Formal dresses

What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: March 23, 2022
What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen

When it comes to social events it is a standard specifying the dress code of the guests which is nothing more than the type of clothing that fits the meeting or celebration which you will attend. Often this information can be confusing which is why on oneHOWTO we clarify what formal dress code is and what it is composed of for both men and womenswear.

You may also be interested in: What it is a semi-formal dress code

Difference between black tie and white tie

A formal dress code applies to more serious and elegant events such as a formal wedding, the anniversary of a company or a couple etc. or any meeting at which the organizers think that guests must be well-dressed, those also known as black tie or white tie events. Let's take a look at the difference between black and white tie attire:

Black tie formal dress code

This type of formal attire is only worn after 6 or 7 p.m and can be required for galas or weddings. For men, the required attire is a tuxedo. This tuxedo needs to fit the person perfectly, so it's best if it's tailor made and always needs to be accompanied by a bow-tie instead of a tie. There may not be much room for imagination as, generally, the required garment under the tux is a white shirt.

But what to wear to a black tie event if you don't have a tux? Don't worry if you don't have a tux, a formal dark suit and a tie can also do the trick. Anything from navy blue, dark grey, burgundy or velvet jackets are suitable.

For women, long gowns are a must for evening or night events.However, you should not wear dramatic necklines or very sparkly dresses, these will make a better impression in a festive dress code.

If you don't have a gown, women are allowed to wear dresses just above the knee, mid-calf or longer provided the materials and finishes are of high quality (not cotton).

White tie formal dress attire

A white tie formal dress code is the most formal type of attire you will ever wear. Commonly men will wear a tailcoat, which is similar to a tuxedo but has the back part of the jacket longer than the front. Waistcoats are optional, as long as the tabs are not visible at first sight. Cuffs, dress watches, boutonnieres and evening coats are great accessories for men to wear at a white tie event, which obviously also includes wearing a white bow-tie.

For women, similar rules to the black tie formal dress code apply. However, long formal evening dresses are a must and short dresses and trousers are never acceptable. Jewels can be flaunty and women should also wear gloves.

What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen - Difference between black tie and white tie

Formal attire for weddings

Many people confuse formal dress code with creative black tie code, but these are two different types. Formal allows less flexibility for both for men and women, while creative black tie must conform to a slightly less rigid rule.

It is fairly common to be asked to wear formal attire to a wedding, in which case, black tie attire may be suitable for both men and women. But what if the invitation just says formal?

In this case, for women, it means you can wear a formal cocktail dress or knee high dresses. However, short dresses are not as conducive to this dress code adapting better to cocktail or semi-formal events.

How can women wear pants to a formal code event? Wear silky and flared pants with a beautiful top that covers your midriff completely or combine it with a perfectly sober shirt and a shiny necklace to get the full formal effect.

For men, tuxedos are still pretty mandatory, however, the dark suit with a formal tie are also acceptable. For daytime events, waistcoats, morning coats and striped trousers are also appropriate. They should also avoid everyday suits which are made with lighter materials, wear finer garments with better finishes.

Need more information? Take a look at our article on how to dress for a daytime wedding.

What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen - Formal attire for weddings

Shoes for formal dress code

For women's shoes, heels are standard, either closed shoes or elegant sandals. However, the latter are forbidden in white tie events. Flat shoes or everyday sandals are not consistent with this type of clothing, just as accessories, which we'll cover later on.

For men, patent lace shoes are a must, which they should combine with black socks. For morning events, the shoes can vary in color if the suit is a different tone, but they need to be equally polished and also be lace-ups.

What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen - Shoes for formal dress code

Hairstyle for formal dress code

Generally speaking women should always go for updos when it comes to formal dress code hair. Use a fascinator, fancy clips or hair pins or slides that go with your outfit.

Hats and hairpieces are reserved for formal daytime events, and never with a long dress. Take a look at our article on hair accessories to wear for a morning wedding for more information.

Men should have well groomed hair, not necessarily sweeped, but it should look pampered. If wearing a beard, it should also be perfectly looked after, trimmed and soft.

What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen - Hairstyle for formal dress code

Makeup for formal dress code

Although you may want to go over the top, it's important to keep makeup simple, as you don't want to stand out too much. Remember that it is a formal event, and don't need to look like a Jackson Pollock. Therefore, go for natural looking makeup, with neutral colors. Red lipstick is not highly recommended for white tie events.

For more information we advise you to take a look at our article on how to apply makeup for a wedding guest and how to do makeup for an evening wedding.

If you want to read similar articles to What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen, we recommend you visit our Fashion & Style category.


  • Flaunt your best jewelry as long as you don't go mad and over the top. Girls should not wear tiaras under any circumstances.
  • Festive attire allows for brighter colors and to be a bit more daring and less conservative than pure formal attire.
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Rory Mahoney
In Ireland, girls normally choose long debs dresses for formal event.
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What Is a Formal Dress Code - For Ladies & Gentlemen