In today’s smart-casual world, we don’t often get a lot of occasions to actually wear formal clothes; for that reason, when a formal event does arise, the pressure to find the right outfit can be enormous. Whether it’s a classy evening wedding reception or a fancy charity gala, if you follow these simple guidelines there’s really no need to get anxious about picking something appropriate and stylish.

Dress code

Start by checking the dress-code; there’s formal and there’s super formal. Check your invite to find out the level of formality expected. Here’s what is considered appropriate when your invite states the following dress-codes:

White Tie

Guys should wear a tuxedo (with tails), a white tie, white shirt and white waistcoat; women should wear a floor-length evening gown.

Black Tie

Black tie events direct men to dress in a tuxedo without tails, a simple white shirt, black tie and black waistcoat or cummerbund; again women should opt for an ankle-length evening dress or a glamorous yet formal cocktail gown.

Optional Black Tie

Men should opt for a black tuxedo (as in the black tie dress code) or dark coloured suit, with a light or white shirt with a conservative/smart tie. Women can wear a full-length gown, but a formal skirt and top combo or a cocktail dress are also suitable.

Creative Black Tie

One of the more unusual dress codes, creative black tie invites guest to be more playful with their formal attire. Men are expected to again wear black tuxedos but can mix these with colourful shirts and more fashion forward cummerbund and tie options. Women should wear a long evening or smart cocktail dress but can be more bold and experimental with accessorise – a great chance to express your personality with a hat, headpiece or jewellery.


If your invite states semi-formal, males should wear a business suit in a dark colour with a light coloured or white shirt and a conventional tie. Women can wear a formal skirt with elegant top combo or choose a glamorous party dress.

Fashion faux-pas

Even when you stick to the dress-code it’s still possible to get it wrong; ladies, think carefully about the appropriateness of your hemline and cleavage when attending formal event. For an evening party, a little leg or décolletage is fine, but try to be modest – less is more. When it comes to formal fashion, there’s a common rule too that women over the age of 35 shouldn’t wear a skirt or dress that comes up higher than the knee.

Don’t forget the finer details too; make sure that your suits and frocks are freshly cleaned and pressed, an unsightly stain is one way to discredit your formal look instantly! Take care over your footwear too; men should pick socks that match their suit and shoe colour, whilst women can have more fun with formal shoes they should still be practical and comfy.

New Look are a retailer of value fashion apparel, the second largest womenswear retailer in the UK, with over 1,000 stores worldwide. New Look’s designs range from party dress and jacket collections, to accessories and shoes.

Melissa Batai

Melissa Batai

Melissa, a mom to three little ones (ages 7, 3 and 1), blogs at both Mom’s Plans where she writes about living a fulfilling life on less and paying down debt, and Fiscal Phoenix where she writes about rising from the ashes of your financial mistakes.