By Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
Is your initial joy in receiving an invitation quickly sucked away by thinking about what you're going to wear? Mine usually is. We’ve all been there!
We know our clothes introduce us and speak for us from across the room before we have a chance to say our first word.
We want to look good, even to stand out, as long as it’s for our good choice and not for a “What is she wearing?” whisper between two guests. In the good ol’ days… say 15 years ago, knowing what to wear to any social event was pretty much no stress. There were about four different categories of attire, each with easy-to-define guidelines that made getting ready for our grownup gatherings as easy as dressing our little ones in Garanimals!
Then, someone, somewhere decided that individuality and clever labels for suggested attire like “Hollywood Casual” and “Urban Chic” trumped the comfort of the predictability of mutual agreed upon norms like “Business” or “Black tie” and threw away the guidelines. It's all too much, and since there's no public agreement on what these new labels mean, most of them are useless for helping you and me look our best.
The guests that come dressed-up to the party look at the guests wearing khakis and sweaters and say, “I’m way overdressed.”
The khaki crowd feels every synapse in their bodies twitter while they glance at their fellow guests in cocktail dresses and four-inch heels and internally mumble, “I didn’t know I was supposed to dress up for this. I look like a frump.”
Oh, for the good ol’ days of mutually known norms!
Let’s bring them back! We’ll start with you and me. Then the rest of the world just might chose to join us once they experience how much more fun a party is when you don’t spend days trying to decide what to wear, and then the whole party wishing you had chosen something different. Enough of that!
You know me; I’m about helping you shine while keeping it easy and gracious. With that in mind, I made a simple, savvy, keep-forever list for translating dress codes and knowing what to wear to look your best!
When different labels mean the same thing, I've listed them on the same line. They cover 99% of events and help you translate an invitation's dress code to know that you’re in tune with the host’s expectations and with what the other guests will be wearing.
Now you can relax and enjoy your party!
Six Labels Defined From Casual to Dressy
Casual: Most men's favorite! You can pretty much dress like you're going to the Florida vs. Georgia game! Shorts, jeans, tee-shirts, flip-flops, etc. Just keep in mind your hosts. If they tend to dress up more than down, you'll want to mirror that when you're getting dressed.
Semi-Casual/Business Casual: This label isn’t as causal as you think it might be. No denim for anyone. Blazers or sports coats for men are great, no shorts for men, no khakis for women, although they're fine for men. Keep in mind you don't want to wear anything you wouldn't wear to a traditional office on a day when you were going to be seeing clients or customers.
Business: This is the most misunderstood label. Suits and ties for men, suits (either skirts or pants) for women, dress shoes, well accessorized. Depending on your field of work, this might be more formal than what you wear on a day-to-day basis. Think Donald Trump or your favorite First Lady. Dress like you're interviewing for a six-figure job!
Semi-formal/Cocktail: For men: dark suits and white shirts, silk ties in more formal-looking patterns. For women: the classic little black dress or an outfit (skirt and blouse or pants and a blouse) of a silky, satin, or other light fabric, highest heels you can comfortably wear, sparkling jewelry. Usually no long dresses.
Formal/Black Tie: Go all out with all the sizzle you want, but keep in mind that understated usually makes the best statement. Dinner jacket (tuxedo) for men; long dress for women. Think walking the red carpet at the Oscars(R)!
White Tie: Something most of us will never see on our invitations. Requires men to wear a white bow tie and a white dinner jacket with tails. Ladies must wear a long dress with long white gloves. Think dining with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Even the White House now hosts just one or two "White Tie" events each year. These evenings are usually to honor visiting foreign dignitaries.
Have you ever "missed the memo" about the dress code of an event? What happened? What did you do?