Dress code

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A dress code is a standard of dress for a social, academic, professional event, etc. Unfortunately, many Columbia underclassmen have absolutely no idea what constitutes an appropriate standard of dress. This article attempts to provide some guidelines.

Guidelines for use

These guidelines are ranked in their order of formality. On most occasion without clear directives (e.g. "black-tie optional" or "business formal recommended"), it is usually acceptable to wear attire one level further up the hierarchy (business casual to a casual function, business formal to a business casual function). However, be careful. If a job networking function specifically says business casual, and you show up in a suit, you will instantly be labeled a major tool / gunner. Likewise, if you show up to the Columbia College Senior Dinner in black tie, you will probably be mistaken for one of the servers. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. However, never violate clear directives.

National dress is sometimes considered appropriate to wear to black tie and white tie occasions. However, this is largely in diplomatic circles. At Columbia, this has happened, however. Nicholas Frisch, for example, showed up to the Columbia College Senior Dinner in a Mao suit.

Casual and business dress code descriptions


  • General advice: Base your wardrobe decisions on the activity, not the level of formality expected.
  • Men: Jeans and a collared short-sleeved shirt are both appropriate. Or you could wear a nice shirt. Just don't go with shorts and a t-shirt.
  • Women:
  • Occasions: Class, parties, walking around campus, anything that doesn't require something more formal.

Business casual

  • AKA: Informal, semi-formal. Note that "informal" is effectively the same as "business casual", and nothing to do with "casual".
  • General advice:
  • Men: Long-sleeved collared button-down shirt and dress pants or khakis. Tie is optional; mostly unnecessary. Blazer is optional; mostly pretentious. Matching socks and dress shoes.
  • Women: Dark slacks with a sweater or blazer.
  • Occasions: Job networking functions, meals with faculty, most jobs.

Business formal

  • AKA: Business professional.
  • General advice:
  • Men: Collared dress shirt. Tie. Jacket with matching trousers. Matching socks and dress shoes. Pocket square is optional.
  • Women:
  • Occasions: Job interviews, meetings with deans for the purpose of discussing disciplinary infractions, some jobs (such as finance).

Black tie dress code descriptions

Black tie optional

  • General advice: Wear something appropriate for the formality of the occasion.
  • Men: A dark suit and dark tie will do for men with a white shirt for added formality. Black shoes are a must. For ties, make sure to use a full Windsor knot, the largest and most elegant.
  • Women: Cocktail dress.
  • Occasions:

Creative black tie

  • General advice: Like black tie, but with creativity.
  • Men: There's room for a more modern, nontraditional cut, or a quirky tie.
  • Women: Something formal but perhaps a bright or flirty dress.
  • Occasions:

Black tie

  • General advice: Slightly more formal than "black tie optional" but less than "black tie preferred".
  • Men: Standard black tuxedo with a black vest and bow tie.
  • Women: Long dress, more adventurous than for "black tie optional", with a slit, embellished fabric, or color. Chic cocktail dress.
  • Occasions: Weddings, openings, cultural events.

Black tie preferred

  • General advice:
  • Men: Tuxedo with tuxedo shirt and matching trousers. Bow tie or ascot. Pocket squares recommended. Cummerbund and/or suspenders are optional. Waistcoat and wing collars are also optional. Matching socks and patent leather shoes.
  • Women:
  • Occasions: Formal dinners, formal dances, opening season at the opera, Senior Ball, fraternity and sorority formals, John Jay Award dinners.

White tie

  • General advice: If you are a Columbia student and you have to go to a white tie event, then either you are studying abroad at Oxford or Cambridge. Or you are a member of St. A's. Or you are a serious tool. Or you are serious old money and already know what you are doing and have no business reading this entry. But for reference, white tie includes a formal tailcoat, an actual white bow-tie, stiff front shirts, a wing collar, and possibly a white waistcoat. Silk stockings apparently are also required.