Fashion Fridays: Invitation’s Coded Attire

What on earth happened to black tie optional?  Or business attire?  Everyone wants to be original now when they send their event invitations.  I am not kidding about some of the stuff I see.  I got an invitation to a gala at a fancy hotel serving a seated dinner that said Fashionably Mod.  Excuse me?  What is that?  My girlfriend just got one that said Angelic Cocktail?  She sent me an email that said, “Am I supposed to wear wings and a halo?”

There’s beach casual and urban casual and dressy casual.  Is the first flip flops and shorts?  Is the second a black matte jersey dress?  Is the third a satin halter dress?  What the what?  Not to mention all the invitations that come themed out with no indication as to attire……

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Then there’s Texas chic, festive, California casual, black & white, reunion ready, creative, and so forth and so on.  Well, I can’t crack the code for everything, but here’s a few practical tips to decode the ever increasing coded invitations – always base it on the what, when, and where.

 1.  When is it?  If it’s an evening event with a seated dinner, especially gala style, dress up regardless of what the invite says.  Don’t wear a floor length gown unless it says formal, black tie, or similar, but a unique black cocktail dress (or grey or navy or something relatively sedate) is always a safe bet.  Even if you’re not spot on with attire, you won’t stick out.  For my angelic cocktail attire friend, the party was an evening event at a fancy club, so I told her to wear a lovely ruched navy cocktail dress she’d bought for a work evening awards event.  For my gala, I wore a grey cocktail dress with 3D abstract tulle flowers.  (Charity event, not work event.)

If it’s a day time event, most of the time you can wear business attire – a suit or a nice pair of trousers with pretty blouse.   If it’s a morning brunch, then a pretty dress or skirt and blouse combo is perfect (for a reception or a shower).

2.  What is it?  Is it for business or pleasure?  Huge difference.  Next week we’re going to talk a little about how to go from day to evening seamlessly and will address the distinction in more detail, but a flashy or revealing cocktail dress or party outfit should always be eliminated for a work event.  If the invite says festive, then wear a red silk blouse with a black pencil skirt for a work holiday party.  (Not a skin-tight sequin mini dress or ugly Christmas sweater.)  Is it a large charity gala?  A small wedding ho-down?  A networking event for 500 women?  There will also be some clues to “what” the event is and what the host is after on attire by the invitation: fun and playful or formal script; an evite or letterpress on parchment.  Use these clues to dictate your attire.

3.  Where is it?  If it’s a seated dinner at a farm renovated barn, then the attire is going to look different from a seated dinner at a boutique urban hotel.  Is it in an intimate loft?  Or in someone’s backyard?  Is it at a country club or hotel?  Is it cocktails at a restaurant or lunch at a park?  These will all inform the formality of your dress.  When in doubt, dress up a step.  Skip jeans unless you’re at a rodeo or barbeque. 

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Remember, you can always ask.  Often times you can call the host and just inquire.  I know that’s not always possible for large-scale events and business affairs.  Going with a friend?  Make sure at least the two or four or six of you are aligned on attire so you don’t stick out :)  And have fun!


  1. Page Geske says:

    When we first moved to Idaho we were invited to an outdoor wedding at the parent’s home. It said “Casual Attire”- So I wore a dress, cool summer sundress- but tasteful, and my husband at the time wore dress slacks, coat and tie. I kid you not, we outdressed the bride and groom. I have never felt so awkward in all my life. Who knew jeans, and a potato burlap sack shirt (JK) were in line for the proper dressing. And did I mention cowboy hats and boots- and we were NOT in Texas! The whole event I wanted to crawl under the deck and hide. It was not fun to be overdressed at an outdoor wedding. Had Gindi’s blog been around then- she would have saved my neck and my embaressment- and I would have called and gotten things clarified with the host!

    • Okay, so I am CRACKING up. So that can cut both ways. It’s worse I think to be in jeans and need a dress than be in a dress and need jeans. My husband nearly killed me one year when we went to a 4 pm wedding that was followed by a nice but simple reception with appetizers and drinks but no dinner. I told him to wear a sports coat and a nice top and slacks. Nearly every man there had a tie on. Ugh. He was so hacked. So now I just say put on a tie, you can always take it off! (Had my blog been around then I would have told the bride that she shouldn’t dress more informally than the guests!)

  2. Love this!! And both of you – under dressed and overdressed – are doing better than I am. I’ve been known to miss things simply because I had NO clue what the dress was. Terrible, I know.

    • You’re so funny. You’d better come to Allume so I can fix all this misperceptions you’re putting out there :)


  1. […] Make up? Or does it involve a whole outfit?  That’s why I mentioned last week, when unpacking random invitation code, that I’d tackle this day to evening topic this […]


    Fashion Fridays: Invitation’s Coded Attire

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