Trendy Fashion Styles
Trendy Fashion Styles

The difference between formal and casual dresses

The difference between formal and casual dresses

The difference between formal and casual dresses

Clothing has evolved over the years. What started as a simple cover-up for protection and modesty has developed over centuries into a symbol of individual self-expression and social status. Did you know that in Japan, for example, the style, color and cut of kimonos are so vast that they each have a number of subliminal meanings for social and marital status as well as age and occasion?

Of course, there is a certain etiquette around clothing, too. You don't need to be a fashion expert to know that it wouldn't be appropriate to wear a tracksuit for a job interview or a suit and tie for a picnic in the park. But sometimes the lines between formal and casual wear might not be so straightforward. So what are the key differences? Let's look specifically at women's dresses and what the main differences between the two are so you can avoid making any fashion faux pas.


One of the most obvious and immediate signs of a formal dress will be the fabric it's crafted from. Formal dresses, especially prom or ball gowns, are usually crafted from luxurious fabrics that give a flattering drape. Not all of these fabrics have the same properties. Velvet, for example, is a sumptuous, rich and heavy fabric that exudes glamour. Chiffon, conversely, is a much lighter, flowy fabric but one that gives a lovely silhouette and is very feminine and elegant. Somewhere in between is satin and silk - both fabrics with a wonderful texture.

Multi Floral Sun Midi Dress

A casual sundress, such as this Multi Floral Sun Midi Dress, is far more likely to be crafted from fibers such as cotton, polyester and jersey. These are soft, comfortable and cheaper to produce.

Cut and fit

Mermaid Dress

The cut and fit of a formal dress, such as this Mermaid Dress, is usually more structured and rigid than a casual dress. Imagine a striking, professional suit dress or even a typically structured wedding dress. Both of these will have panels cut into them to make them hug the body in all the right places and create a supportive and flattering fit. You're also far more likely to see a formal dress in a longer cut. It's rare to see a very short formal dress, although they can go to about knee length and still fit the bill.

Casual dresses are usually looser fitting without panels or structuring and can come in a whole range of lengths and styles.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, a formal dress is likely to be more expensive than a casual dress. But for the additional price tag, you are making an investment. The quality of the fabric and the workmanship that goes into making formal dresses usually means that they will stand the test of time. Casual clothing tends to come under the fast fashion bracket and, thanks largely to the cheaper materials used, might not last quite as long. Of course, this isn't always the case. Formal dresses can be replicated by mall chains on a mock basis just like designer brands can create casual or even sporty dresses designed for daywear that come with a hefty price tag.

Pattern and color

Ruched Bodycon Dress

As a general rule, formal clothing tends to come in dark, neutral or muted tones. Think of the last time you were in an office environment. Most people will have been wearing dark-colored suits and white shirts, right? The same principle applies in dresses, too. Navy, black, grey or pastel shades usually make the grade. Bright, brash, bold shades, such as that of this Ruched Bodycon Dress, are more likely to be seen in casual scenarios. The same applies with patterns. Although certain formal dresses (think red carpet dresses) like to make a statement, your average workwear or professional dress will be a plain or two-toned one. Casual dresses allow you the freedom to be more playful with ditsy prints, motifs and other eye-catching designs.


You'd be forgiven for getting confused between the blurred genres between casual and formal wear. Country club casual, business casual, smart casual (and lots more!) are all sub-genres within their own dress codes. Sometimes, when you're on the hunt for a new dress for a particular situation, it's best to shop by occasion rather than trying to second-guess the etiquette. For example, you can search for "wedding guest dress" or "graduation ceremony dress" and see what inspiration comes up. This is a modern method of trying to decipher your way through this process while finding some great ideas that can suit your body type.