How Formal is That Print or Fabric?


I’ve been Googled about this for a long time but never got any answers. This is a thing that is always misleading when it come to formality. I understand the concept of fabrics and that some prints/colors are less formal/professional than others, but the trickiest part is when it comes to garments that has more a formal cut like shift dresses, pencil skirts, blazers but their print and fabric is not consider formal. Such as a corduroy and floral pencil skirts. Its really confusing whether you should go for the fabric/print or the cut of the garments like this when up/down grade them.  I mean, just because its corduroy, I feel very skeptical about wearing sneakers and cotton tops with the pencil skirt.  I only wear canvas sneakers with short bodycon, ruffled and denim skirts personally…


If you think about Levels of Refinement – can wear clothes from two levels at once to dress up or dress down an outfit.  So canvas sneakers (like Converse) will make a pretty floral dress look more casual vs putting that dress with a heel, which would dress it up.

That said, prints and fabrics can change how formal a garment appears.

formality of prints

With prints – the larger, the higher contrast, the more random the print (less ordered) the less formal the garment becomes.  The more colours you add to a pattern, the less formal the garment appears too!

formality of fabrics


Generally, the more textured the fabric, the less formal it becomes.  The lighter the garment, the less “work formal” it appears as dark colours convey more authority than light colours.

Straighter lined garments are more formal then curvier garments because straight lines convey more formality and structure – this is why a straight skirt appears more formal than a circle skirt.

Have you noticed that most formal dresses (think red carpet events) are usually solid colours rather than patterns?  It’s because they are a formal garment for a formal occasion.  Notice the fabrics, they are shiny, or fine and floaty.

So the reality is, you are always weighing up all the elements of a garment at once, the print, the fabric, the texture, the colour/s, the sheen etc. when deciding on how dressed up or down it is and whether or not it’s appropriate for that situation.  In the end the answer comes down to your personality, lifestyle and the occasion as to what you should wear!


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  • Really interesting, now I know why my corduroy Converse are my favourites, rather than my plain black or navy blue ones, they just suit my relaxed style more.

  • Thanks for answering this question! 😀
    When you take in several elements into consideration, I always get confused about where to wear these pieces to. It seems like I buy clothes like that unconciously because I love to wear more formal/corporate clothes but only those are versitile enough to wear dressed down. Dressed up for work, not for Dressed up for an Evening event. 😛 For some reason, jeans and sneakers are too casual for my taste.
    But now I know for most part, why I thought my abstract high contrasted shift dress too informal for dressier occassions. Its also 2 inch above the knee hem so Im not so keen of wearing it to work (retail).

    Btw: regarding lace and sheer through garments, I often hear that they are consider inappropriate to more formal events, both work and “classier” ones (like weddings). When I ask people online, they often accossiate lace with lingerie and find it “too sexy” for weddings. Another thing that confuse me is hemlines, some say you need to wear longer dress to occassions that are dressier than “smart casual” night out, while other find a shorter LBD fine for dressier social function. This hemline: (Im someone who wear any hem from mid-thigh to floor lenght depending on the occassion and mood. When I was younger, I mainly wore my shorter dresses as tunics and for layering purposes, I dont like nrunning around in mini dresses bare legged. lol 😛 But my lifestyle has changed a little bit so I wear them less often. As I get older, I tends to dress more profesional (relaxed corporate). The thing is that, many of the ones Ive are too dressy so Im not sure to wear this type of dresses other than leisure… Im more of a dinner out person, not an party person).

    Whats your opinion about this? Regarding lace and shorter hemlines. I know its not corporate, but to occassions like dressy casual dinners or semi-formal events?

  • This is immensely helpful and informative! Thank you! Prints, textures, colors, sheens, fabrics seem so hard to interpret, but this gives excellent guideposts.

    In reading through your descriptions, it seems like the patterns/fabrics that are more formal also tend to be ones that date less readily (since fewer colors, less abstract patterns if at all), is that right?

    Like Lina/Florentiza, I’m also confused on when lace tops, skirts and dresses are or are not appropriate for professional functions (eg conferences, networking happy hours, etc.).

    • Yes plain fabrics date much less quickly than patterned ones. Even though florals are always around, the style of the floral changes and will easily date a garment!

  • In reading through your descriptions, it seems like the patterns/fabrics that are more formal also tend to be ones that date less readily (since fewer colors, less abstract patterns if at all), is that right?

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