Editor’s note: As an etiquette guide, this article is based on opinion. It’s goal is to create a standard.
I’ve written about how a lady should dress when she’s concerned about men’s opinions and dress formality but never both at once, so here it is. Today, I bring any interested ladies some guidance for dressing to meet the codes of dress formality.
Here’s one place where men’s and ladies’ dress codes work differently. The wider variety of options means very similar outfits can be different levels of formality. Fit is the main distinction here. Tighter tops and looser skirts are more formal than looser tops and tighter skirts, although the tightest should be reserved for younger ladies. The correct fit for pants and shorts is entirely based on style.
In the world of practical attire, form follows function. The priority is for your clothes to be suitable for your activities, no matter what you look like. This is where all athletic attire needs to stay. It’s also a good place for shorts to stay.
Street clothes are what you wear in the absolute most casual situations, like running errands. They’re also the most formal attire where shorts, sweatshirts, and t-shirts and all forms of tanks as top layers, are appropriate.
When you get into casual then aesthetics take priority. This is also the point where it becomes important to pay attention to hair and makeup. Casual’s also the limit for pants. You can get a pretty good smart casual outfit with pants but you can’t get more formal than that. It’s also where you should leave the denim skirts and the like.
Informal is where men would be wearing suits so it’s most appropriate for ladies to dress similarly, but with skirts and no ties. Simple dresses are also quite appropriate, as are dresses that are more elaborate but in a more trendy way.
Once again, there’s something that shouldn’t pass this level. This time it’s separate skirts and tops. If you’re trying to go beyond informal then you need to wear a dress.
Semi-Formal & Formal
Just like for men, semi-formal and formal attire for ladies is more uniform, but for ladies the difference between daytime and evening is more pronounced. The best thing for daytime semi-formal is a cocktail dress with about a knee length skirt. For evening semi-formal and daytime formal, an ankle length evening gown is best, and for the evening you should transition to a floor length ball gown. If you’re wondering what the difference is, go back to the section on fit and that’s a simple version. Just remember that added accents and better materials make a dress more formal.
Another difference between men’s and ladies’ formalwear is that ladies should wear more elaborate attire to dress more formally. It’s also a good idea to wear gloves, even indoors, with more formal attire but you can put together a nice semi-formal or daytime formal outfit with them.
Jewellery & Accessories
For the most part less is more when it comes to accessories, but it’s not quite that simple. When you want to dress more formal you should go a little bit further with jewellery than you normally would. Also, you want to reserve the elaborate and rough material purses for your more casual outfits, and you may want to consider leaving your everyday carry up to your man for more formal occasions.