Surely your mailbox is overflowing with invitations to everything, from cocktail events to office parties, to Christmas dinners and family reunions. This season spells a lot of merrymaking. But then you get to the bottom of the invitation, and you see it—the dress code.
When the dress code reads garden party, island chic, dressy casual (isn’t that an oxymoron?), or some other combination of highfalutin words, interpreting them can be as complicated as cracking the Da Vinci Code.
Dress codes often mean different things to different people, so here’s a basic guide to making sense of the requested attire, and getting it right for the round of parties this season.
Think bold colors and edgier, funkier styles that you wouldn’t usually wear to a more formal event. You can also experiment with embellishments and prints. For men, this is the time to wear ties and suits in less traditional patterns and colors.
This would be on the more formal end of the spectrum. Think tux for guys and long dresses for the ladies. If the invite says “black tie optional,” men can wear a nice jacket, instead of a tux. Another variation, white tie, is the gold standard in formal dressing, such as for state dinners and society and charity galas. For these occasions, men are required to wear tailcoats with a white fabric vest, white bow tie, and a white winged-collar shirt. Ladies should wear a ball gown, often with accessories like opera-length gloves.
Ladies can be in a long dress, dressy separates, a short embellished dress, or even a tuxedo suit. For the men, a dark-colored suit and tie are recommended.
If it says “cocktail,” the event calls for some dressing up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a suit and tie. Men can opt for jeans and jacket, and for the ladies, this means a knee-length dress or one that hits just below the knee.
You can never go wrong with a classic LBD, a tailored pantsuit, or even a jumpsuit.
The required attire here is similar to those required for cocktail events, but ladies, stay away from anything too slinky or too sexy. Most likely, you’ll be mingling with work colleagues for this sort of events, and you won’t be taken seriously if you go overboard in your choice of necklines and hemlines.
Everyone’s definition of casual is different. You can pretty much wear jeans, leggings, minis—anything goes. In keeping with the holiday season, though, you can add a little shine with sequined tees, pants, or skirts. But no matter what, casual doesn’t mean you can show up in cutoffs and flip-flops.
This is usually the most confusing among the dress codes. Generally, smart casual is office attire with some accessories—sort of like a more “dressed up” office attire. A smart jacket and closed shoes or heels are recommended. If you opt for jeans, your denim should look somewhat dressy and sharp. Leave the torn, shredded styles for the weekend or for attending rock gigs.
Proper wedding attire
We all know the basic wedding attire dos and don’ts, like you should never wear white and you should avoid wearing the same color dress as the bridal entourage. As a general rule, though, colors like red are off-limits, too, or anything that can be perceived as too risqué, although that also depends on the venue and theme of the wedding. Again, just avoid anything that’s too bright, skin-tight and revealing. Never look like you’re trying to upstage the bride!
In case you need to attend more than one event and don’t have time to dress between parties, it’s better to dress for the fancier affair. Remember, if you are invited to an event and still can’t figure out what to wear, don’t hesitate to ask your host. You can always clarify what attire he/she has in mind.