Decoding The Dress Code: What To Wear To A “Formal” Event

Black dress | black tie wedding | black tie evening | black tie attire | black tie gown | black tie event dressesDid you just receive an invitation in the mail for a wedding or a “formal” evening event and have no clue what to wear?  Formal events are exciting, but can be stressful at the same time. Sometimes I feel like I have a full closet with nothing to wear. Can anyone else relate? Today I am hoping to help you “decode” the different dress codes by explaining how to decipher what dress code to follow, as well as giving tips for creating your outfit and examples of what to wear for each dress code.

This post was requested a while ago and is way overdue. I sincerely apologize for the delay. Life has been a little crazy lately with Match Day being so close. There has been a lot on my mind, so I am having trouble focusing and finishing projects (you should see how crazy my house is). I have also been out of town a lot over the weekends and feel like I haven’t had any time to catch my breath since I work full-time during the week. I am excited to share a bonus post this week.

Semi formal dresses | semi formal outfits for women | semi formal attireTips to Deciphering The Dress Code:

Before you can pick out an outfit, it is important to figure out what dress code is expected. Here are some clues to help you decide.

  1. What does the invitation look like?Is it dressy or is it casual? This will help you decide the “vibe” of the party.
  2. Location:Where is the event? This will make a huge difference on what you wear.
  3. Type of Event:Is it a wedding or is it a cocktail party? If it is a wedding, I don’t advise going for a sexy look.
  4. Clues:Does the invitation say semi-formal wear or cocktail attire? Does it not say anything about the dress code at all? If it is a wedding, does the couple have a wedding website? If so, there are probably clues on their wedding website. If it’s a wedding, what is the person like? I personally would never recommend wearing jeans to a wedding (unless the couple says to). If the couple is pretty casual, chances are they don’t expect you to show up in a ball gown.

Tips For Creating Your Outfit:

  1. Accessorize: adding a statement piece like earrings or a necklace can take your outfit up a notch
  2. Hair: Doing an up do or a dressy hairstyle will really help dress up your look
  3. If in doubt, overdress: This is my life motto
  4. Safe zone: If you have no clue what to wear, a darker color like black or navy will usually keep you in the safe zone.
  5. Look at sites to borrow a dress: I personally do not have hundreds of dollars laying around when an event comes up. I am blessed to be able to usually borrow dresses from my mom, since we are the same size. I have heard good things about sites like Rent The Runway. I have never rented a dress, but plan on trying this.
  6. Plan Ahead: This will help you not get stressed.
  7. If you’re attending a wedding, save the white for the bride.

Examples Of Different Dress Codes:

 Black tie:

Black dress | black tie wedding | black tie evening | black tie attire | black tie gown | black tie event dresses Black dress | black tie wedding | black tie evening | black tie attire | black tie gown | black tie event dressesThis is the dressiest of the different dress codes. If it is black tie, I personally would wear a floor length dress like the one in my picture. This was actually a dress I wore as a bridesmaid at one of my friend’s weddings. I added a little faux fur coat, heels, and dressy earrings to dress it up. Black tie can be pretty dressy, so I have provided some more examples below. According to Emily Post, you can wear a dressy cocktail dress or your dressiest “little black dress”. I would recommend dressy accessories.

Black Tie Outfit Ideas: Get 5% off with code “inslove”


Black tie optional:

Semi formal dresses | semi formal outfits for women | semi formal attire Semi formal dresses | semi formal outfits for women | semi formal attire To me, black tie optional is an event where you can go all out and wear the formal floor length gown, but it’s only if you want to. Emily Post recommends formal floor length gowns, dressy cocktail dresses, a little black dress, or dressy separates. I used this sequin dress as an example. It would be perfect for semi-formal too.

Black Tie Optional Outfit Ideas:


What to wear to a wedding | JJs house dress | Semi-Formal dress | what to wear to a wedding

I think semi-formal is the way to go for most weddings that don’t specify a dress code. For semi-formal outfits, it is all about how you accessorize. I also think fabric choice is important for a semi-formal look. This pink dress would be perfect for a semi-formal event. I think the accessories I styled with make it a little more formal, too. Emily Post recommends a short afternoon or cocktail dress, a “little black dress”, a long dressy skirt and top, or dressy separates.

Semi-Formal Outfit Ideas: Dress Above c/o Get 5% off with code “inslove”  

Cocktail/Festive Attire: SHEIN-Embroidered-Mesh-Overlay-Skater-Dress.

Full blog post here
Shop This Look: 


Full blog post here
Shop This Look: 

This is usually what you would expect for a holiday party. I would personally recommend a cocktail dress, skirt or black pants. I am using this dress I wore for my birthday post as an example, since it is festive. Emily Post recommends cocktail dresses, long dressy skirts and a top, an outfit with dressy pants, or a “little black dress, and recommends to wear colors that fit into the holiday.

