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Crack Your Formal Dress Code

Not sure if you should wear a semi-formal or formal dress? Here’s help.

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Crack Your Formal Dress Code

This dress by David's Bridal is appropriate for a cocktail dress code.

David's Bridal
There are so many dresses to choose from for your formal or special occasion- how do you narrow it down? How do make sure you’re not overdressed or, even worse, under-dressed? Before you start combing online galleries or hitting the racks, consider these shopping tips for finding your perfect frock!

What’s the dress code?
Check out your invitation. Does the occasion call for cocktail attire, semi-formal or formal dress? If a dance or party starts in the afternoon, it’s probably more on the casual side, and a cute sundress will do. But if your event starts after 6 p.m., a dressier outfit is probably more appropriate. If you have doubts, call up the hostess to clarify... or ask your friends what they're wearing.

Short or long dress?
Generally, “cocktail” or “semi-formal” dress codes means mini dresses, short hems and tea-length hems are acceptable. A formal or black tie dress code (like prom or a super fancy wedding) means that long dresses will be more appropriate.

Does fabric matter?
Fabric absolutely matters, and can determine whether your dress is fancy enough. Cotton, denim or poly-cotton blends make your dress more on the casual side, no matter what the cut. Those fabrics are generally reserved for casual day parties or BBQs. Silk, satin, brocade and luxury fabrics (or fabrics that are meant to imitate these looks) are reserved for semi-formal and formal dresses. Remember that some fabrics are more appropriate during the colder months, like velvet, wool and heavy brocade .

Does color matter?
The color of your dress should be flattering for your skin tone and appropriate for the event. For example, if you’re going to a sweet sixteen and you know the birthday girl is wearing a peach mini dress, you probably shouldn’t show up wearing a similar peach mini dress! Generally, pastels become popular in the spring, brights in the summer, and darker tones are more appropriate for fall and winter. Think of it this way- a navy and green plaid dress might look a little out of place during a summer event, just as a wild neon print would look a little odd at a winter wedding. When in doubt, of course, you could always don a little black dress!

Choosing a Style
Your teen years are definitely a time to experiment, fashion-wise. You can get away with the trendiest new silhouette in the hottest pattern, plenty of accessories, and even wild hair if you want to. I’m all for trends, but sometimes, if I know I’m going to an event that will be heavily photographed and possibly immortalized in my parents’ picture frames for years to come, I’ll choose a dress that’s a little more classic.

Timeless silhouettes like a-line dresses, slip dresses, a floor-length halter gown or even a princess gown can appear more elegant and flattering, and will let your true beauty shine through. The most complimentary color for your hair and eyes is always better than the trendy shade of the moment.

Classic styles last for years and won’t look dated in a few years when you’re looking back at photos. It’s nice to avoid that “Ew, did I really wear THAT?” moment!

Shop around
Special occasion dresses usually come with a price tag. Most cocktail dresses are over $80, and a formal gown can run $300 or more. Before you start shopping, be sure to set a budget, and leave room for shoes and a bag, too. It’s also a good idea to start shopping early. That way you can shop around, compare prices, and get the best deal you can, instead of waiting until the last minute and feeling pressured to buy that super-expensive dress because it’s the only one left in your size!

More dress shopping tips:
  1. About.com
  2. Style
  3. Proms/Formal Dances
  4. Dress Basics
  5. Figuring Out Formal and Semi-Formal Dress Codes

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