Western dress codes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Undress)

Western dress codes are a set of dress codes detailing what clothes are worn for what occasion. Conversely, since most cultures have intuitively applied some level equivalent to the more formal Western dress code traditions, these dress codes are simply a versatile framework, open to amalgamation of international and local customs. This versatility has made this scale of formality a practical international formality scale.

Formality/ Dress Code Civilian Military Supplementary
Men Women
Day Evening Day Evening
Formal wear i.e. "Full dress" Morning dress White tie Trouser suit or skirt with blazer Ball gown Full dress uniform Ceremonial dress,
religious clothing,
folk costumes,
orders and medals, etc.
Semi-formal wear i.e. "Half dress" Black lounge suit Black tie Evening gown Mess dress uniform
Informal wear i.e. "Undress" Suit Cocktail dress Service dress uniform
Casual wear Anything considered inappropriate for more formal occasions

Classifications are divided into formal wear (full dress), semi-formal wear (half dress), and informal wear (undress). Anything below this level is referred to as casual wear, although sometimes in combinations such as "smart casual" or "business casual" in order to indicate higher expectation than none at all.


For both men and women, hats corresponding to the various levels of formality exist. As supplements to the standard dress codes, headgear (see biretta, kippah etc.) can be worn, though certain settings have etiquette regarding this; for example, in Christian churches, traditional norms have enjoined the wearing of a headcovering (such as a veil or cap) by women, while men are prohibited from wearing a hat.[1][2][3]

Ceremonial dress, military uniform, religious clothing, academic dress, and folk costume appropriate to the formality level are encouraged, but face-covering garments (niqab, hijab) are not always accepted. France outlawed the public use of burqas in 2010 and the European court of law seconded the law because "uncovered faces encourage citizens to live together" (see also burqa by country).[4]

Formal wear[edit]

Typical events: Weddings, state dinners and affairs, formal balls, royal events, etc.

Semi-formal wear[edit]

Typical events: Theatre opening nights, charity balls, etc. There is some variation in style depending on whether it is summer, spring, winter or fall. See black tie and stroller for more details.

Informal wear[edit]

Typical events: Diplomatic and business meetings, many social occasions, everyday wear

Casual wear[edit]

Casual wear encompasses business casual, smart casual, etc.


A historic chart of dress codes from Fashion, 1902

The background of traditional contemporary Western dress codes as fixed in 20th century relied on several steps of replacement of preexisting 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[edit]

Formal, semi-formal, and informal all have roots in 19th century customs subsequent to the replacement of the 18th century generic justaucorps, and has remained fixed defined since the 20th century. The 19th century frock coat rarely occurs except as formal alternative. For women, interpretations have fluctuated more dynamically according to fashion.

Before the modern system of formal, semi-formal, and informal was consolidated in the 20th century, 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 wear, and dress coat (white tie) for evening wear (sometimes with supplementary alternative being a full dress uniform independent of what time of the day). As such, full dress may still appear in use designating formal wear.

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.[citation needed] Therefore, in the 21st century, full dress often refers to white tie only.[citation needed]

Today's semi-formal evening black tie (originally dinner clothes) was initially described as informal wear, while the "lounge suit," now standard business wear, was originally considered (as its name suggests) casual wear. Half dress, when used, was variously applied at different times, but was used to cover modern morning dress (the term morning dress is fairly undescriptive and has not always meant modern morning dress). Undress (not to be confused with nudity) 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).[5]


  1. ^ Hunt, Margaret (11 June 2014). Women in Eighteenth Century Europe. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 9781317883876. Today many people associate rules about veiling and headscarves with the Muslim world, but in the eighteenth century they were common among Christians as well, in line with 1 Corinthians 11:4-13 which appears not only to prescribe headcoverings for any women who prays or goes to church, but explicitly to associate it with female subordination, which Islamic veiling traditions do not typically do. Many Christian women wore a head-covering all the time, and certainly when they went outside; those who did not would have been barred from church and likely harassed on the street. … Veils were, of course, required for Catholic nuns, and a veil that actually obscured the face was also a mark of elite status throughout most of Europe. Spanish noblewomen wore them well into the eighteenth century, and so did Venetian women, both elites and non-elites. Across Europe almost any woman who could afford them also wore them to travel.
  2. ^ Yarborough, Kaitlyn (20 May 2022). "How To Know When It's Rude To Wear Your Hat Indoors, According to Etiquette". Southern Living. Archived from the original on 1 February 2023. Retrieved 1 February 2023. Hat etiquette also has roots in Christianity, as it's long been considered customary for men to remove their hats upon entering a church. As we all know, however, church hats are a historic tradition for women to wear in the South.
  3. ^ Neusner, Jacob; Armistead, M. Kathryn (1 September 2010). Introduction to World Religions: Communities and Cultures. Abingdon Press. ISBN 978-1-4267-1976-9. In most forms of Christianity, however, men remove their hats as a sign of deference to the deity. The bareheadedness derives from the comments of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:4 that "a man who keeps his head covered when he prays or prophesies brings shame upon his head" (NEB).
  4. ^ "Countries With The Strictest Dress Codes". WorldAtlas. 2022-11-15. Retrieved 2023-12-10.
  5. ^ Kent State University Museum (2002). "Of Men & Their Elegance". Archived from the original on 2008-10-17. Retrieved 2008-11-02.

Further reading[edit]