Terms of Dress

Individuals will often receive an invitation with the dress specified. Very often the geographic location will vary the definition of the some of these “guidelines.” If you are unsure of what to wear, it is always best to ask.

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“Formal Attire”

Historically, Formal refers to White Tie and Semi-formal refers to Black Tie.

White Tie is the most formal style of dress and suggests tails (a long black tailcoat with matching trousers, white wing-collared shirt, white bow tie, and white pique waistcoat). For the ladies, appropriate dress would be a full-skirted grand ball gown and long white gloves.

Black Tie includes a tuxedo for men and a long evening dress (or equivalent dress pants suit) or formal cocktail dress for women.

In the Air Force, this is the Mess Dress/Semi-Formal Uniform and is appropriate attire for functions such as dinings in, dinings out, formal receptions, military weddings (if a participant), and civilian or corporate “black tie” events. Mess Dress is optional for enlisted. For certain official formal evening functions and state occasions, identified as ―white tie affairs, Air Force officers wear the Mess Dress with a white bow tie.

  • For Civilian Men: black tie or tuxedo
  • For Civilian Women: traditionally wear a tea length dress or floor length evening dress (If you arrive at a new base and are unsure what to wear…ask! Many commanders’ spouses have made it appropriate to wear a cocktail dress because of the large number of mess dress affairs.).


“Business Suit”

A business suit is typically cut from the same fabric cloth for both the pants and jacket or skirt and jacket; for men, a tie is worn with it. The material and color is dependent on the time of year, weather, and type of event.

The military counterpart to “business suit” is Service Dress for Air Force and its equivalent for the other services. The Service Dress uniform is appropriate for events, which include ceremonies, parades, reviews, official visits of civilian dignitaries, changes of command, and receptions.

  • For Civilian Men: a tie and conservative suit
  • For Civilian Women: a dressy street-length or “Sunday” dress

“Coat and Tie”

  • For Civilian Men: sports coat and slacks with a tie, the difference between this and business suit is that the coat and pants do not have to match.
  • For Civilian Women: a dressy street-length or “Sunday” dress

“Sport Coat and Tie”

  • For Civilian Men: this is a blazer or sport jacket with color-coordinated slacks; it is not a suit.
  • For Civilian Women: an option of wearing an appropriate dress or a dressy slacks outfit.


“Business Casual” or “Casual”

Business Casual dress implies comfortably unrestricted attire while still appropriate for business and offers broad possibilities for dress. Invitations for the military equivalent to business casual dress will state the uniform, which in most cases will be the “uniform of the day (UOD).”

For civilian guests equivalent appropriate attire includes coat and tie (not a suit), slacks and sport coat, open collar for men and dress/skirt/slacks and blouse or sweater for women. Expect most community dignitaries and civilian guests to arrive in sports coat and tie or business suit unless advised otherwise.

Civilian Business Casual standards will vary depending on geographic location. For example, Business Casual in Washington D.C. (coat and tie or sport coat with or without tie) will be different from Honolulu, HI (Aloha shirt and slacks) or Fort Walton Beach, FL (slacks and golf shirt). If unsure of what to wear, it is always best to ask.

  • For Men: this would be a short or long-sleeve open neck shirt, perhaps with a sweater, and no tie. Sometimes, you will see the terms “Open Collar” or “Sport Shirt” used. These are synonymous with “Casual.”
  • For Women: any casual dress, slacks, blouse, and long or short skirt are appropriate.
  • NOTE: Casual may have a different connotation to foreign visitors. In Europe, for example, casual means “coat and tie.”