Decoding the Dress Code

Clothes folded and organized

The holiday season is just around the corner, and that means family gatherings, holiday events and parties galore. Some of those events will be casual, but what about the invitations that specify a dress code? The options are more than just black tie and cocktail these days, and if a dress code is specified, you’ll be expected to show up in a specific type of attire.

There’s no need to panic, though; we’ll help you crack the dress code. And, be sure to prepare for the holiday festivities by going through your closet and evaluating your party wear ahead of time (maybe this weekend?). Bring any items that need to be cleaned or mended to your nearest Max I. Walker location, and we’ll make sure you make a dazzling entrance at your next big event.


If the invitation says to dress in casual clothes, then your options are open and you’ll be comfy. Jeans or yoga pants, a sweatshirt, and sneakers or casual shoes are just fine for both men and women.

Casual Dressy or Smart Casual

For this look, take your typical casual look and dress it up a bit. Think very nice jeans or casual pants, a blouse for women, a blazer for men, and comfy but stylish shoes. Women may also opt for a skirt instead of pants.

Business Casual

Business casual is the norm at many companies, and the key is to remember this: no jeans, no sneakers. For women, common items are tailored trousers or skirts (below the knee), blouses, and sweaters. For men, it means trousers or chinos with a belt and a button-down shirt. Shoes should be sensible but dressy and stylish — for ladies that usually means heels. Depending on the company’s policy, women may be able to wear dressy sandals during the summer months, but men typically can’t.

Business Formal

Some companies, such as law firms, require employees to wear business formal clothing, and you’ll also find this dress code is common at semiformal daytime events. For women, this means a tailored dress or pantsuit; for men, it means a suit and tie.

Garden Attire or Beach Formal

Going to a lunch at the country club or a beachside wedding? Then you might be asked to wear garden attire or beach formal. Both of these typically mean nice, lightweight, light-colored clothing in natural fabrics. A linen suit works well for men; a linen dress or pantsuit will do for women. If the event is on a beach, then sandals or open-toed shoes are acceptable. For garden attire shoes, consider that you may be walking on grass, so spikey heels are out. Choose shoe styles that won’t sink into the dirt or grass.


Especially at the holidays, you’ll find invitations requesting that guests wear “festive” attire. This doesn’t mean your favorite ugly sweater (unless it’s an ugly sweater party, that is). For women, it means cocktail attire with a holiday flare, such as beads or sequins, metallic tones, and colorful satin. For men, it means a suit with a holiday-themed tie.

Cocktail or Cocktail Chic

Cocktail dress means you should be well-dressed — no shorts, jeans or T-shirts. Men should wear a dark suit with a tie. Women should wear short or cocktail-length dresses — your favorite little black dress, for example. Jewelry can be fun but not gaudy, and your shoes should be dressy and classy.


This one’s tricky because it’s a bit vague. Essentially, your host is asking you to dress very nicely, but not quite as formal as black tie optional. Men should wear dark-colored business suits and dress shoes. A vest is optional. Women can choose a long dress, a long skirt with a dressy top, or a little black dress. Get out those gorgeous shoes, too, ladies.

Black Tie Optional

Just because the invitation says “optional” doesn’t mean you can show up in casual clothes for these events. It means that you can dress in black-tie attire — a tuxedo or evening gown — or you can opt for one step down. For men that means a dark suit with a tie, and for ladies that means a cocktail dress or dressy separates. Regardless, formalwear is required for these occasions.

Creative Black Tie

In case you thought you were doing pretty well and knew most of these dress codes, here’s one that might stump you. The “black tie” part lets you know that your attire should be formal, but the “creative” aspect indicates that you can have some fun with your look. Ladies should wear formal gowns, but look for interesting patterns, unusual colors or an uncommon feature. And, go ahead and break out your killer shoes. Men should still wear a dark suit, but they can choose a trendier cut, a colored shirt and/or a colored bow tie. And, guys, your wingtip shoes would be perfect for this look, wouldn’t they?

Black Tie

If you’re invited to a black-tie event, then you’ve got something to celebrate, and you’re going to celebrate in style! Men, you’ll be wearing a tuxedo with a vest or cummerbund and black patent leather shoes. Ladies, you have a little more choice in your black-tie fashions. You can wear a full-length gown, formal separates or a formal cocktail dress, depending on the event. If it’s a high-society event, such as a socialite’s wedding, opt for a gown. If it’s a black-tie work event, you’re safe wearing a formal cocktail dress. When in doubt, wear a gown.

White Tie

Considered the highest level of dress code, white-tie events are glamorous and ultra-formal. Men should wear a black coat with tails, a white vest over a white formal shirt and a white bow tie. Black patent leather shoes are a must. Ladies should choose floor-length formal evening gowns with long gloves and dress shoes. If you’re invited to a white tie event, you’re attending the most formal of occasions.

Ultra Chic Boutique

Every year, Max I. Walker’s Ultra Chic Boutique draws a crowd for a good cause. The next Ultra Chic Boutique event will be on Jan. 28, 2017, at a new location: the Omaha Design Center located at 1502 Cuming Street. Here’s how it works:

Throughout the year, our customers donate their unwanted prom, wedding, bridesmaid, cocktail and other formal dresses at locations across the Omaha metro, and Max I. Walker’s employees clean, press and mend them for the Ultra Chic Boutique. Hundreds of young women flock to the event, where they can buy the dresses for just $30 each. Whether they find the dress of their dreams or one that inspires their creativity (a la Pretty in Pink), they can find dresses for an affordable price. And, all proceeds from the event benefit the Open Door Mission’s Lydia House.

So, if you have an old prom dress, bridesmaid’s dress or any other dresses you’ll never wear — or fit into — again, simply drop them off at your nearest Max I. Walker location. We’ll clean, press and prepare your gowns, transforming them into the dress of someone’s dreams.