Remember being a teen, when pretty much the only event dress code you stressed about was prom? Life seemed a lot simpler then. Nowadays, the sartorial conundrums for events seem endless, as attire codification spans from super formal to uber casual, with variations and gray areas in between. So what’s a gal or guy to do?
Here, we at Revelr layout exactly what each code means in terms of specifics, so that you can spare yourself from hours of texting your friends about what to wear.
This is the fancy schmanciest of the fancy schmancies. Invited by the President to a State Dinner? You’re looking at white tie. What does this mean? For ladies, a ballgown – time to play Cinderella. For men, it means tux with tails and grosgrain or satin lapels. As the name suggests, white bow ties and vests are de rigueur. Shoes should be patent leather. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Gala is just a week away; and Ms. Wintour will surely be noting those who disregard the nuances in attire for this code.
This is more akin to the tuxedos you’ve likely worn at some point in your life. College “formal” events aside, you’ve probably worn appropriate black tie on occasion for a wedding or gala here or there. For ladies, floor-length gowns are appropriate but so are very fancy cocktail dresses (particularly those made of materials like silk or organza – something that makes you feel like it would look good next to a tux). For men, the standard tuxedo is pretty much the only option. Make sure the jacket has peak or shawl lapels. Vests or cummerbunds are classic accompaniments. And don’t forget a tie-it-yourself black bow tie. If the event is outdoors in the summer, a white jacket (or even a patterned one) is permissible.
Black Tie Optional
I used to wonder why this dress code existed. Why not just be decisive and have everyone wear either a suit or a tux? Why make this confusing dress code in the middle for all of your guests to have to consternate about what they should be wearing? As someone who ultimately chose to make their wedding “black tie optional,” I have a bit of perspective here. I think people often do this as a courtesy. The preference is that the hosts would love for everyone to be black tie, but they also realize that it’s a potential inconvenience, as not everyone owns (or desires to spend money to rent) a tux. That being said, this is a nice go-between to allow those that want to dress up to do so. I’m of the opinion that if you receive an invitation with “black tie optional,” you should wear a tuxedo if you’re able. If not, opt for a dark colored suit with a tie. Ladies, you’re free to wear a dressy cocktail dress or floor-length gown.
Time to get creative! Ladies, you have the luxury of wearing everything from an LBD to a cocktail dress or separates with formal shoes (even a riff on a men’s tuxedo could work here if worn with heels or formal footwear). For men, a suit is always safe, and it can be worn with or without a tie. Alternatively, dressy trousers with a collared shirt and tie (sans matching jacket) could also be appropriate. When faced with gray areas like this, I find it better to overdress and be prepared (removing a tie is always easy to do once you arrive if you feel more appropriately dressed without neckwear).
Having worked in a business formal environment for most of my career, this is a territory that I know well. For men, the code borders on a mandated uniform: dark suit, collared shirt, and tie. For women, blouses with skirts, dresses, skirt suits, or pantsuits. And while it’s perhaps unpopular to stipulate that employees dress up like this, as fewer and fewer businesses opt for this level of formality today, there is something very comforting about having few options to contemplate when getting dressed. Dark colors are always safe. And this is the code you want to follow when faced with a job interview or a meeting where you need your killer sartorial game on.
Wear something that shows you care. This can mean a seasonal outfit (particularly as “festive” seems to pop up most during the holiday season) or paying attention to detail that demonstrates some level of awareness. For women, this can mean something with sparkles, colors, embroidery, or even a fun lipstick. Anything goes so long as it looks like you tried and that you’re in celebratory mode (note: jeans are fine, but just ensure you’re not wearing them with a plain old t-shirt). For men, jeans paired with shoes that one wouldn’t wear everyday (velvet slippers, perchance) or even a blazer in an interesting color would be entirely appropriate.
This dress code often blurs lines with business casual. Dressy casual, for me, implies business casual after-hours. You know that image in the magazine where the woman removes her business-y blazer to reveal a great LBD underneath and then adds jewels and some heels to make the look appropriate for date-night? That’s dressy casual. For men, blazers/suits are fine, but khakis are equally appropriate so long as they are paired with a proper button-down.
Smart casual is the new dressy casual. Since jeans are so commonplace nowadays in offices around America, smart casual is essentially what you’d wear to work or on a date. The level of formality is less important than the implication that one is putting some thought into the ensemble itself. Think of what you’d wear to someone’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. That’s smart casual. In other words, you probably wouldn’t show up in a t-shirt featuring your favorite baseball team and sneakers. You’d probably demonstrate that you cleaned up a bit for the occasion. For men, it can mean t-shirts and jeans, but maybe with some shoes that are a little dressier. For women, jeans with a blazer or a blouse, maybe even shorts with dressy shoes.