If you’ve ever received a party invitation and just weren’t sure whether you’ve decoded the dress code correctly, then keep reading.

Formal, semi-formal, casual, smart-casual, black tie, white tie, cocktail, festive… It’s enough to make a girl’s head spin. And with the party season well underway, what-am-I-going-to-wear anxiety isn’t far behind. The COSMO fashion team dig their heels into dress codes and offer their advice on what to wear.

Formal wear usually applies to an evening wedding or dinner, but some corporate Christmas parties also call for a degree of formality. If your stock trading man brings home a ‘formal’ invite we recommend a little black dress or a long evening dress.


This dress code can apply to anything from milestone birthday and anniversary parties to end-of-year office soirees, and is usually more formal than smart-casual. We recommend a stylish top with dressy jeans or a formal dress with ballet pumps.


Smart-casual is probably the way most of South Africa dresses to work, and can be worn when attending daytime shindigs and smaller birthday parties. We recommend a dress-shirt with elegant accessories.

Anything goes. Your host wants you to be comfortable and to come as you are, but we recommend stylish jeans and flat shoes or sneakers.

Black tie is sometimes also regarded as formal. If you’re attending a charity ball we recommend a long ‘little black dress’ or a glamorous, formal dress.

The most formal of dress codes is reserved for a night at the opera or state dinners where men are required to wear bowties and waistcoats. We recommend mid-calf dresses or ball gowns and white gloves. No short skirts or dresses.

This dress code is pretty self-explanatory and will apply to dressy, fun parties. We recommend long or short evening wear, but on a hot summer’s night wear a short cocktail dress and a pair of gorgeous heels.

This depends on the season or public holiday and is quite transitional. Festive can mean anything from co-ordinating colours that match the season to Santa Claus hats, but it really depends on your own taste. We recommend you choose something semi-formal and glam it up with your style – whether you like bright colours, big accessories or silly shoes.

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