I'm a Stylist, and Here's How I Define Party Dress Codes

Have you ever looked at your closet and thought, I have nothing to wear? Picking the perfect outfit can be a struggle, especially when trying to adhere to a particular party dress code. From finding the perfect cocktail dress to deciding what to wear to a fall wedding, the choices can feel endless. So in an effort to take some of the stress out of decoding dress codes, we spoke with celebrity fashion stylist and designer Mickey Freeman. Ahead, you'll discover his signature tips for nailing any party dress code, how he defines everything from black-tie attire to business casual, and of course, a little about his career. Keep scrolling for Freeman's guide to party dress codes, along with formal-attire outfit inspiration and shopping recommendations that will make dressing for your next big occasion a breeze.

About Mickey Freeman

Party dress codes defined by celebrity stylist, Mickey Freeman


Courtesy of Michael Creagh for Mickey Freeman

Let's start from the beginning. How did you become a fashion stylist? And who is on your client list? 

Fashion styling as a career has always been inside of me. In retrospect, I have subconsciously prepared myself for my trajectory throughout my entire childhood. My earliest beginnings as a fashion stylist started with me as my own muse. It was imperative for me to develop the necessary business acumen to help make my vision a reality. As I got older, I would be my own representation of who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go, so I would dress the part—and that was the driving force behind my career as a stylist.  

After years of traveling back and forth to NYC from my hometown of Philly to freelance and shoot with local photographers on various editorial test shoots, I eventually created a demand for me to actually be at the helm of an editorial shoot for GQ Portugal. I haven't looked back since. Fast-forward, I am a celebrity fashion stylist and creative director represented by The Only Agency and have worked with many of the top entertainers in the industry, more recently, actors including Brett Gray, Keke Palmer, Peyton List, Kiana Madeira, and Woody McClain, to name a few.

Party dress code defined by celebrity stylist, Mickey Freeman


Courtesy of Michael Creagh for Mickey Freeman

As a stylist, what's the most challenging part of following a party dress code for your clients? 

The most challenging part of styling a client while also adhering to a specific dress code would be making certain the look is reasonably appropriate for the occasion and the client's body type while simultaneously achieving a great fit, comfortability, and a sense of individuality.

What's the one piece of advice you'd share when it comes to following any party dress codes? 

Making the most impactful statement while navigating within the confines of any dress code comes down to the details. It's important to showcase your individuality through things like accessories and jewelry. Even choosing classic options (like a mid-length black dress) with interesting textures or ornate embellishments can make all the difference in the world.

Breaking Down the Party Dress Codes

White Tie
Party dress code; what to wear to a white tie event



When it comes to defining and dressing for a white-tie party dress code, Freeman gravitates toward a royal-inspired look. "White-tie is one of the most formal of affairs. It's a dress code in which I feel someone should be as tasteful and regal as possible," he explains. "I would recommend a long-length gown with intricate details, especially around the bodice. Feel free to have a princess moment!"

Shop some white tie–ready pieces:

The feathers on this dress are everything

A simple black gown is never a bad idea. Just add accessories.

Calling all brides: This dress is for you. 

Now that you've RSVP'd, you have an excuse to invest in that designer clutch bag you've been eyeing forever. 

Black Tie
Party dress code; what to wear to a black tie event



When it comes to black-tie events, Freeman is a fan of pure elegance with thoughtful accessories. "I would describe black-tie dress codes as a formal way of dressing," Freeman continued. "It's one in which the most appropriate option is a mid to long-length dark-colored dress or gown. I'd recommend completing this look with a statement clutch and attention-grabbing necklace and or earrings."

Shop some black tie–ready pieces:

Who said you couldn't get a little sultry with your look? 

This dress will be a crowd-pleaser. 

Black Tie Optional
Party dress code; what to wear to a black-tie optional event



What's the difference between black tie and black tie optional? According to Freeman, black tie optional should still adhere to black-tie guidelines as far as dress length is concerned. "The difference is that one would be able to play with color a bit more, so long as the dress is monochromatic," he elaborates.

Shop some black tie optional–ready pieces:

Suiting is also a great outfit idea for a black-tie-optional event. 

The best thing about this top? You can dress it up for a black-tie-optional event or wear it in your day-to-day life. 

Perfect for the dance floor. 

Creative Black Tie
Party dress code; what to wear for a creative black tie event



Not exactly sure what the invitation means when the party dress code is creative black tie? Freeman advises us to think of creative black tie as an embodiment of black tie but with a twist. "For example, opting for avant-garde millinery or sculptural clutches is one way to honor this dress code," he explains. "It is also easy to achieve this look through eccentrically designed jewelry."

