellery and hair are called for.

Aussie Designer Inspiration: Alex Perry and Lisa ho, SS 2012.

When in Doubt…

Consider where and at what time of the day the event is being held. An evening wedding will most probably require a more dressed up look than an afternoon birthday party on the beach.

Talk to others attending the event to find out how they have interpreted the dress code, or if you feel comfortable ask the host what they expect guests to wear.

Always make sure your outfit is properly tailored, cleaned and ironed, and in the end, it’s better to be a little overdressed, rather than under-dressed.


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