Singaporebrides | Fashion

March 2011

Dissecting The Dress Code

Whether you’re trying to fish out an appropriate dress code to print on your wedding invites or you’ve received an invitation with a dress code you can’t seem to decipher, we’ve sussed out the most common dress codes for weddings and let the experts do the decoding for you.

Ekta Hathiramani, the woman behind Panache Events, a wedding and event specialist, holds high importance to dress codes. “I think that stating a dress code on the invitation for any special occasion is important,” she says, “especially when it’s a wedding. Dress codes are there for a reason – it’s a note to remind the guests how the couple would like them to appear on their special day. From the weddings that I have helped organise in Singapore, I find that there will always be a group of people who will turn up under-dressed or look like they paid no attention to the dress code at all. Couples also need to make sure their stated dress codes are not vague, because sometimes, it could be a case of guests not understanding what is meant by “Semi-Formal”, for instance.”

Here are the most common dress codes you can expect to find printed on a wedding invite, and what they mean:

White Tie

Very rarely seen in this part of the world, this dress code dictates the ultimate in glamour and formality. This code means the men wear full black tail coat tuxedos and black trousers, white pleated-front shirts, white waistcoats and white bow ties. The women usually wear full length evening dresses. It would be like dressing to go celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

Black Tie

Probably the next least common dress code in local weddings, “Black Tie” means men are to wear black dinner suits with white pleated-front shirts with dress studs, and women, formal long or short evening gowns. Fancy traditional clothing like saris and cheongsams are also appropriate. Think Hollywood red carpet.

Black Suit by Jean Paul Gaultier. Photo by Yannis Vlamos /

Lounge Suit

Though this term is rarely used here, “Lounge Suit”, or in our context, “Formal”, is the most appropriate dress code for any wedding held indoors and in the evening. Dark business suits with white shirts and matching ties for the men; the women can wear a dress or a smart suit, or even a cocktail dress. Women love any excuse to dress up.

Cocktail Attire

When an invite states “Cocktail Chic”, you can expect a lot of drinks, hor d’oeuvres, and maybe a party afterwards. Guests can definitely dress slightly less formal than the above three dress codes, but a suit is still expected of the men, depending on where the occasion is held. The key here is to look glamourous, so men, be sharp, and women, accessorise.

Elie Saab Cocktail Dress. Photo by Marcio Madeira

Smart Casual/Dressy Casual

Although this is the most common dress code for local weddings, the problem is that it can mean a jeans-and-a-blazer outfit for men, or a dark suit. If it’s not specifically stated, judge what you should wear according to the venue of the wedding, the more posh it is, the more presentable you should be. For women, a cocktail dress will do just fine. Ekta added that “guests should also pay attention to the time of the wedding as this is key in determining what is expected to be worn.” Couples who prefer that their guests not wear jeans to their wedding should state “Dressy Casual (no jeans, please)”.

Beach Formal/Barefoot and Black Tie

Beach weddings in destinations like Bali and Phuket are getting very popular these days, so don’t be alarmed when you see these terms on your invite. Guys, be prepared to wear a light, airy suit, and ladies, an elegant beach dress with sandals will do just fine. For fancier beach weddings, the couple may still prefer that their guests arrive in Black Tie, but shoes are optional.

Photo by Jason Armstrong: Beach Wedding

Casual Attire

While this could mean “anything goes” to some, do show some respect for the couple and their families by not turning up in bermudas and polo-tees, unless the invite states so specifically. To make it less confusing for your guests, couples should indicate examples of what are expected of them in your invitation cards. For example, “Casual (sun dresses and pants)” would be appropriate for afternoon garden parties, and “Casual (bikinis and berms!)” would be right for a beach barbeque party.

Themed Attire

More adventurous couples have themed weddings too, so make sure you dress your part. “Ethnic Dress” simply means turning up in traditional cheongsams, saris, and kebayas for the ladies. “Shanghai Night” for the more fun-loving couple would mean a more glamourous and modern version of the qipao for the women and the changshan and a hat for the men. However, most men will be forgiven for simply turning up in a sharp suit for themed weddings.

“Personally, I think it’s always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed at a wedding since you’re technically there for someone’s special day. But of course, being over-dressed doesn’t mean one should outshine the bride and groom,” says Ekta. “If there is no dress code printed on the invitation, then ask the bride or groom what to wear. If there’s a dress code you are unsure of, there is always the convenience of the Internet, which has plenty of websites explaining how one should dress.”