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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
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Eagle photographer Owain James models a business formal outfit complete with a white dress shirt, dark pants, dark belt, black tie and classy watch accessory. 

Dress codes debunked: College student edition

We have all received invitations in our lives: a birthday party, a wedding or even a job interview. We open the envelope or email, excitedly scanning the document as fast as we can.

The words “casual dressy” or “black tie optional” catch our eye. The excitement instantly turns to worry about what to wear. So, the next time you’re caught not knowing what “cocktail” or “business casual” means, check out this handy guide for all the dress codes you’ll need to know through college and beyond.

Black Tie

For men, this is very straightforward. Wear a black tuxedo with a white shirt. You can also wear a black tie—literally, it’s right there in the name.

For women, it’s a little more complicated. A floor-length gown is recommended with nice heels or flats and pretty jewelry. Of course, feel free to wear a tuxedo as well if dresses aren’t your thing.

Black Tie Optional

Men can choose to wear a tuxedo or a nice suit. The actual black-colored tie is optional, but a tie is required.

Ladies can stray a bit from the long dress rule this time. Instead, opt for a shorter dress with heels and some classy jewelry or a nice suit. Women should still look put together, but they don’t have to be quite as fancy as they do in a black tie event.


Men can wear a suit instead of a tuxedo, but wear a dark one with a tie, so it still looks formal.

Women can dress as if they’re going to a fun, but classy party. Appropriate clothing options include a short dress, a suit or when in doubt, a little black dress with a colorful necklace.

Business Formal:

Business Formal

Suits are a foolproof move for both ladies and gentleman when it comes to this dress code. Guys, keep wearing your ties, and gals, keep wearing your heels. You should look professional, like you’re trying to impress your boss.

Business Casual:

Left: Eagle Multimedia Editor Bryan Park models a business causal outfit perfect for any networking event or social gathering. Right: Eagle photographer Owain James models a business formal outfit complete with a white dress shirt, dark pants, dark belt, black tie and classy watch accessory. 

Women have a lot of options for this. A pencil skirt is always a solid choice with a nice top and flats or heels. A blazer and non-denim pants is also a nice go-to for those ladies who are not so comfy in a skirt. An office-appropriate dress is also an option.

Men, break out your khakis and collared shirts for this one, but make sure you tuck them in.

Casual Dressy:

This dress code is a bit confusing in that its name seems to contradict itself. Not to worry, it’s actually pretty simple. Casual dressy is basically just a step-up from casual. Try not to look too fancy, but dress up a little nicer than casual apparel.

Women can switch out ripped blue jeans for black ones, sneakers for cute boots and t-shirts for a pretty blouse.

Men should switch t-shirts to a polo, add a blazer or jacket and make sure jeans are rip-free.


Left: Eagle Multimedia Assistant Editor Shelby Morgan shows off a comfortable casual outfit for those seeking a simple and stylish look. Right: Eagle News Assistant Jillian O'Donohoe models a blouse suitable "causal dressy" occasions. 

You should look casual, but that doesn’t mean show up in pajamas or a laundry day outfit. Wear something comfortable yet still put-together.

For women, clothing options include jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt or a breezy sundress. Men can wear jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt or non-athletic shorts.

So the next time you get that invite to the party you really want to go to, don’t stress! Just refer to this guide and avoid all the confusion.

 Hosts Sara Winick and Sydney Hsu introduce themselves and talk about their favorite TV shows. This episode includes fun facts, recommendations and personal connections. 

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