DEALING with dress codes can be daunting for those who have to attend events, networking sessions and parties, for social or business reasons.

Wearing something appropriate means you are respecting the host and other guests. Banish those pre-party jitters by decoding various common dress codes and be the centre of attraction!

White tie

A white-tie event is an ultra-formal event that requires gentlemen to wear tailcoats with a white shirt, waistcoat and tie.

A white-tie tailcoat is traditionally black with a peak lapel but can be worn with a notch or shawl lapel. A white shirt and waistcoat and black tuxedo trousers with side stripes complete the ensemble. Shoes are of black patent leather. Appropriate accessories include white cotton pique bow tie, mother-of-pearl studs and cufflinks.

Ladies are required to wear evening gowns. Knee-length cocktail dresses are not acceptable at these functions. Here is a chance for you to go for all-out glamour.

Select a gown in silk, satin, lace or velvet, or choose a design that has stunning embroidery or beading. Rhinestones and metallic materials like lam are also perfect for formal attire. Make sure your shoes and evening bag match the style of your gown.

Black tie

A black-tie affair is a very formal event which requires men to wear a tuxedo, wing-tip collar shirt, cummerbund and bow tie.

A tuxedo is different from a normal jacket suit as it has satin lapels, with satin side stripes running down the trousers.

A cummerbund is a broad waist sash with pleats running the length of it. The cummerbund should be worn with the pleats facing up.

There is a historical reason for this: In the past, ticket stubs were stashed away in cummerbunds.

For a black-tie party, women should wear evening gowns. Black is a popular choice but it is not necessary. Deep reds and plums, crisp pastels, and silver and gold can all look equally stunning, matched with classy accessories.

Black-tie optional

A black-tie optional gives men and women the choice of wearing tuxedos or long evening gowns, or the alternative of a dark suit for men and a long dress or formal evening separates for women.

Creative black tie

Creative black tie leaves room for trendy interpretations. Men can go more modern with tuxedos, worn with a shirt and no bowtie. Ladies can wear long or short dresses or evening separates.


Not as glamorous as a white-tie or black-tie affair, the formal event still requires men to wear suits, long-sleeved shirts and ties, and women to wear dresses or separates, which should not be shorter than knee-length.

If the function is in Asia, is more of a social nature, with no business involved, gentlemen can wear long-sleeved batik shirts or shirts with an orchid motif. Ladies can wear their national traditional costumes, like cheongsams, saris and baju kurong.

Lounge suit

This dress code indicates a semi-formal function. A man must wear a dark-coloured suit, a long-sleeved shirt and tie.

Ladies should wear cocktail dresses, ranging in length from just above the knee to about two inches above the ankle. Popular materials include silk, satin and chiffon.

Business attire

Men can skip the jacket but a long-sleeved shirt and tie is still necessary. Women can choose jacket suits, with matching skirts or trousers. Jackets with shoulder pads are formal jackets; those without are informal.

Smart casual

Smart casual does not mean jeans or denims. Men can opt for collared shirts and polo tees with collars and smart trousers, dockers or chinos.

Women can wear chemises with cardigans. Avoid halter necks, tube tops and spaghetti straps, unless they are worn underneath informal jackets or cardigans. To look smart, wear coordinated skirts or trousers.


This usually means you can turn up in anything you like, but do ensure that what you wear is in good taste. Know your "audience" and dress accordingly.

Office wear

Check with your company's HR department about the dress code if you are not sure how to dress for work. What some of your new colleagues are wearing may not be a good indication, as they may not have adhered to the office dress code.

Even if the company has a Casual Friday dress code, do not assume that jeans are allowed on that day. If you need to meet a customer on Friday, do wear appropriate business attire.

Keep these sartorial guidelines in mind when you are preparing for a function and you will relax and enjoy yourself.

If the invitation card states some other type of dress code not discussed above, and you are not sure what to wear, it is best to call the host and check. That way, you won't make any style mistakes and stand out like a sore thumb.