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How to dress for parties and how to create a party capsule wardrobe.

Updated on August 31, 2011

Have you been invited to a party and don't know how to dress? In this article I will show you how to dress for parties, whether they are informal and casual or more formal and sophisticated. So if you are young and still at school/college, just starting out in the world of work and not sure what to wear to the office party or older and starting to socialise in a more sophisticated way, I will show you how to:

  • Learn the number one secret on how to dress for parties and avoid the embarrassing mistake of being over or under dressed.
  • Build a small wardrobe of partywear to ensure you always have something to wear, whatever type of party you are invited to.

The no.1 secret on knowing how to dress for parties.

The number one secret to knowing how to dress for parties is really quite simple - it can be found in the invitation. Most invitations include a Dress Code, which is a guide to how casual or formal the party will be and the appropriate way to dress. Below is a list of Dress Codes you may find on a party invitation, together with the appropriate partywear.

Black Tie Dress Code

If you receive an invitation to a party where the dress code is Black Tie, you are being invited to a very formal party and are being asked to wear formal eveningwear.

For men, the required outfit is a tuxedo, and for women cocktail dresses, long dresses or dressy evening separates are appropriate. If the event is a ball, you can wear a ballgown.

Black Tie parties are a great opportunity to dress up. You can accessorise with sparkling evening jewelry and a glamorous evening hairstyle.

Examples of parties that have a Black Tie Dress Code are:

  • School Proms and Graduation Balls
  • Charity Balls and New Years Eve Balls
  • Formal Wedding Receptions

Formal Dress Code

This dress code indicates that the party is still a formal affair, but not as formal as a Black Tie party. Men can still wear a Tuxedo, but can also wear a dark suit with a tie. Women are still required to wear a cocktail dress, long dress or dressy evening separates.

White Tie or Ultra-formal Dress Code

A White Tie or Ultra-formal invitation indicates that you are being invited to the most formal type of party of all. It is likely that other attendees are of high social standing such as Royalty, Business Leaders or hold senior positions in Governments, such as Foreign Diplomats. Men are required to wear full evening dress, with a white tie and shirt, and women are required to wear long gowns.

Semi-Formal and Informal

This dress code would be used on invitations for events such as:

  • An evening wedding.
  • A special occasion party such as a 50th birthday or silver wedding anniversary.

This dress code means that men no longer need to wear tuxedos, a dark suit and tie is suitable.

Women no longer need to wear long dresses, a cocktail dress or smart evening separates are suitable.

Cocktail Attire

If you have been invited to a cocktail party, men are required to wear dark suits and a tie and women can wear a short elegant cocktail dress or little black dress.

Festive Attire

Invitations to informal or Semi-Formal Christmas and New Years parties often state Festive Attire as their Dress Code.

For women separates with a bit of sparkle are suitable. Items could include a beaded sweater or a red silk top with black trousers or skirt.

Dressy Casual and Casual

Dressy Casual would mean a dressed up version of a casual look. This outfit is suitable for a party at a friends house. For women it could include a sparkly top worn with smart denim jeans or casual evening trousers.For men it could be a nice shirt and smart jeans.

Casual generally means anything goes.

The no. 2 secret on how to dress for parties

The second secret on how to dress for parties is to create a small capsule wardrobe of partywear based on the above Dress Codes so that you always have something to wear.

Below I have provided examples of a capsule party wardrobe for both men and women.

It is worth investing in these outfits and building your wardrobe in this way. It means you are prepared when an invitation arrives out of the blue. You won't have to say "I have nothing to wear" or no money to buy something.

You also avoid panic shopping at the last minute, overspending on an outfit you don't love.

You should prioritise the outfits based on the type of party invitations you currently receive and what you anticipate coming up in the future.

The party capsule wardrobe for women

Based on the above Dress Codes, a party capsule wardrobe based on the following items should ensure you always have something to wear when you receive an invitation.

In order of priority and versatility:

  • A Cocktail Dress in a jewel colour or LBD (Little Black Dress). This provides something suitable for both Formal and Semi-Formal parties, as well as a work Christmas party.
  • Evening separates for a casual party, such as evening trousers or skirts in black or a colour and silk or satin evening tops. You could even wear dark denim evening jeans for more casual parties.
  • A Festive Evening top to wear at family or work Christmas parties. You can wear it with the jeans above, if it is a fairly casual event or with the smart trousers or skirt.
  • A full length evening dress
  • A Ball Gown - I have listed a ball gown as the last priority, as many women don't attend balls. If you do get an invitation out of the blue, you can hire ball gowns. However,it is worth investing in a ball gown under the following circumstances. Either you are an older woman who regularly attends balls or if you are young and have a School Prom coming up and then going to a University which hosts lots of balls as well as a Graduation Ball.

The party capsule wardrobe for men.

Men are lucky, for parties they need to invest in only three outfits to ensure they always have something to wear to a party.

  • A Tuxedo - If you regularly attend Black Tie parties, it is worth buying a tuxedo. If you rarely receive an invitation to this type of party, it is probably easier and more cost effective to hire a Tuxedo.
  • A Dark Suit, shirt and tie, black shoes. This outfit is one of the core outfits in a mans wardrobe. Not only is it suitable for evening parties with a Formal orI nformal Dress Code, it can also be worn to a daytime wedding, with just change of tie to one more appropriate for a wedding.
  • A smart pair of trousers or dark jeans and a shirt. This outfit is suitable for a casual evening party.
  • A festive shirt - something with a little sparkle or sheen, which can be worn to a casual Christmas Party, with the trousers or jeans above.


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