Explaining Southern Dress Codes

There's social etiquette, and then there's Southern etiquette. Many of these unspoken rules aren't written down or on a list; we learn and absorb them through growing up Southern. While dress codes in Southern culture are no longer as strict as they once were, what to wear in certain situations can range from highly formal to just-rolled-out-of-bed casual.
If you're not from the South or you've been away for a very long time, you might wonder how to go about decoding dress codes in Southern culture, and not to worry! We have some tips and tricks to get you dressed for success.

No White before Easter or after Labor Day

If you were raised in the South, you've probably heard this or were taught the rule of when wearing white was and wasn't acceptable. We're happy to tell you that at least this fashion dress code is no longer taboo. Southern fashion experts agree you can break this dress code so long as the material of the white garment is seasonally appropriate. If the weather is breezy but warm at 70 degrees, feel free to wear the sundress or white pants, but if it's still snowing, hold off on white linen until the snow thaws.

White Tie

There aren't many times when we run into this dress code unless it's a royal wedding or an infrequent occasion. A White Tie dress code is the uppermost formal dress code and typically calls for women to don floor-length gowns and a black dress coat with tails and matching pants for men, with white bow ties and white gloves.

Black Tie

This is a dress code most of us are familiar with for formal attire. Men should opt to dress in full tuxedos, and ladies should wear elegant floor-length gowns for formal cocktail dresses.

Formal or Black Tie Optional

This is a bit more flexible than a black-tie dress code, as men can still wear tuxedos or opt for a formal dark suit, and women can wear any dress they choose, from evening gowns to ball gowns or cocktail attire. Ladies can often get away with wearing a long dress with less structure and a bit more color than the typical black-tie affair.

Semi-Formal or Cocktail

One of the most popular dress codes you'll find in the South and elsewhere. It's perfect for weddings, nights out, evening events, large get-togethers, and Church. Men can wear suits in any color, and women can choose cocktail dresses or outfits, like the go-to little black dress. The black dress is a fabulous must-have for the wardrobe as it can be worn multiple times to different events, and all you need to do to create a different silhouette is change accessories and shoes for a different look every time.

Casual or Daytime

You might be invited to an event where you are told to dress casually, in 'daytime,' or 'dressy casual.' This dress code is ideal for beaches, farms, or intimate gatherings with family and friends. While it can be tempting to reach for the ol' jeans and worn-out favorite T-shirt, unless explicitly stated, we suggest dress shirts, dress slacks or khakis for men and a pretty sundress and wedges or blouse and slacks with either wedges or sandals for the ladies.


For events during holidays, you may be asked to dress Festive. This generally means to dress appropriately for the time and venue and add holiday-appropriate garments, such as a little extra dazzle for New Year's Eve parties or red and green with sparkling accessories for Christmas.

Garden Party

Garden parties are generally held outdoors during the afternoon and invite more color and patterns than your typical casual or festive dress code. Linen, seersucker, gingham, or bold floral print dresses, blouses, and slacks fit ideally here, while men can opt for a light-colored suit paired with a colorful pocket square, or a shirt and tie can work especially well for the gents.

Rule of Thumb

If you receive an invitation to a wedding, a family reunion, a garden party, a gathering, or an event and no attire has been specified, don't hesitate to reach out and ask what is acceptable to wear. Remember that attire for ceremonies held in places of worship will no doubt be far different than that of a garden party. Whenever in doubt, why not err on the side of overdressed? Many of us love getting a little extra fancy every once in a while!