Who says you can’t use the words “fashion” and “easy” together in a sentence. Sure, you’ve got all types of styles and even more fashion items to customize said styles. But there has got to be a formula, right? What does formal attire mean after all? How do you define semi formal dress code? And how is it different from smart casual? There’s got to be a code, a set of guidelines. And it’s right here. Get ready for a simplistic guide for men’s and women’s fashion: from casual all the way up to the king style, formal.

Casual (1/6)

Casual = comfortable, plain and simple.


When it’s not an official event, when it’s a more relaxed atmosphere, this is the style you go with. Maybe it’s hanging out with your friends or a picnic at the nearby park. Either way, this should be the easiest style to master.

what does formal attire mean? illustration of a man in casual attire

Men, we know comfort better than anyone. So a pair of casual jeans, a nice fitting t-shirt, and some cool yet not-too-snug shoes are often the choice. Here think simplicity.

what does formal attire mean tank what does formal attire mean sweater
Skinny Fit- Acid Wash                     Skinny Fit – Grey Scale Wash


It doesn’t always have to be fancy dresses and heels that are 1/8th as tall as you are. For women, jeans and some nice, looser fitting shoes are a good option. Cap off the outfit with a stylish shirt or top. Your casual footwear is not limited to sneakers, it can vary from ballerina flats (an especially good match to simple day dresses) to oxfords (for a more edgy look).

what does formal attire mean - womens sweaterJacquard-knit Sweater

Business Casual (2/6)


We’re one step up on the fashion chain, we can call this one “office wear” to use easier terms. So it’s not casual, but we’re not at tuxedos yet. We’ll get there, gentlemen, don’t worry.

what does formal attire mean - business casual for men

While upgrading to a clear fitting pair of dress slacks (or khaki’s if you like them better) is usually expected at this stage, you don’t need to make the jump to the button up dress shirt, suit jacket and tie yet. That polo shirt you use for casual dress will more than likely work just fine in this tier.


Keep that top that you love the design on, and compliment it with a pencil skirt or some dress pants. Accessories can always help give you that added confidence in your outfit. Some jewelry or something to add a little more differentiation can help you look really nice.

what does formal attire mean - women in blue pants and blouse what does formal attire mean -woman in a formal outfit

Smart Casual (3/6)


This category is almost like a combination of the previous two categories, casual with some form of business attire. A combination of darker colored jeans and a dress shirt, or khaki’s with a matching colored suit vest and tie.

what does formal attire mean - smart casual for men


For women, it’s also drawing on the two previous set-ups. Dress slacks or a nice skirt, combined with a dressy top will do. Feel free to wear skinny jeans, if they come in a solid dark wash. Pair them with a plain shirt in a more or less formal style, and top off the outfit with a structured blazer. Generally, you’d be expected to keep colors muted (classical colors and/or neutrals), but nobody would judge you for a little spark in your outfit: be it a bright skinny belt, a sparkling brooch, or bright shoes.

what does formal attire mean - smart casual

Business/Informal (4/6)


From this category onwards, it gets a bit simpler for men to find the proper attire. For informal styles, any business suit will work. You still have some minor color freedom (as least, as much as is made available in the production of suit jackets and slacks), but it’s a simple suit and tie for the most part.

what does formal attire mean - business informal 2 what does formal attire mean - business informal for men

Linen-blend blazer                                                       Linen-blend suit pants


For women, you can either go with a suit or a business style dress: whichever you feel suits you best. Here is also the stage where you can bring your heels into the mix. Length isn’t everything though, make sure they let you show your attire well.what does formal attire mean - for womenwhat does formal attire mean - women 2

Smart Office Jacket                                             Black formal dress

Semi/Formal (5/6)


For men, a darker colored suit. That’s pretty much all there is to it. A black suit and tie.

You might begin to notice the decreasing freedom of variation as you move up this chain. That’s just what it is, the suit jacket, tie and dress slacks combination is the staple image of high-formal men’s fashion.


For women, now is the time to bring out those nice dresses. The color black is usually the go-to option, but it’s not a rule. Any nice dress you like that doesn’t reach all the way to the ground nor goes up to the mini-skirt-line will more than likely make the cut! Patterns are an option, as long as they are modest and not distracting.


 Formal (6/6)

what does formal attire mean - formal what does formal attire mean - ties

DKNY Tuxedo                                                                 ADAM bow tie

And here we are! The top of the food pyramid! So, what does formal attire mean after all? Men already know what they’re about to read. It’s time for a tuxedo. For top of the line formal events, the full suit with the white button shirt, the bow tie, the whole package. But you’ve still got a little freedom. Depending on the event, it doesn’t need to be a bow tie. If you want to stand out, you can pick an off-color tie that still looks appealing. Just make sure nobody else at the event picks the same one.


And for women, this is where those expensive floor-length dresses that you save in the back of your wardrobe come to good use. Darker colors combined with heels and all of the jewelry you ladies wear can help you be really expressive, while still utilizing attire specific for the occasion.

what does formal attire mean - womens evening dress

Zig Zag Split Maxi Dress

And that’s the top of the fashion pyramid. It makes sense doesn’t it. Formal attire looks a lot nicer, but it’s used much more exclusively compared to casual attire. Either way, all of the above information was just a guide, not a set of rules. Depending on the event, the people involved, and even where it’s held, the expected attire may contrast this information. Again, take this as a starting point and build your styles off of it. You can’t go wrong with a little background information.