A Glossary of Dress Code Terms

Let this guide take the guess work out of dressing to dine.


Figuring out how to dress when you are going out to eat can be a challenge, especially when there are so many different dress code terms being used by restaurants these days. From smart casual to white tie, and everything in between, this glossary is here to break-down the code and help you decide on the right attire for your fine dining experiences. 

Casual: Among fine dining establishments, casual dress is not traditionally acceptable. Even with the trend leaning towards a more relaxed dress code, casual clothing is still too informal. This area includes t-shirts, jeans, open-toed shoes for women, sandals or flip-flops for men, and caps.

Smart Casual: The rules for smart casual attire are very similar to those of business casual. The key here is  to look casual but polished. For a perfectly put-together look, aim for the kinds of outfits you would wear to work on casual Friday. While jeans are still too informal for smart casual, a nice men can often get away with a collared short-sleeve shirt (such as a polo) and women can get away with a stylish sleeveless top. 

Business Casual: The vast majority of high-end restaurants require diners to wear business casual dress. To achieve this level of attire, men should wear khakis or slacks with a button down shirt. Women should wear slacks or a skirt (of an appropriate length, of course) with a nice sweater or slacks—steer clear of anything that is too tight or revealing. 

Casually Elegant: Think of this level of dress as business casual with added flair. Women are encouraged to pair a more conservative outfit with fancy jewelry and accessories (such as a trendy pair of pumps). The goal of casually elegant attire is to appear fashionable, yet appropriate for the formal setting. 

Jacket Optional: Also referred to as jacket preferred or jacket encouraged, this level of dress is gaining popularity among top tier restaurants. Men can get away with wearing a button down shirt with a tie and dress pants if they choose not to wear a jacket. Women can wear anything from a little black dress to a nice pair of pants and a blouse. 

Jacket and Tie Required: This level is pretty self explanatory. Men who neglect to wear a sport coat at a jacket required will be asked to borrow one from the restaurant before they enter the dining room. Some places will require men to wear a jacket, but not a tie, and others still require both. 

Cocktail Attire: This area of attire is similar to casually elegant attire, but in a more formal sense. Like casually elegant dress, cocktail attire is about appearing fashionable and trendy while maintaining an air of formality. Women should wear a short dress or skirt and men should wear a jacket and tie. 

Formal Attire: This is the utmost level of the fine dining dress code. Including both black and white tie attire, the restaurants that require diners to don formal wear are very rare these days. Men could be required to wear a suit at the very least and a tuxedo with tails and a vest at the most. Women should wear their fanciest outfits, including full-length ball gowns. 


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