For specific functions, there are specific dress codes one should adhere to in order to remain totally professional at all times. The dress code will be defined by the type of function taking place, but if you are uncertain about what is appropriate for a particular function, meeting, conference, etc., you should contact the organisers and ask them. Dress code should be stipulated on all invitations, but sometimes invitations are unwritten or informal. It is in your own best interest to dress appropriately in order to avoid any awkwardness or embarrassment as a result of being over- or under-dressed.

Dress code also determines our behaviour at functions. Formal dress code requires elegance, good manners and formal etiquette, whereas a beach party is quite the opposite—people laugh out loud, eat with their fingers, and kick or bat balls around!

There are a number of different dress codes that you should concern yourself with. Pay close attention to them because being appropriately or inappropriately dressed can enhance or hinder your career opportunities. These are the codes, given here from most casual to most formal.


‘Fun-wear’ means clothes such as shorts, sleeveless or very short tops, t‑shirts, mini-skirts, slops or open-toe sandals, and swimming costumes. You wear fun-wear to a braai (barbeque), the beach, a swimming-pool party, a picnic, or on holiday. Fun-wear (except swimming costumes) is also worn when going shopping in summer. Be careful not to be under-dressed in up-market shopping centres. You will feel awkward and out-of-place and, besides, you never know who you may bump into!


Sportswear is any gym clothing (tights, shorts, t‑shirts, sport shoes, etc.) or any other sporting outfit.

Certain sports, such as golf, have strict rules for dress. Most golf clubs around the world require men and women to wear golf shirts (with a collar), long shorts, or pants or trousers, and shoes and socks. Most clubs expect men to wear a jacket in the clubhouse, bar or restaurant after a game, and women to wear long smart pants (not jeans) and blouses (not t‑shirts or short tops). Golfing spectators are mostly allowed to wear casual or even fun-wear, unless they stay for drinks and snacks, or dinner afterwards, in which case they would be required to change into business casual or semi-formal wear.


Casual attire means jeans or very informal slacks (cotton or synthetics fabrics), t‑shirts, sleeveless tops, long shorts, sandals. Jackets, collars and sleeves are not required. All fun-wear is however excluded from this category.

Business casual

‘Casual’ in a business context means that a tie is not required, but a collar is. Business casual wear includes open-neck shirts (with collar), jerseys, slacks, blouses (with collar) and (not too short) skirts. Jeans are out of the question, unless you are in the construction (or similar) industry, or unless you have permission from management to wear jeans.

Certain items, such as cartoon ties and socks, should never be worn to work. Men should never wear white sports socks with formal shoes and ladies should remember that underwear should be worn under their clothes!


Semi-formal means that men wear a business suit and (conservative) tie—no patterns or loud colours. Women should also wear a business suit. If you are invited to a business function, but no dress code is specified, a business suit is the only appropriate attire. Women should note that only closed-toe shoes should be worn with semi-formal attire.


Men are expected to wear a dark suit and conservative tie, and women may wear dresses or formal pants-suits. The more formal the function, the more elegantly the women should dress. Satin, velvet, lace and silk fabrics work well for formal wear. Women should wear closed shoes with formal attire, but pretty, high-heeled sandals can sometimes be permissible.


Cocktail functions are normally happy occasions but they are usually fairly formal. At a cocktail function you are likely to be standing most, or even all, of the time, so make sure that you are wearing comfortable shoes. Men should wear business dress—jacket and tie. Women may wear a ‘cocktail dress’ or a suit. Dresses may be short and more revealing, but if you wear slacks, they should be satin, velvet, silk, lace, etc. Elegant sandals may be worn.

Black tie

‘Black tie’ functions dictate that formal invitations be sent out, which will give dress code requirements. Not wearing the stipulated clothing may hinder your career. Men should wear formal evening dress: a black tuxedo suit, a white tuxedo shirt, a black or white bow tie or a man’s brooch. If you don’t have a tuxedo, make every effort to hire or borrow one. Make sure your tuxedo fits you—if you own one and seldom use it, you may find that your shape has changed since last time you wore it! Women should wear a formal (preferably long) gown. Remember that cocktail dresses are inappropriate for formal black tie functions.

White tie

Official government or (rare) extremely formal functions require ‘white tie’ attire. Men wear long tailcoats, white or black, with matching trousers. Women are expected to wear very formal long gowns. Shorter dresses are inappropriate. Long gloves are often worn.

Casual days at work

What does a ‘casual day’ mean? Many people make the mistake of thinking that casual wear is the same as fun-wear. Unfortunately it is totally inappropriate to wear fun-wear to the office and you should not wear jeans and t‑shirts unless approval is obtained from management. Unfortunately the casual day dress code tends to lead to casual behaviour at work. Productivity goes down—and professionalism often blows out of the window.

The word ‘casual dress’ in business usually means semi-formal professional dress. It means that men may wear slacks and a collared shirt without a tie, and women may wear slacks, and sleeveless tops or dresses.

Some organisations do however approve of their staff wearing jeans and t‑shirts on casual days—in fact some companies have their own t‑shirts printed for their staff to wear on just such occasions. The level of your casual attire depends on the industry you’re in and whether you will have face-to-face client contact on the day.