There are currently two topics competing for small talk top spot: how bad your hayfever is and how busy your calendar is. Weddings, baby showers, engagement parties, garden get-togethers – spring frivolity is in full swing for yet another year.

The sight of a dress code on an invitation can be daunting. Some are simply suggestions, while others have more meaning. But rather than looking at the invite as an insult to your wardrobe, view it as an opportunity to flex your dressing-up muscle. Cast your mind back to the depths of lockdowns (and the loungewear you wore for a little too long after) and lean into the revelry a cocktail or black-tie event offers us now. While the differences in men’s wardrobes feel more marked (when to wear a tie, add a suit jacket or go the whole way in a tux), paying attention to fabrics and adding (or subtracting) accessories helps to find balance for all sorts of occasions. Just don’t forget to pack an antihistamine in your purse.

Smart casual

Smart casual is sometimes the most confusing category. It’s best to think of this code in context: is it a celebration (engagement, baby shower and garden parties spring to mind) or a more low-key commitment (work dinner, gallery opening etc.)? Then gauge the degree of polish needed. Sometimes you can simply add a pair of pointed slingbacks to everyday tailoring for an after-work affair.

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But if you’re looking for a new dress as we head into peak event season, take note of fabrics rather than silhouettes to separate more relaxed looks. Marle makes its off-the-shoulder Poppy dress from linen. Sir follows suit with its wildflower printed Noemi mini and halter-neck midi styles. Acler adds more florals to the mix with its violet Ardanary maxi and multi-coloured Marston dress. Both Alemais and Matteau cut shirt dresses from floating cotton and silk blend fabrics, making great choices for daytime. The cornflower blue Oona dress from Foemina drapes in tencel and the brand’s pine green Marlow mini comes in cotton poplin for an injection of colour. Meanwhile, Christopher Esber’s jersey Folia tank dress is adorned with jewellery-inspired detailing at the waist. Each of these styles can be carried by a trending ballet flat or low-heeled sandal to finish.


Cocktail codes call for a little more jazz hands. Sir’s occasion collection, which is modelled off co-founder and creative director Sophie Coote’s own bridesmaid dresses, sets the tone with a range of sculptural silhouettes. The Sydney brand’s just-launched resort collection riffs on these silhouettes with styles like the Azul gown and mini in new-season colourways – the Frankie midi is another crowd pleaser. Alemais echoes a high octane energy with its ruffled off-shoulder Suzi silhouette, also available in mini and midi hemlines, while the brand’s Luca corset midi offers a sleeker silhouette.

And where Friends with Frank’s semi-sheer Constance style whispers to the naked dress trend, Anna Quan’s dare-to-bare sequinned Jacqueline design speaks full volume. St Agni hits a middle note with this floral-adorned option. Another ‘90s-inspired smash from Matteau lands in red and brown silk crepe de chine. Oroton leans into classic femininity with this lace and floral-trimmed midi. Wynn Hamlyn’s Monica dress and the Harlow silhouette from Friends with Frank bring simple structure back, making way for the power of accessories. This is where a really great pair of heels and statement earrings claim their titles.

Black tie

Black tie doesn’t necessarily mean black – although it’s a good place to start – but a floor-sweeping hemline is the true mark of after dark glamour. Anna Quan’s sleek strapless Delfina dress (which also comes in white and seasonal shades) is an elegant option. Camilla & Marc caters to a similar sentiment with styles like the Karsten and Willa dresses. Dominique Healy proves less is more with the Sloane maxi. And Melbourne-based Tendresse Studio adds its made-to-order Gabrielle gown to the mix – the silhouette also comes in blue silk satin. Paris Georgia puts glamour front and centre with the embellished Mara maxi.

Christopher Esber leans into minimalism with a twist with this plunge-neck strapless design. Aje delivers styles like the Clarice maxi and Rosewood ruched gown from its resort runway but there’s plenty more to come from the partywear favourite this season. Acler masters statement-making silhouettes with pleated pieces like the Wellington and Karatta dresses. And Kiwi brand Wynn Hamlyn cements itself as a dressing up go-to with the ladylike Victoria maxi and Dianne slip styles.

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