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The Clueless Guy’s Guide To Decoding The Dress Code

So you got an invitation to a party, what now?
by Vincent Ong | Jan 19, 2017
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For the everyman, the dress code is a blip that is written at the end of an invitation and usually further codified with words such as “attire,” “chic” and “festive.” Don’t worry, we feel your pain, bro. Here’s why we break it down for you, including the misconceptions that surround each dress code. Remember, the devil is in the details, so a lot of it changes just by doing something as simple as changing the color or the cloth. 



Casual is what you wear when there is no dress code other than those that decency dictates. There is no way you can mess this up, unless you get arrested for indecent exposure.
Common activities: Playstation with the boys, weekend surf, grocery shopping, clubbing
What it really is: Whatever you think it is
What it means in the Philippines: A T-shirt, jeans, shoes—the usual

Business Casual


This is where it gets tricky. Technically, business casual is whatever is allowable in the office, which greatly varies depending on your office and how much of a nonconformist you are. But remember to err on the side of caution if you want to look professional.
Common activities: The daily grind
What it means in the Philippines: A pique polo, occasionally an inky blue blazer and jeans of the same color
What is really is: An office-appropriate shirt, usually a button-down; a sports coat or light layering option if needed; or a polo barong worn with chinos 

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Smart Casual


And this is where it gets trickier. Some sources will tell you that it’s a more rigid form of dress than “business casual,” while others simply define it to be a sharper, more sartorial “casual” for social settings. Use prudence (or common sense!) when deciphering what your host’s preference.
Common activities: Client presentations, family reunions, baptisms, graduations, meeting her parents
What it means in the Philippines: A pique polo, black jeans and sneakers
What is really is: Erm, pique polo, black jeans and sneakers; or a T-shirt worn under a blazer; or a long-sleeve button-down with a thin sweater




Let’s just call it what it is—“Cocktail” is the catchall for grown-up parties and events. This is your chance to peacock in style.
Common activities: Weddings, corporate networking events, cocktail parties
What it means in the Philippines: A long-sleeve button-down with a tie, slacks and leather shoes
What is really is: A blazer, cropped trousers and quirky socks; a linen suit with loafers; a checkered shirt with a a tie-clip and monkstraps

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Technically, semi-formal is just a less restrictive version of formalwear. Don’t feel like wearing a three-piece suit? Go for it. Want to try a trendier suiting silhouette? Sure, as long as it’s in a dark, safe color. Itching to swap out the dress shirt for a regular button-down? Um, okay, just keep it hidden with your suit.
Common activities: Weddings, awarding ceremonies, wedding anniversaries
What it means in the Philippines: A long-sleeve button-down with a tie, slacks and leather shoes
What is really is: Basically the same thing as formal



A.k.a. “strictly formal,” which is actually “black tie optional.” The only difference is you can wear a suit instead of a tux; a tux usually has satin (that shiny fabric) in it.
Common activities: Weddings, galas, and even more weddings
What it means in the Philippines: A long-sleeve button-down with a tie, a blazer, slacks and leather shoes
What is really is: Suit and tie (cue the J.T. song) with a dress shirt or in our culture, a long-sleeve piña barong (FYI, a suit is a jacket and trousers cut from the same cloth.)

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Black Tie


Black tie is rare in most circles. This is kind of like the unicorn of dressing.
Common activities: Weddings, balls, state affairs
What it means in the Philippines: Somewhere between a tux and tail coats
What is really is: A tux and tuxedo pants, a dress shirt with a bib and French cuffs, a waistcoat or a cummerbund, a bow tie, and dress shoes with proper socks, of course!

What it all comes down to is respect, sensitivity and of course, personal preference. The weather usually doesn’t permit a lot of layering, so make sure there’s airconditioning before daring to layer anything thick and warm—which makes our national attire a sensible choice. But picking what shirt to wear with which pants is only half the battle. Learn which shoes to belong to which occasions in a future article.

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