Business Casual:

work wear for couple | fashionable couples | business casual | office style | 9 to 5 style

Full blog post here
Business Casual Outfit Ideas: 

If it is a business party, chances are it will be business casual or conservative cocktail attire. I added a statement necklace to make this business look more me. Emily Post recommends skirts, khakis, or pants, a dress or open-collar shirt.

 Do you have an event coming up?  If you ever have questions about what to wear to an event, feel free to email me at



  1. February 16, 2018 / 12:18 pm

    Such a great post and great tips! Dressing for events can be so tough. I am excited to try your tips!

    • abyersguide
      February 16, 2018 / 12:19 pm

      Thank you so much, Courtney. Oh gosh yes it is! I hope they help.

  2. 21flavorsofsplendor
    February 16, 2018 / 12:44 pm

    Love all the looks. You also gave great tips that I will have to keep in mind for when I receive my next party and wedding invitation.

    • abyersguide
      February 16, 2018 / 3:26 pm

      Thank you so much. I hope they’re helpful. Have a nice weekend.

  3. Alexandra
    February 16, 2018 / 1:58 pm

    I’m an over-dresser too. It’s just nice to look nice, right? (The pink dress at the end is my fav.)

    • abyersguide
      February 16, 2018 / 3:26 pm

      I feel the same way. I feel better when I’m dressed up. Thanks girl.

  4. February 16, 2018 / 2:03 pm

    I love this! I never know quite what to wear!

    • abyersguide
      February 18, 2018 / 8:34 pm

      Thank you so much, Jennifer! I hope this helped 🙂

  5. February 16, 2018 / 6:51 pm

    Oh my gosh – this is SO SO Helpful. I’m always especially stumped with business attire. That’s a tricky one for me. I never thought to find a dress rental before, but that makes total sense. Thanks for the brilliant suggestion!

    • abyersguide
      February 18, 2018 / 8:35 pm

      I am so glad you found this helpful! Business attire can be very tricky.

  6. February 16, 2018 / 7:27 pm

    So helpful Courtney!! I hate when people wear jeans to a wedding lol

    • abyersguide
      February 18, 2018 / 8:36 pm

      OMG I could not agree more! It drives me nuts. Thank you.

  7. February 18, 2018 / 4:31 pm

    Wonderful post and tips Courtney, you have all the bases covered for us on every event type! I have a wedding in October coming so that should be exciting! Have a nice day, hugs, Terri xo.

    • abyersguide
      February 19, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      Thank you so much for reading, Terri! I hope these tips help for the October wedding <3 xo Courtney

  8. Lindsey Puls
    February 19, 2018 / 3:15 pm

    This tips are all spot on, Courtney! This was a really good idea for a post! I remember getting so nervous when I would receive a “formal dress code” invitation. All of the looks you featured here are fantastic! I hope everything surrounding Match Day is going well! 🙂

    • abyersguide
      February 20, 2018 / 9:08 am

      Aw thank you so much, Lindsey! It really can be sooo hard, but I am glad you thought my tips help. Thank you, it is less than a month away. I cannot believe it.

  9. February 19, 2018 / 5:51 pm

    I love the dresses you wore and the link of dresses! So pretty! Great tips too!

    • abyersguide
      February 20, 2018 / 9:09 am

      You are so sweet! Thank you so much!

  10. February 19, 2018 / 11:40 pm

    Such a great and helpful post!!! You looked stunning by the way!

    Agus (

    • abyersguide
      February 20, 2018 / 9:07 am

      Aww thank you so much! You are so sweet.

  11. February 20, 2018 / 8:50 am

    Wow so many great options here

    • abyersguide
      February 20, 2018 / 9:04 am

      Thank you so much! I hope you have a nice day 🙂

  12. Sarah Packer
    June 12, 2019 / 8:23 am

    I’ve always had trouble dressing formally whether it be for a wedding or school dances. Even if I look at the invitation, I can’t decide how formal I should go, so it’s good advice that when in doubt, overdress; I don’t think a formal, cute dress is ever the wrong way to go. I’ll think about this article and refer to it the next time I have to go to a formal event.

    • abyersguide
      June 13, 2019 / 10:47 am

      Thank you for reading, Sarah! It really can be hard to know what to wear, but when in doubt over dressing is my answer.

  13. August 8, 2019 / 8:13 am

    I liked that you mentioned you need to know what kind of event you are attending to. My sister and I were invited to an event, and we are looking for advice about what to wear. I will pass this information to her to help her understand the dress code of every event.

    • abyersguide
      August 8, 2019 / 8:02 pm

      Thanks for reading, Ellie! I hope this helps you both know what to wear for the event 🙂

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