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The difference between black tie and cocktail dress codes for weddings and events

by Julie Goodwin, / Wednesday August 21st 2019

Weddings are a whole lot of fun, but if you’ve just received your invitation and can’t decode the dress code, finding an outfit is about to become a tricky task for you. Dress codes can be daunting if you don’t know your ‘smart casual’ from your ‘cocktail’, and the lines are a little blurred these days. When it comes to dressing for events though, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.

I’m firm on the rules of ‘black tie’ and if it’s something the bride and groom have requested, the respectful thing to do is to honour it with the right style of outfit. Finding an outfit that fits the code, however, can be daunting, so I wanted to share some pointers on a few traditional dress codes, and what they actually mean.


Tuxedo style jacket with tails in textured silk crepe – Julie Goodwin Couture

Tuxedo style jacket with tails in textured silk crepe


‘Smart casual’ can be confusing, especially for men. It depends on the occasion too – whether it’s a beach wedding or not, and what time of day the event starts. ‘Smart casual’ can be interpreted very differently by an 18-year-old and a 50-year-old, which is why the traditional rule book is great to fall back on. No matter how old you are or what your style is, ‘smart casual’ means spending a little more time on your outfit than you would every day. If it’s a wedding, a smart blazer works well for both men and women, and closed-toe shoes or dressy wedges are respectful. Thongs are definitely a no-no, as are singlets.


Silk jacquard evening skirt with a velvet bustier

Silk jacquard evening skirt with a velvet bustier


The ‘cocktail’ code can be little more lively and fun. Think shimmery fabrics, bold details, and a fit that will allow a dance or two later in the night. Traditionally, ‘cocktail’ dresses should be knee-length for women, but they’ve been creeping up the last few years. For men, a lounge suit or jacket and chinos is acceptable and a tie is optional.


‘Charlise’ ruched silk organza gown.

‘Charlise’ ruched silk organza gown


‘Black tie’ these days means formal dressing, and a less flexible code when it comes to interpretation. Men are expected to dust off their tuxedos, and women are expected to wear full-length gowns. While the ‘black tie’ dress code might be intimidating if it’s not a style you usually embrace, it’s an excellent opportunity to try something new and dress up for the evening.

If you’re struggling to find the right event outfit, or you want to dress appropriately and follow the dress codes on your invite, pop into my Albert Park studio for a chat and I’ll walk you through them.

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