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

Photo:

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

Photo:

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

Photo:

@lefevrediary

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!"

The feathers on this dress are everything

You'll be the center of attention with this necklace. 

Calling all brides: This dress is for you. 

Even Cinderella would be jealous of these shoes. 

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

Photo:

@michellaccc

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."

Oh so chic. 

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

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

Photo:

@chrissyford

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:
Norma Kamali Halter Turtle Gown in Rose

Go ahead. Opt for a bold hue. 

Who said you have to spend so much money to sparkle? 

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. 

I can envision Carrie Bradshaw wearing these. 

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

Photo:

@nitsanraiter

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:
Kiki Riki Black Mock Neck Cut Out Maxi Dress

A little cutout moment never hurt anyone. 

Now, this is a creative clutch. 

Prefer pantsuits over gowns? Opting for a velvet blazer is a creative take on black-tie suiting. 

Layer this under a suit, and you'll be sure to turn heads. 

Cocktail
Party dress code; what to wear to a cocktail event

Photo:

@alllisonho
 

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."

The jewel chain on this satin dress is so hot. 

These pumps look way more expensive than they actually are. 

This is a purchase I can guarantee you won't regret. 

A moment of silence for this purple satin dress with attached gloves.  

The sparkly ankle strap on these sandals has me in shambles. 

Come as You Are
Party dress code; what to wear for Come As You Are dress code

Photo:

@daleedasoomar

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.

Forget the side eyes, and go for the cutouts. 

Is it just me, or are you drooling over these chocolate-brown sandals too? 

Live in your hoop earrings? You can wear them to the party. 

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

A little black clutch will never fail you. 

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

Photo:

@gosiaboy

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:
& Other Stories Neck Tie Silk Blouse

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. 

Inject a little bit of your personality into the look with printed mules. 

We love a vest moment. 

Just because it's a business function doesn't mean you can't accessorize. Opt for simple everyday jewelry to take your ensemble to the next level. 

Holiday/Festive
Party dress code; what to wear to a holiday festive party

Photo:

@jeannine.roxas

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:
Reformation Breslin Dress

Mistletoe not included with the purchase of this dress. 

Style these with a classic black dress and some jewelry, and you'll have the perfect holiday-party ensemble.

Nothing screams "holiday" quite like crushed velvet. 

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

When in doubt, opting for a satin number is the perfect way to feel festive without going overboard. 

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

Photo:

@fisayolonge

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:
Open Edit Faux Leather Blazer

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. 

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

Photo:

@emilisindlev

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."

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. 

These slides are perfect for lounging by the pool. 

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

Photo:

@fiahamelijnck

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:
Free People Adele Velvet Duster

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. 

You can wear these for your party and for the rest of the season. 

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