My friend Michaela just had a significant birthday. To celebrate, she spent a significant amount of money to host a lovely cocktail party at her home. The invitations were special. Printed. With a request that guests ‘Please Dress Up”. She wanted a room full of the Betty and Don Drapers’, Jackie Kennedy in Greece, Carrie in Paris. She wanted sophisticated and pretty. More than jeans and a sparkly top. She wanted effort.

But this is 2012 people and somewhere between Rick Astley and Justin Bieber we stopped paying attention to dress codes. Ignoring them. I wasn’t really shocked that Michaela’s party was full of exactly what she didn't want because these days it’s all about interpreting the code rather than following it.

Somewhere between Rick Astley and Justin Bieber we stopped paying attention to dress codes. 

Exhibit Kristen Stewart: She flew to her friends wedding recently with only jeans and t-shirts packed in her luggage. She somehow forgot to pack a dress. The groom’s sister came to the rescue and lent K-Stew a Zac Posen frock. Which she wore. For a minute. A snap on Twitter showed that she was back in her jeans at reception. It was a wedding lady! Would it have killed you to wear the Posen back to your hotel? Smile? Not to pack jeans and a freaking t-shirt for a wedding? I know she’s young, rich, cool, she’s Bella… but her behaviour puts a highlighter pen through just how diluted dress codes have become.

Kristen Stewart on Twitter.

Black Tie has been the hardest hit. When was the last time you went to an event wearing a floor length gown or a tuxedo? Now hands up if everyone at the event was dressed the same as you? The bow tie has been replaced by a black version of the humble office tie and floor length by anything-goes-length. It’s sad. Black Tie made us all look hot.

Mad Men serves as a great reminder of how it used to be done. What we used to look like. Lipstick, heels, suit – it was sexy. Special. Considered. We’ve forgotten just how much clothes can add to an experience. A fashion designer friend always wears his tuxedo to the opera. He firmly believes that Puccini in a tux sounds better than Puccini in ripped jeans. He’s right. Clothes do set the scene. Imagine if Audrey Hepburn had been looking in the window of Tiffany wearing denim cut-offs and a tank top?

It's the adaptation of dress codes that I really despise (not talking about fancy dress which I love). Beach Chic, Urban Cool, Chilled Formal ... we’ve slowly reduced the classic codes into cheesy bumper sticker slogans. Skirts are shorter, legs barer, jeans lower but surely there’s still a place for dressing up when the host requests it? It isn’t about suppression of individuality - wear what you like, interpret how you must – it’s just a polite request to dress differently to how you might on a walk around the block with your dog.

Life is full of ordinary, pedestrian days and ordinary pedestrian clothes. Clothes that blend and go blah. Dress codes are permission to escape that.

Why is that such a bad thing?

Paula Joye is Editor of www.lifestyled.com.au or you follow her on Twitter and Facebook.