When you think of event dress codes, your mind probably goes to weddings and professional occasions. That’s fair because yes, all of those events have dress codes, but if you, your business, or your employer are actively involved in philanthropic causes there’s a good chance you might also need to figure out what to wear to a charity event.
Not all charity events are the same, though. From formal gala-style evenings to more casual fundraisers, navigating these occasions might not be as simple as throwing on a dress or a pair of khakis.
If you’ve got a charity event dress code to decipher, we’ve got some tips to help you do it.
While you might get lucky sometimes and have a dress code listed in an invitation, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, you’re left to navigate what to wear to a fundraiser or charity even all on your own. The good news, though, is that invitations often include subtle hints about the dress code. You just need to know what to look for.
As we mentioned, sometimes a dress code is explicitly spelled out for you. That’s, well, more than a subtle hint. Be sure, however, that you understand what each dress code means.
For a formal or black tie dress code, women should stick with floor-length dresses, elevated pantsuits, or more luxe jumpsuits. As for men, dark-colored suits, bow-ties, and even tuxedos are appropriate. Many charity events, however, call for cocktail attire, which is a step down from formal. Women can opt for skirts and separates, shorter dresses, and trendier items like jumpsuits. Meanwhile, blazers, slacks, and sport jackets are options for men.
If your fundraiser or charity event falls in the early evening or afternoon, there’s a good chance your invitation has a dressy casual dress code. If that’s the case, you’ve got a multitude of options. From sun dresses to maxi skirts to trousers, women can opt for items similar to what to wear to a bridal shower. Men can also dress down in slacks and a button-down shirt without the need for a tie or jacket.
If, however, no dress is mentioned, that’s when the context clues from your invitation come in handy. The first thing you should look for is the venue.
Charity events held in ballrooms, upscale hotels, and high-end restaurants are likely to call for formal or cocktail attire. Meanwhile, fundraisers at more relaxed venues like breweries, wineries, or more laid-back restaurants likely have a more relaxed dress code such as dressy casual or even casual attire.
Another great hint to what to wear to a fundraiser? The time of day it’ll take place. Evening events will almost always be more formal, especially if held at a higher-end venue like a ballroom. But even nighttime events in more casual spaces could mean dressy casual over casual attire.
As for afternoon or morning events, you’ll likely be safe sticking to dressy casual outfits. Women can wear dresses or jumpsuits while men can wear slacks, and the pieces will work for a wide range of appropriate attire, even if the event ends up being a bit more casual than expected. After all, it’s usually better to be a bit overdressed than underdressed.
Finally, think about the season in which the event takes place. While you might have the perfect sun dress or pair of linen pants, they won’t work at a charity event in the fall. Likewise, if you’re heading to an afternoon gathering at a local brewery in the middle of spring, that velvet blazer is likely not the best choice.
Not only is this clue about matching the rest of the guests, but it’s also about keeping you comfortable in your own attire. Think about whether you’ll be outdoors during the gala or fundraiser, what temperatures might be like inside the venue, and tailor your choices from there.
Once you’ve figured out the charity event dress code, it’s time to start narrowing down outfit options. From skirts and dress pants for women to suits or slacks for men, you can mix and match pieces to create a full look or opt for a singular piece like a dress or jumpsuit.
But if you’re stuck on what to wear to a fundraiser or charity event, we’ve got some ideas.
No matter the dress code, there’s likely a dress out there that works for it. For formal events, opt for a floor-length dress, and for cocktail attire, shorter but still dressy pieces are ideal. Of course, dressy casual and casual events can mean anything from a sundress to a sheath dress.
BTFBM Women Sleeveless Mock Neck Cocktail Dresses
Chic and easy to wear is the way to go.
This chic mock neck cocktail dress can be great for charity events with a cocktail attire dress code or even a formal one. Thanks to its long length, satin fabric, and conservative but still playful split, it’s ideal for a variety of events.
oten Women's Sleeveless Deep V Neck Ruched Faux Wrap Dress
Wrap dresses are great options for anyone.
For events that don’t lean into black tie or formal attire but still require something dressier, a shorter cocktail dress is perfect. This piece from Oten features a classic wrap silhouette, asymmetrical hemline, v-neck, and sleeveless design. Altogether, they create a sexy but still appropriate look for a fundraising event.
ANRABESS Women's Elegant Square Neck Ruffle Dress
From the ruffles to the bow straps, this dress is ultra feminine.
For dressy casual and casual events, you’ve got a wide variety of dress options. This piece from Anrabess, however, is a great example of threading the needle dress code-wise. Pair it with heels and a nice clutch for a dressier look, or add sandals or a cute pair of white sneakers for a low-key gathering.
