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Your Dress Code Cheat Sheet

Weddings. Corporate events. Your nephew’s bar mitzvah. Seems like any and every event these days has a dress code. But what the heck does “beach formal” or “white tie” really mean? We put together a cheat sheet that demystifies the most cryptic terms on invitations. (While you’re at it, check out our guide to wedding-appropriate attire.)

Casual Err on the side of business casual--and leave the jeans, shorts and flip-flops at home.

Dressy Casual Go for seasonal look that’s a step above casual. For spring and summer, try a sundress with heels or dressy sandals or a jumpsuit. Men can’t go wrong with a blazer (linen or light colors for warm weather) and a button-down or polo. Ties are optional. 

Cocktail Also known as semiformal. A LBD and statement jewelry is a safe bet. Men should opt for a dark suit and tie.

Beach Formal Throw on a maxi dress with flat sandals (no flip-flops) and your man should wear either a summer suit or khakis with a button-down.

Barnyard Chic OK, it may not say exactly that on the invite. But if the event is in a barn or on a farm, you have permission to wear cowboy boots with a dress. Men can throw a bolo tie or just go casual with a polished denim shirt and trousers.

Black Tie Women should don a long gown and men should sport a tuxedo.

Black Tie Optional A.k.a. formal. Wear a long or short dress with statement jewelry. Men should wear a dark suit with a tie or bow tie.

White Tie This is the most formal dress code and usually reserved for balls and state dinners. Wear a floor-length evening gown with long gloves and put your man in a white wing-collared shirt, white bow tie and vest, satin-striped trousers and a black tailcoat. (The daytime equivalent is typically called Morning Dress.)

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