Shop some creative black tie–ready pieces:

Imagine how it'll bounce on the dance floor.

Party dress code; what to wear to a cocktail event



When the party invitation says cocktail attire, remember this: A cocktail affair should be flirty but sophisticated. According to Freeman, "The easiest way to achieve the perfect cocktail-party outfit is by opting for a short dress with a nice A-line or peplum combined with a pair of pumps."

Shop some cocktail-ready pieces:
Come as You Are
Party dress code; what to wear for Come As You Are dress code



Ah, the vaguest dress code of all! Before you roll your eyes or decide to skip the gathering altogether, you'll want to listen to Freeman. He confessed, "The only rationale behind this code is to ensure guests don't come in their gym clothes. It's all about maintaining your sense of style, and it's up to your discretion." So as long as you ditch the leggings, you'll be okay.

Shop some come as you are–ready pieces:

Forget the side eyes, and go for the cutouts. 

If doing the most is your MO, sequins are a must-wear. 

Business Casual
Party dress code; what to wear to a Business Casual party



The holiday season is here, and so are the business-causal events. Before you fret over what your boss will think about your 'fit, keep in mind that this is simply a more elevated version of workwear. According to Freeman, "Business casual is about combining office attire with casual pieces usually worn during the day in earth and mineral tones." He suggests wearing a sharply tailored pair of trousers with a bold blouse and flat leather mules or oxfords.

Shop some business casual–ready pieces:

You'll wear this long past the party's date. 

They're perfect for the bar or the boardroom. 

Chocolate-brown blazer? Don't mind if we do. 

Party dress code; what to wear to a holiday festive party



With so many other things to think about during the winter months, the last thing you should be stressing about is what to wear to that holiday party. Freeman's advice for dressing and surviving the holiday season is to "tastefully decorate yourself by wearing garments with elaborate embroidery, gaudy rings, and luxe fabrics. Be extra," he encourages. After all, it's the season to celebrate.

Shop some holiday/festive-ready pieces:

Mistletoe not included with the purchase of this dress. 

Nothing screams "holiday" quite like velvet and bows. 

Forget starry night, you'll be the brightest star at the soirée in this number. 

Casual Chic
Party dress code; what to wear to a casual chic party



Let's be honest: A party with a casual dress code can feel more daunting than a black-tie affair. Because the definition can be unclear, Freeman suggests going for a low-key vibe. "When adhering to a casual-chic or just causal party dress code, your outfit should always have an element of comfort and relaxation," he explains. "Refer to boho-chic trends and streetwear trends, and invest in classic pieces with an interesting twist, such as leather jackets and longline T-shirts."

Shop some casual chic–ready pieces:

Leather blazers are the staple you can turn to time and again when you're not sure what to wear. 

A simple white bodysuit will always be stylish. 

White sneakers are every wardrobe's unsung style staple. 

The key to nailing a casual-chic dress code is by having a great arsenal of accessories—like this shoulder bag. 

Beach/Tropic Casual
Party dress code; what to wear to a Beach/Tropic Casual party



Besides packing your swimsuit, what exactly should you wear to a beach wedding? Freeman mused, "For all of the holiday jet-setters, invest in pieces that are made of breathable fabrics, such as drawstring linen pants, silk slip dresses, and bright jewel-tone sheaths. A rigid and good-quality pair of sunglasses will be necessary for almost all instances while on vacation as well."

Shop some beach-ready pieces:

Don't leave without a pair of signature shades. 

This top makes me want to burst out singing, "Do you like piña coladas?"

Trip or no trip, linen pants are a must. 

Just because you'll be by the beach doesn't mean you should forgo a bag. 

Outdoor Occasion
Party dress code; what to wear to a Outdoor Occasion party



The idea of a party outside sounds superb considering the current state of the world, but to nail this party dress code, you'll want to adhere to Freeman's advice. "Outdoor functions should naturally include outerwear, especially now that autumn has set in. When in doubt, prepare yourself with hats, gloves, and scarves just in case the temperature suddenly dips," he suggests. Follow his lead, and you'll look like your outfit was put together by a stylist.

Shop some outdoor occasion–ready pieces:

Imagine this duster at an outside fall wedding. 

You won't have to worry about being cold in this cozy coat. 

Floral beading for an outdoor ocassion? Here for it. 

The best thing about attending an outdoor party? You can go for a dramatic-glove moment.