Dress Code Guide 101

7 min read

For many of you reading this, hearing the term “dress code” can either bring out a sigh of confusion or a groan of despair. In fact, most people end up using Google to see what each dress code means only to become even more confused as the definitions are too broad and often not defined by the host.

You’ll see websites giving you different definitions that contradict one another while also not fully answering the queries you might have. We hope to provide you with both! From our personal experience, you’d want to take note of these 4 most commonly used dress codes:


Black/White Tie

White tie, also called full evening dress or a dress suit, is the most formal evening dress code in Western high fashion.

Black tie, occasionally known in the English-speaking world by its French name Cravate Noire, is a dress code for evening events and social functions. It is a common misconception among many men that a black-tie attire means a regular black suit.

A black-tie attire actually consists of a Tuxedo (Single or Double Breasted Tuxedo jacket specifically either in peak or shawl lapel, and matching trousers with a satin or grosgrain stripe down the leg), an evening shirt, black socks, patent leather or a high shine cap toe oxford dress shoes and a self-tie bow tie. This attire is normally limited to high profile functions.


White tie VS black tie
White tie VS Black tie dress code. Image source

 Business Formal (A.K.A Lounge Suit)

A step down from the previous category, Business Formal consists of a full suit (matching jacket and pants), a dress shirt and a tie (no skinny ties). This attire is generally required for business meetings or networking sessions, or in some cases, interviews. In Singapore, most people will think that a dress shirt and pants will be considered as business formal wear, but this is actually considered as business casual. This is mainly due to our humid weather and culture. However, if you are invited to an event with a ‘business formal’ or ‘lounge suit’ dress code, you are expected to dress more formally than the usual day to day office attire.

Business formal
Example of business formal. Image from Common Suits



Business Casual

It is defined as ‘relating to or denoting a style of clothing that is less formal than traditional business wear, but is still intended to give a professional and businesslike impression.’ This is also the typical attire that people wear to work on a daily basis. This dress code allows men to have the option of not wearing a suit or tie (depending on your industry) and simply leaving the shirt, pants and dress shoes on. Men will look smart enough, but will not be overwhelmingly formal.

Business casual
Example of business casual. Image from Common Suits


Smart Casual

This dress code is often heard of for “Casual Fridays”/ weekends or from technology companies such as Google who do not place an emphasis on formal attire. For this dress code, jeans/chinos and loafers/sneakers coupled with a linen shirt is wholly acceptable and is the broadest in terms of definition among the dress codes discussed thus far. If you are bringing your special date to a fine dining restaurant, you can also consider throwing on a well-fitted sports jacket – it will definitely make you look a lot more impressive and stylish.

Smart casual sports jacket linen shirt wool trousers
Non padded shoulder construction sports jacket can be a huge boost to your smart casual outfit game. Image from Common Suits


Now that we have listed the 4 broad dress codes, we will address 2 major misconceptions and misunderstandings with dress codes in general and will provide you with information on what to do to overcome them so you won’t feel conscious about your outfit and look out of place.

Thus, the first misconception is…

1) What you see might not be what they mean

Don’t you hate it when you receive an invitation to a wedding, event or interview, only to have them simply say, “formal”, “semi-formal” or worse still, terms such as “summer formal”? Then begins your journey of trying to figure out what the hosts actually mean, and how you’re going to dress for that while being utterly confused.

Here’s the first thing you should do; Remember the four dress codes above? The reason why it’s so commonly used as a benchmark is that there can generally be only these four types of dress codes across the board! So regardless of what terms they use and how their message comes across, you’ll always be able to understand what they mean even if you don’t understand what they say.

If they include terms not frequently used, there’s where you can experiment a little. If you are facing a dilemma, go for a classic outfit that complements your skin and hair colour.


But what if they do not leave a dress code at all?

Cases like these (especially in Singapore) might mean 2 things; one, they’re going to assume either Business Casual or Smart Casual or two, they forgot to include the dress code. More often than not for most events, it’s the first one.

For instance, most men at their friend’s weddings tend to keep a business casual attire (without the tie) or simply wear a sports jacket, casual shirt, chinos and dress shoes. If it’s a much more formal event, however, then keeping to Business Formal is a safer bet.

Even basic smart casual wear can make any man look presentable

Smart Casual pin stripe shirt
Shirt: Slate grey stripe on midnight navy. Pants: Black chinos Image from Common Suits

2) How do you read the situation and compensate accordingly?

One of the largest issues that men have with dress codes is that the dress code itself may not be as strict or relaxed as they have initially thought it to be. Like many of you reading this now, we’ve had personal experiences in which we were too overdressed or underdressed for the occasion, resulting in embarrassing or awkward moments.

Most people would recommend that you read the situation and find out more information before deciding what to wear, but if you’re new to dress codes or still feel lost, a safe (and highly recommended option) would be to be dressed just a notch higher than to be underdressed.

It may take some getting used to, but once you’ve been to and seen enough events, you’ll be an expert at determining which events’ dress codes truly mean what they say and those that don’t.

Thank you for reading part one of our series!Do watch this space for more valuable information on dress codes and looking smarter than you already are!

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