A Guide on Dress Codes for All Business Occasions

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 21 November 2022 | Published 17 August 2021

Updated 21 November 2022

Published 17 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Your wardrobe for a work event can help you get motivated to achieve a specific outcome. You may want to speak with your manager about something important with a client or show your interest in a promotion that night. Either way, you need to wear clothing according to the specified attire criteria to get into the business event and make a good impression while you're there. In this article, we discuss what dress codes are, review the different types and explore tips in helping you dress for your upcoming event.

Related: What Is Considered Appropriate Business Attire?

What is a dress code?

A dress code is a set of guidelines that determine what people should wear to certain social events. In addition to outlining what employees can wear to a work function, it's also the standard code of conduct for what to wear at a school dance, club or other social events. It can vary depending on how employees represent the organisation. For example, you may interact with different clients, so they can expect the organisation to be professional and wear attire that aligns with the reputation.

Some smaller companies may prefer you to abide by their code of wearing casual clothes, but they're willing to be flexible with you and the rest of your colleagues to ensure that you're comfortable with what you've got on for each day. An organisation might try to use this mechanism to empower its staff by testing their critical skills to not only come up with their own style, but to position themselves to be successful.

Related: Your Guide To What To Wear for an Interview

Types of dress codes for different occasions

Review these tips for various styles of dressing, so you can come prepared and dressed for the occasion:

White tie

A white-tie event is one of the most formal gatherings, as it's typically the signature attire for a fancy dinner or ball. Attendees often wear a dark suit or floor-length dress, with male attendees accessorising with white ties or bow ties and vests. This event presents you with the option to wear accessories that accommodate your outfit, such as gloves, cuff links and a top hat. You might also consider including some additional adornments to match the atmosphere like a dainty necklace, rings, fashionable earrings, bracelets or a small hand clutch.

Black tie

Black-tie events have the same level of formality as a white-tie event. You can consider wearing a gown, dress or tuxedo to the event, but it's important that you pay close attention to determine if the occasion is black-tie mandatory or black-tie creative, which displays some flexibility in changing up your wardrobe. You can still wear a black bowtie or regular tie, but it's also an option for you to change the colour in the black-tie creative code to appear more unique. In the creative style, jewellery and purses can function as elegant accessories.

Lounge suit

A lounge suit dress style, also known as business attire, can apply to events held during the morning, afternoon or evening. It's appropriate to button the top button of your suit to look more formal at these occasions, which can range from weddings to corporate gatherings. A dress may have a long sleeve or a jacket if it comes with one, but you can ask your plus-one for their jacket when necessary.

You can make this style stand out even more by adding on other elegant and aesthetic items like a wrist watch. Adding a handkerchief or stylish shades in your suit pocket is also viable.

Cocktail

Cocktail attire is less formal for parties and other events with your coworkers. A signature little black dress or an elegant, sleek red dress is a common fashion choice for a holiday celebration, a reunion or anniversaries. A skirt and blouse may work well too. Suits are commonly grey and paired with a black tie at cocktail events, but you can forego cuff links. As for accessories, you can try to keep it simple. You can wear a dainty bracelet on one wrist or slide your shades over your neck cuff.

Business casual

A business casual dress code is standard for most workplaces. However, it's suitable for an office event like celebrating a colleague's birthday during the workday, a white elephant drawing or an important company announcement. A button-down shirt, slacks and closed-toe dress shoes may suffice for this type of gathering. Business casual is a mix of both formal and informal, so you can dress more simply and still appear nice and stylish. Wearing cardigans or a fashionable sweater is also acceptable. You can also choose to wear a modest blouse or skirt as well if that's appealing for you.

Read more: Business Casual Attire for Men and Women (With Examples)

Smart casual

Smart casual is slightly more casual than business casual attire. This type of attire emphasises being clean and tidy when you enter the event. Tailored pants with a button-down or polo shirt can serve you well in this situation, and you can adjust this wardrobe if your event is in warm weather. You can also select a sweater with a simple pattern, khakis and closed-toe shoes can be an alternative to consider if you're attending a networking event or cocktail party in your area. Glasses, purses, watches and messenger bags work really well with this particular style.

Related: A Guide To Smart-Casual Attire for Work With Top FAQs

Festive

Festive attire is usually for the holiday season, but it draws similarities to cocktail attire. You're encouraged to leave jeans and a sweatshirt for a more informal event, unless the host specifically says you can wear casual clothes. However, it's usually preferable to wear a button-down with a blazer and slacks to fit in with the style of the season.

Some hosts might ask for you to wear holiday specific attire, like a funny hat or an ugly sweater. In these cases, the more playful, festive style is acceptable and sometimes encouraged. You might even wear this in a business setting if your company participates in specific holiday festivities. This can help lighten the mood of a stressful work environment and reassure everyone that it's fine to relax a little.

Tips to prepare your outfit for the occasion

Consider these tips on how to prepare a befitting ensemble for your upcoming event:

Consult your colleagues and team members

Ask your colleagues for help if there's an upcoming business event that you don't know how to dress for. Try to seek out colleagues who understand what's to be expected, especially if they've worked with the company for a long time. Learning the dress style beforehand can better prepare you to arrive in the appropriate attire.

Overdress if you can

It's usually a good idea to overdress for a business event than underdress. It's essential that you wear accessories if you're attending a gathering black-tie event or you can wear a blazer in an environment that's more business casual. You can expect to receive more compliments too.

Make sure you groom before getting dressed

Grooming is an important step to dressing up and involves performing actions like doing your hair, cleaning your nails, taking a shower and brushing your teeth. This ensures that your personal appearance correlates with your outfit so that they complement each other well. You can also try a few perfumes or colognes to see which ones fit best.

Go shopping if necessary

If you don't have the proper clothing for a specific event or occasion, then consider going out and buying some new clothes. While buying new clothes is nice, there are ways to shop for fashionable clothing pieces on a budget. Check out a few of your local consignment shops or thrift stores to see what they can offer. Many times you can find a nice suit or a beautiful dress that's much more affordable than a mainstream clothing retailer or expensive boutique.

Review your outfit in sections

One way you can assess your outfit for a business occasion is by laying it out on a flat surface and surveying how each of the pieces work together. See which articles of clothing work together and which ones don't. Once you've found a good combination, test it out in front of a mirror to see what you think. Repeat until you find the right one.

Related: Guide To Business Attire for Female Professionals With Tips

Avoid dressing pitfalls

Consider these pitfalls when you're trying to dress for a business event:

  • Avoid wearing mini skirts or shorts

  • Avoid shirts that show too much chest or midriff

  • Avoid ripped articles of clothing

  • Avoid wearing flip-flops or beach sandals

  • Avoid really see through clothing

What is the dress code in Singapore?

For most of Singapore, the primary dress code is business casual. This style works well for our warm tropical climate. Business casual mixes both professional and informal, making it a flexible and accessible clothing style for people. In business-related environments, like at work or at a company gathering, men usually wear shirts to cover their sleeves, but on a warmer day, a short-sleeve shirt is also appropriate if it's well maintained. Women can adjust to the humid climate by wearing airy blouses and mixing them with modest skirts and bottoms for a comfortable but work appropriate outfit.

Explore more articles