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Western dress codes

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Title: Western dress codes  
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Subject: Dress codes, Western culture, Formal wear, Business ethics
Collection: Business Ethics, Dress Codes, Formal Wear, Formalwear, Western Culture
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Western dress codes

Not to be confused with Western wear

A dress code is a set of rules governing what garments may be worn together and in what setting. In Western culture, examples of dress codes are combinations such as "smart casual", or "morning dress". A classification of these codes is normally made for varying levels of formality and times of day. In traditional Western dressing, for men the more formal dress codes, such as "black tie", are highly codified with essentially fixed definitions, mostly unchanged for more than fifty years, while the more casual classifications change very quickly, and a worldwide or widely relevant discussion is impossible. For women, changes in fashion are more rapid.

In practical use, dress codes are either followed intuitively or enforced by peer pressure, so that people wear similar clothing in the same situations. Alternatively, at more formal events where a dress code is specified, invitees wear clothes at the specified level; if some variation is permitted (for example, "black tie preferred"), the host will wear the most formal option to save guests the embarrassment of out-dressing him. Appropriate national dress is generally permitted, and national variations are also widely worn as an exception to the trend of uniformity with peers, often in the form of headgear (see kippa, turban, hijab).


  • Formal, semi-formal, and informal codes 1
    • Formal 1.1
    • Semi-formal 1.2
    • Informal 1.3
  • Full dress, half dress, and undress 2
  • Dressing "Western" 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Formal, semi-formal, and informal codes

The table below summarises the main codified dress codes:
Formality (descending) Daywear Eveningwear
Ceremonial dress and Court dress country dependent
Formal (or full formal, full dress, formal attire) Morning dress White tie (incl. Ball gown for women)
Semi-formal (or half dress) Stroller Black tie (incl. Evening gown for women)
Informal (or [old fashioned] cocktail, business attire) incl. lounge suit for men and cocktail dress for women
A historic chart of dress codes from Fashion, 1902

Note that the definitions listed above are the strict, traditional definitions, which may not be followed in common use. For example, formal is often used to mean any of the first three, and informal to indicate what is classified here as casual.


Typical events: Weddings, state dinners, etc. Note that the use of white tie and morning dress has become fairly rare in some countries (such as the U.S. and Australia), where black tie or a lounge suit (as appropriate) is often worn to the above events.


Typical events: Theatre opening nights, charity balls, etc.

There is some variation in style depending on whether it is summer or winter. See black tie and stroller for more details.


Typical events: Diplomatic and business meetings, many social occasions, everyday wear

Business wear is included in the informal category, generally consisting of a business suit and tie. Informal dress code encompasses all suits, but not all suits are considered business appropriate in fabric, cut, or color.

Full dress, half dress, and undress

Before the modern system of formal, semi-formal, and informal was as strictly applied as it is now, the terms were looser. For example, black tie (originally dinner clothes) was initially described as informal, while the "lounge suit," now standard business attire, was originally considered (as its name suggests) casual wear. Before this, the principal classifications of clothing were full dress and undress, and, less commonly, half dress. Full dress covered the most formal option: a frock coat for daywear, and dress coat for eveningwear. Since the frock coat has dropped out of use, the term full dress is now only applied to white tie, for which a dress coat is worn. Half dress, when used, was variously applied at different times, but was used to cover modern morning dress (note that the term morning dress is fairly undescriptive and has not always meant modern morning dress). Undress (not to be confused with naked) in turn was similarly loose in meaning, corresponding to anything from a dressing gown to a lounge suit or its evening equivalent of dinner clothes (now one of the most formal dress codes possible).[1]

Dressing "Western"

A Western dress code should not be confused with "dressing Western", a tradition associated in certain areas of North America with frontier histories. For example, Calgary, Alberta encourages people to "dress Western" during the Calgary Stampede. This includes wearing:

  • a western-style belt
  • a denim or plaid or striped button-up long-sleeved shirt (or, in a pinch, a solid red, navy, black, or white t-shirt plus one other Western item)
  • a straw cowboy hat
  • a bandana neckerchief [2]

Dressing Western is described as an homage "to Western Canada's cowboy history, which is alive and active to this day."[3]

See also


  1. ^ Kent State University Museum (2002). "Of Men & Their Elegance". Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  2. ^ trip advisor article "How To Dress Western"
  3. ^ trip advisor article "How To Dress Western"

Further reading

  • Sondag, Glen (2011).  
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