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……
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.
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!