Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How to Dress for a Party

I’m often asked to clarify how to interpret the dress codes written on an invitation. These styles evolved by custom over the years. When the codes are informative, they are very helpful. Here are “the classics.”

White Tie: Men wear black dinner jackets with tails and white pique vests with white pique bow ties. Women wear long dresses, without exception.

Formal or Black Tie: Men wear black dinner jackets (tuxedos) with black bow ties and, depending on what’s in fashion, a formal white shirt with a classic or wing collar. (Today, the trend is toward the former.) Women wear seasonally appropriate dresses rather than long gowns.

Black Tie Optional: This is a bad, bad idea. Guests feel either overdressed or underdressed.
Informal Attire: This category is the least understood. Men should wear a dark suit, white shirt, and tie, though in summer they may war a dark jacket and light linen trousers instead of a suit—but never a sport coat. Women should wear short dresses. (Wear sparkles only after 6 p.m.)

Cocktail Attire: A new category. Suits for men and fun, short dresses for women. (Sparkle as much as you want.)

Casual Attire: The only rule here is no tie for men.

A standard of dress is always required on a formal invitation. I personally think that categories like "festive dress" or “be creative” only serve to confuse.