Etiquette of Proper Attire

Young woman getting ready to go out
Select your outfit based on the occasion. Sofie Delauw / Getty Images

Have you ever shown up at an event and realized you aren't dressed properly? It could be a job interview, a party, or anything else where what you wear might possibly be evaluated. This can be embarrassing and awkward for you and others you're with. 

Importance of Proper Attire

Knowing how to dress for wherever you are going is extremely important. You don’t want to show up in shorts for a wedding or in ratty jeans for a job interview.

Conversely, wearing a formal gown to a football game would be downright silly.

Even more subtle dress code infractions can make the difference between getting a job or not. For example, if you are interviewing for a position at a company that requires closed-toe shoes, and you show up in sandals, the interviewer might instantly evaluate you based on that one thing.

Suitable for the Occasion

For most events, what you should wear will be obvious. If you plan to go to your child’s Little League game and out for pizza afterward, jeans, a T-shirt, and athletic shoes or boots are perfect. Job interviews call for business formal or business casual, and you can always find out what is expected by watching what others wear to that particular office. If in doubt, call the company and ask the receptionist or human resources professional.

What to Wear for the Occasion

Sometimes when you ask about the dress code, you'll get a phrase, such as "casual Friday" or "formal business." Here are some explanations and helpful tips for each style of dress:

  • Casual Attire: Casual wear can mean anything from shorts and a T-shirt to khakis and a button front blouse. You’ll need to find out a number of things before deciding, such as whether you’ll be indoors or outdoors and what others are wearing. What you would wear to the office on casual Friday is different from what you’d wear to a Friday night football game at the local high school. Remember that when you go to work, you may run into supervisors who determine your future with the company.
  • Resort Casual: Resort wear is typically a comfortable pair of shorts, slacks, or skirt, a nice top or shirt that goes with the bottoms, and sandals. As you put together your resort casual outfit, think about how you want to look in pictures that you’ll show your family and friends later.
  • Business Casual: Business casual should always look need and well pulled together. Avoid appearing as though you are on your way to a cocktail party. Never wear clothes that are too tight or oversized. A good fit is always in style.
  • Formal Business: Formal business attire is worn by the ultra professional who wants to be taken seriously and to get ahead. It should never be too flashy or appear cheap. A business suit doesn’t have to cost a fortune to look expensive. If you aren't sure what shoes are appropriate, women can be pretty safe with a pair of solid, neutral pumps. Men can wear dark dress shoes.
  • Semi-Formal: Whether you are attending a cocktail party, dance, or other event that calls for semi-formal, you’ll be just fine in a dress made from satin or sparkling fabric. Men should wear a suit to a semi-formal event. Women who frequently attend semi-formal events should consider having a little black dress that can be worn year-round, with or without a jacket or wrap.
  • Formal Wear: Formal wear can be tricky. Most of the time, long gowns are acceptable for women and a tuxedo or dark suit are fine for men. However, some designers have made short and mid-calf dresses that are classified as formal. Men need to find out if the event is black tie, white tie, or dark suit appropriate.
  • Wedding Guest Attire: Attire for wedding guests can run the full dress code spectrum, from resort to formal. If the invitation doesn’t state how to dress, let the time and location of the wedding be your guide.

Most of the time, it is perfectly fine to dress in resort semi-formal for a daytime beach wedding. For women, a sundress with a wrap to cover the shoulders and sandals are fine. Men may wear nice slacks, a polo shirt or button front shirt, and a lightweight jacket, with or without a tie.

A courtyard wedding calls for a little bit dressier look than resort semi-formal. For women, that means a nice dress, skirt, or pantsuit. Men should wear slacks, a button-front shirt, a jacket, and a tie that can be removed later.

For a daytime church wedding, a knee-length or tea-length dress is appropriate for women. Men should wear a suit or nice pants, shirt, tie, and coordinating jacket.

An evening wedding is generally more formal, and the invitation should state how to dress. If not, ask someone from the bridal party if you are expected to dress in formal or semi-formal attire.