Going to an event? Decipher the dress code

Jemma Mrdak 4 February 2016


Deciphering a dress code for a formal event, party or gathering can get tricky. Especially when words such as “Sophisticated elegance” and “Dress to Impress” are written on your invitation. Dress codes, and de-coding these codes is enough to cause anyone stress!

When receiving an invitation for such event, like the Diabetes ACT Gala Ball, it’s important to assess the dress code you’ve been given, and also take a look at the venue in which the event is located. This will first give you an initial idea of what to expect in terms how formal, or informal the event will be.

Smart casual, sophisticated elegance, semi-formal, cocktail and after five; the list goes on, and it can get very confusing! To assist you in avoiding this stress and confusion, I have developed a quick guide that will get you through each event for the coming year.

Smart Casual

You will most likely see this dress code used for parties and informal events. For women, jeans and pants are allowed and are a great option, however they should be teamed with a nice blouse or fitted top. Other great options, are a cocktail dress – but dress it down with a pair of ballet flats, as closed footwear is a must.

Guys, my one tip would be to wear a collared shirt and closed in shoes for this style of event.

Cocktail or After 5

For women, traditionally this dress code means a little dress that sits on, or just slightly above the knee. A tailored pant or skirt suit is also another great option, paired with a cream coloured blouse with detailing. A tailored skirt, paired with your choice of coloured top and a neutral style bolero is also a great choice, and also gives you the opportunity to dress the look up or down, depending on the situation. Accessorising is key with Cocktail or After 5 events. Costume jewellery can add colour and shape to your neckline, and can team your entire look together as well.



Local Canberra stores such as Designer Op Shop and Rebel Muse stock a variety of styles suitable for this dress code.

For men, a nice pair of tailored pants with a shirt works well, with a tie, jacket or blazer being optional.


Sophisticated Elegance / Lounge Suit

This would be one step up from a cocktail dress code. Ladies, opting for a more elegant dress, that is either full length or sits ankle, mid length is the best choice. For these types of events, a smart, cocktail dress with an added bolero or jacket with sleeves would also work if you’re not wanting to wear a full length gown. The most important note, is that your overall look needs to be elegant, and put-together.

I would suggest opting for a dress that has a detailed neckline or v-neck. That way, you can jazz it up with accessories. With the word “elegance” in mind, an up-do or sleek hairstyle is also a requirement. Black is always a safe colour option for these types of events, but the “it” colours of the moment are deep reds, pastels or cream shades. Head to Momento Dezigns in Manuka or Seduce for some great pieces.


For men, this dress code definitely means you will need to wear a suit and tie – but you can go crazy with the tie colours, cufflinks and other accessories. Suits in lighter colours are a great idea for those who generally opt for black suits. Braddon Tailors or M.J Bale should be your one stop shops on these occasions.


When in doubt, opt to wear what you know you’re comfortable in. This may be your LBD or LWD (Little Black or Little White Dress), teamed with classic accessories and classy footwear. For others this may be a jersey style dress that you know makes you feel amazing. Men, you can always get a away with wearing a suit – it’s better to be dressed up then under-dressed.

All images sourced via iStock Photo.

This article was written as a favour for RiotACT content producer Ellen Harvey, who is also a board member of Diabetes ACT. Consider heading along to the Guardian Angel Gala Ball, a fundraising event for the organisation. Diabetes ACT works “to overcome diabetes in [the ACT] community by making a positive difference in the lives of people living with diabetes, their families and carers”.

Writer Jemma Mrdak can be found elsewhere online at A Stylish Moment // www.astylishmoment.com

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