While you might not think of jumpsuits when considering what to wear to a fundraiser, these pieces are actually incredibly versatile and easy to wear. Not only do you not have to worry about pairing a blouse and pants together, but they range from extremely casual to yes, formal.
WDIRARA Women's Mesh Long Sleeve V-Neck Jumpsuit
If you want a little sparkle, this is the jumpsuit for you.
This piece from Wdirara is a perfect example of a formal jumpsuit. With its long, sheer sleeves accented with sparkle, an appropriate but still sexy v-neck, and a straight-leg silhouette, it’ll work for even the dressiest of events.
ANRABESS Women's Black Jumpsuit
Comfy and chic.
If comfort is what you’re looking for in a jumpsuit, this tie, elastic waist option is perfect. Yes, it’s made from comfy polyester spandex, but with heels, the right jewelry, and a great bag, you can elevate this for dressy casual office wear and a charity event.
ANRABESS Women's Sleeveless V-Neck Cutout Jumpsuit
The details make this jumpsuit.
Looking for a piece that’s fun but appropriate? This jumpsuit is it. Not only does it feature a ruched bustline, a flowy, cropped leg, and a fun color, but the subtle cut-out forming an ab window is also just enough for some playful vibes.
For men, suits are often a go-to as for wedding attire and work outfits. But they also work well for charity events. Wear them with a tie or without to adjust to a dressier or more casual feel and be playful with shirts to add some personality.
J.M. Haggar Men's Premium Classic Fit Jacket
You can never go wrong with this classic.
Classic suit separates are always a great option. This black jacket from Haggar features a two-button closure, a notched lapel, and subtle piping details on the pockets. Wear it open without a tie for more relaxed spaces or pair it with a crisp button-up and a tie for something more elevated.
ZEROYAA Men's Business Slim Fit Long Sleeve Button Up
Playful but perfect for pairing.
Just because you’re going with something as classic as a men’s suit, that doesn’t mean you need to wear something boring. This dress shirt in its striking green color (and the other shades it comes in) and matte satin finish offers a way to make a suit a bit more fun.
Bruno Marc Men's Black Casual Dress Shoes
Make sure you don't forget about the shoes.
Of course, if you do opt for a suit, you can’t just wear any old shoes. Make sure your dress shoe coordinates with the formality of your outfit. For tuxedos, a shine is best, but for classic suits like those you’d see in business formal workplaces, a matte finish with a nice brogue works best.
For both men and women, separates are the perfect wardrobe staple. What makes them ideal for a charity event outfit? You can mix and match to create varying levels of formality and casualness. Got a great men’s sports jacket? Pair it with a pair of khakis for a dressy casual feel. Have a sleek maxi skirt? Add heels and a satin blouse to dress it up.
The power of mixing and matching when thinking about what to wear to a fundraiser shouldn’t be underestimated.
COOFANDY Men's Linen Jacket
This linen jacket is comfortable and has a classic cut.
Blazers are a fantastic men’s separate. This option from Coofandy is a great example. Not only does it come in a variety of colors (like this great khaki) so you can express some personality, but because of its classic cut and single-button closure, it can be paired with everything from slacks to dark-wash denim.
GRACE KARIN Women's Flared Pleated Ruffle Knitted A Line Skirt
Twirl away in this fun a-line skirt.
Think skirts can’t be versatile? Think again. While a denim or jersey skirt is probably not the most useful thing in your wardrobe for events, pleated chiffon, silk, and jacquard can all be dressed up or down.
This option from Grace Karin is a great example. While it has a comfortable elastic waistline, chiffon can be easily elevated using a pair of heels and a luxe blouse for a cocktail charity event. If you’re heading out to a fundraiser during the daytime, add some Chucks or classic white sneakers for a playful vibe.
Perry Ellis Portfolio Men's Performance Dress Pant
A classic dress pant can be worn in a multitude of ways.
Men’s dress pants don’t have to be strictly dressy. Instead, they can be a great way to expand your wardrobe options. Take this pair of Perry Ellis men’s pants. Add a tucked-in polo shirt for something dressy casual, or add a crisp white button-up and a sports coat for a more formal event. See? Not all dress pants have to go with a suit.
Tronjori Women's High Waist Casual Wide Leg Trousers
Trousers are always the answer.
Another wardrobe separate you can never go wrong with? A great pair of trousers. This viral set of women’s Amazon trousers is an affordable and chic option. Add heels and a jacket for a professional charity event or tuck in a classic white t-shirt and add some sneakers for a cool-girl vibe at more laid-back fundraisers.
Whether you’re helping raise money for a good cause at a local brewery or heading to a gala at a luxury hotel, figuring out what to wear to a charity event can be tricky. But with the right context clues and a few wardrobe staples, you’ll be just fine.