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Through tradition and usage, diplomats have come to wear certain kinds of clothes for certain occasions. Your "uniform" will depend on the function, be it casual or formal. This section gives a description of each kind of dress and the occasions for which they are appropriate. Keep in mind that local customs impose many modifications, so be sure to check at post. Sometimes, wearing the country's ethnic or national dress in lieu of traditional dress is appropriate.

In various parts of the world, a specific nomenclature for dress has arisen. Contrary to the common meaning within US culture, in the diplomatic community, "informal dress" equates to business dress (see below). In some parts of the world, other terms for informal dress for men include "lounge suit", "national dress", "tenue de ville", "planters", "shirt and tie", "island casual", and "bush shirt". "Planters" refers to a long sleeved white shirt with a tie and dark trousers. "Bush shirt" is a long or short sleeved shirt with a finished bottom edge worn outside rather than tucked into the slacks, or a long or short sleeved embroidered man's shirt. "Island casual" means a Hawaiian shirt and casual (usually khaki) slacks.

Similarly, various terms apply to formal dress for men. "Tuxedo" and "smoking jacket" mean black tie, whereas a "Red Sea Rig" or "Gulf Rig" means a tuxedo minus the jacket. "Dinner jacket" may refer to either a dark-colored or white jacket. If you are unsure of the terminology used, it is always appropriate to clarify before the event.

For many posts, the overwhelming choice for day-to-day business is a suit and tie for men and a business suit or conservative dress for women. Men and women of all ranks of staff and spouses are expected to bring this type of clothing. Many posts stress that daily attire closely resembles that seen in Washington, DC. Although suitable dress clothing for men can often be purchased at post, it is often limited and expensive. The selection for women may be larger, but the clothing is often limited and expensive as well. Business attire for women is usually appropriate for official evening functions.

Occasionally, business attire will not be appropriate. Below are some dressing guidelines to help clarify the lines between formal and casual wear, day and evening wear. As always, exceptions to the rule exist, so be observant and inquire at post.

Formal "Black Tie" or "White Tie"

Formal wear may be worn at evening performances of the opera, the theater, balls and for the most formal of dinners and evening affairs. Black tie is generally not worn in the daytime. White tie requires the additional formality of a cutaway ("tails") and white tie for men and a floor-length ball gown for women. Above all, let the information on the invitation be your guide. If the invitation is unclear, ask when you respond to the invitation.

Male Attire

  • Black, hip-length coat without tails and with silk or satin lapels (a white dinner coat may be worn in hot weather and the tropics)
  • Low-cut black waistcoat or cummerbund may be worn with a single-breasted coat
  • Black trousers
  • White starched or pleated shirt or a soft evening shirt with studs instead of buttons
  • Wing, turn-down, or attached collar and black bow tie
  • Black shoes and socks
  • Hats and gloves are optional but not worn or carried indoors

Female Attire

  • Knee-length cocktail dress
  • Floor-length ball gown
  • Long skirt with top
  • High-heeled shoes or dressy flats
  • Above-elbow gloves are optional with a sleeveless evening gown, and short gloves may be worn with a long-sleeved gown. If worn, gloves need not be removed for a receiving line or dancing, but are removed prior to eating or drinking.


Semi-formal/Informal wear may be worn for cocktail parties, dinners, some dances, the theater, the opera and evening receptions.

Male Attire

  • Dark suit
  • Tie or bow tie
  • Dark shoes and socks

Female Attire

  • Short cocktail dress
  • Gloves may be worn if the event is outside
  • High-heeled shoes or dressy flats


Unlike the United States, most countries do not define casual as jeans and sneakers or sportswear. Shorts and jeans, for men and women, are considered inappropriate attire for social functions in many parts of the world. Instead, you will find that business attire is usually appropriate for an event specified as casual. Breakfast, lunch, daytime meetings, afternoon tea, and some receptions are generally considered casual, but the invitation should specify.

Male Attire

  • Business suit (light or dark) or
  • Sports jacket and pants
  • Tie or bow tie
  • Dress shoes or loafers

Female Attire

  • Business suit or daytime dress
  • Pumps or flats
  • Hats and gloves are optional - head coverings may be considered a requirement at some events. Hats may also provide welcome and necessary protection from the sun; check with the post.

Medals and Decorations

Foreign Service officers are prohibited from accepting decorations from foreign governments. If you wish to wear war service decorations or civilian medals at formal day or evening events, check with the protocol officer. If appropriate, wear them on your left lapel or over the left breast pocket, US military medals above US civilian medals.

Adapted from material published by the Overseas Briefing Center of the U.S. Department of State.
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