Western dress codes
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|Western dress codes|
and corresponding attires
|Formal i.e. full dress ("white tie")|
|Semi-formal i.e. half dress ("black tie")|
|Informal i.e. undress ("dress clothes")|
|"Casual" (more varying interpretations)|
|Supplementary (along varying regulations)|
= Day (before 6 p.m.) = Evening (after 6 p.m.)
= Bow tie colour
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Western dress codes are dress codes in Western culture about what clothes are worn in what setting. Classifications are traditionally divided into formal attire (full dress), semi-formal attire (half dress), and informal attire, with the first two sometimes in turn divided into day and evening wear. A level below these are sometimes referred to as casual attire, often in combinations such as "smart casual" or "business casual" in order to indicate higher expectation than none at all.
The more formal traditional Western dress code interpretations - that is formal i.e. "white tie" and semi-formal i.e. "black tie" - have remained highly codified for men with essentially fixed definitions mostly unchanged since the 20th century with roots in 19th century customs. For women, though, changes in fashion have been more dynamic. Yet, although casual inventions, combinations and reinterpretations of the classifications have occurred and fluctuated, the general formal traditions have persisted for more than a century.
Dress codes are sometimes explicitly instructed, expected by peer pressure, or followed intuitively.
As with other cultures, versions of ceremonial dresses, military uniforms, religious clothing, academic dresses, and national dresses appropriate to the formality level are generally permitted and worn as exceptions to the uniformity, often in the form of headgear (see biretta, kippa, turban, hijab, etc.). Conversely, since most cultures have at least intuitively applied some level equivalent to the more formal ones in Western dress code traditions, the latter's versatile framework open to amalgation of international and local customs have influenced its competativeness as international standard range from formal to casual.
The background of traditional contemporary Western dress codes as fixed in 20th century relied on several steps of replacement of preexistingly formal wear, while in turn increasing the formality levels of the previously less formal alternatives. Thus was the case with the ceasing of the justacorps, extensively worn from the 1660s until the 1790s, followed by the same fate of the 18th century frock (not to be confused with frock coat), in turn followed by the frock coat.
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. In the 19th century, during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the principal classifications of clothing were full dress and undress, and, less commonly the intermediate half dress. Full dress covered the most formal option: frock coat for day attire, and dress coat (white tie) for evening attire (sometimes with supplementary alternative being a full dress uniform independent of what time of the day).
When morning dress became common (in the modern sense, using a morning tailcoat rather than a frock coat), it was considered less formal than a frock coat, and even when the frock coat was increasingly phased out, morning dress never achieved full dress status. Therefore, in the 21st century, full dress often refers to white tie only.
Today's semi-formal black tie (originally dinner clothes) was initially described as informal attire, while the "lounge suit," now standard business attire, was originally considered (as its name suggests) casual attire. 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 more formal dress codes seen in many Western regions).
The table below summarises the traditional Western dress codes:
|Formal attire i.e. full dress ("white tie")||Morning dress (or frock coat)||Dress coat||Full dress uniform||Ball gown|
|Semi-formal attire i.e. half dress ("black tie")||Stroller||Dinner suit||Mess dress uniform||Evening gown|
|Informal attire i.e. undress ("dress clothes" or "business attire")||Lounge suit||Service dress uniform||Cocktail dress|
|Casual attire (or a range of equivalent terms)||Anything considered inappropriate for more formal occasions|
Please 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.
Supplementary options with variations of varying regulations alongside different formality levels include:
- Ceremonial dress
- Religious clothing
- Folk costumes
Typical events: Weddings, state dinners, etc. Note that the use of white tie and morning dress has become rare in some countries (such as the United States 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.
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.
- Kent State University Museum (2002). "Of Men & Their Elegance". Retrieved 2008-11-02.