Getting an event invite – whether it’s work related, your best mate’s wedding, or someone’s fancy 30th – with any kind of dress code on it is always a punish. We don’t exactly live in the same world as our grandparents, when having a fancy dress or selection of slacks was the norm. Instead, we exist in an age where we can feasibly wear jeans every day of the week, including in an office, and it’s completely acceptable.

So what do you do when you’re faced with the term “cocktail” or “smart casual”? What do they even bloody mean, for starters? We’ve done a wrap up for you about how you can keep your ~personal brand~ on point style-wise, and still wear something appropriate so you don’t feel like a social pariah at your cousins $30k wedding blowout. And we’ve enlisted the most stylish guys and gals in Oz to help us out.

COCKTAIL

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People often assume cocktail means a full suit for men and a mid-length dress for women. And sure, back in the day it kinda did. But these days, fashion has taken a more casual turn, so don’t feel like you have to fork out for some high-end fancy shit you won’t wear beyond the event. You’ve gotta keep things pretty pulled together, but if you’re not a dress girl you can totally wear palazzo pants and a camisole, for example. And guys – avoid jeans for this, but don’t feel you need to be repping a blazer.

“If an invite specifies cocktail, I generally opt for a little black dress and a red lip, that way I know I won’t be underdressed,” says fashion influencer Ally Hayward. “For cocktail anything from midi to just above the knee is perfect
in terms of length.”

SMART CASUAL

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Ah, the most confusing dress code of all. Honestly, whoever decided to combine the concept of looking ‘smart’ with looking, at the same time, ‘casual’ is the worst. But while the concept is flawed this is the dress code of most office environments, and almost any work event that isn’t after-hours. Jeans can work here, as long as you pair them with something a bit fancy on top like a crisp white shirt, or a bell-sleeved blouse. For guys, jeans and a shirt never fails.

“This is where I am most comfortable,” says Editor of Tomboy Beauty, Chloe Brinklow. “I like to mix masculine and feminine pieces so it’s always a silk slip and a sneaker, or an Olsens-esque ensemble: jean, tee, blazer, pump , or kitten heel. If I were my hair messy, which is usually the case, I make sure makeup is minimal, fresh and clean, though I am not afraid to add a red lip, or a deconstructed smokey eye.”

It’s a good idea to steer clear of any details that make an item look ‘worn’, too – like rips in your jeans, tattered edges of sleeves or hems, that sort of thing. 

BUSINESS CASUAL

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You might think the concept of business casual is eons worse than smart casual – but you’d be wrong. Thing is, at least with business casual you know you’ve gotta step it up a notch from weekend wear into workplace attire. Think semi-relaxed corporate – no need for a jacket or business shirt, but trousers or corporate skirts/dresses are the go. And yes, you can kind of get away with jeans, if they’re a clean black with no fraying, and you team them with other, fancy items.

“Black jeans, a nice top, a boyfriend blazer and heels always work for me,” says fashion blogger Nora Chan.

BLACK TIE

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It’s rare you encounter this dress code in life, but sometimes weird things like charity balls or someone having a 30th that they’ve put way too much thought into happen, ok? And when they do, black tie as a dress code seems to annoyingly appear. The general rule for black tie is a full suit for guys, and floor length for girls. You can get away with mid-length in Australia though – we’re a bit more chill about black tie. 

“This is the ultimate dress code for looking sharp. For ladies, this means a midi or floor-length dress. For guys, a black suit is a must,” says Editor of Gritty Pretty, Eleanor Pendleton.

Just keep your hair sleek, your makeup fairly neutral (although bold lips can always be an option here), and go for heels or dress shoes. 

Got an eventsy side-hustle idea you’re keen to get off the ground? Enter our current comp c/o Set for Life, and you could with $5k to give it legs – plus you’ll score a luxe weekender in Sydney and lunch with epic boss lady of Gritty Pretty, Eleanor Pendleton. Enter here:

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Image: Instagram / @allymayhayward.

How To Decipher Dress Codes So You Don’t Look Like A Lemon