Guestiquette: Dress Codes Decoded

For many socialistas (and socialistos), the time between Thanksgiving and New Years means a social calendar on steroids.  As flurry after flurry of invitations to company holiday parties, winter wonderland galas, and cocktail socials arrive, you may be combing through your closet to find the perfect outfit.   But if, by chance, any of those invitations arrive with the fine print request for dress code adherence,  you may find yourself THAT much more confused and unsure of what to wear.

We recently took a random poll to find out which of the dress codes are the most confusing and shockingly it’s the most common. So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “What is the difference between white tie and black tie?” you’ll want to read this before you set out in search of the perfect holiday outfit.

In the world of dress up, Black Tie is probably the most common dress code requirement you’ll receive.  Ladies, this means long gowns or knee-length dresses.  Of course, an elegant black dress in either length is always a safe bet or maybe a crimson red gown will help make your holiday statement.  Then feel free to dress it up with a strand of pearls or a diamond tennis bracelet, shimmery satin clutch, an elegant updo and a pair of mouthwatering stilettos.

It’s black tuxedos for the gentlemen.  A formal white shirt, and bow tie, cummerbund, socks and patent shoes – all in black – completes the uniform.  Subtle accessories like an expensive watch or sterling silver cufflinks and personalized studs, to replace buttons, helps set you apart from the crowd.

Maybe your invitation reads: Black Tie Optional which only means that the gentlemen have the option of wearing a suit.  However keep in mind that it should still be navy or black and be accompanied by a white shirt and understated tie – I, however would beg to differ with wearing understated anything.  Ladies, no such luck.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a White Tie event, baby…you’ve made it!!  This event classification is usually only reserved for the most posh, sophisticated and expensive of events…think, Presidential Inauguration Ball – so your attire should directly reflect that.  What does THAT look like?

Well, regardless of your budget, it should look like A MILLION BUCKS!!  Ladies, you should immediately start to envision formal gowns, decorative beading, or exceptionally chic faux fur.  Gloves aren’t mandatory but are always a good idea in cold weather climates.  Complete the look with spicy red lipstick and elegant upsweep but keeps details like nail polish and makeup  simple.  Less will always be more at a white tie affair.

Gentlemen, your attire looks a little something like this – a black tailcoat, matching pants with two satin stripes running down the sides, a white tie, white vest and white wing-collar shirt, white gloves, black socks that are long enough to cover your shins and black patent dress shoes.  You may want to also consider wearing a overcoat if it’s cold outside but again, gloves are not a mandatory accessory.

Business Formal is probably most often reserved for events that occur during the week and in the early evening hours and all it means is nice office attire.  So ladies you’ll want to save sexy for the cocktail party and instead reach for a dressy suit or conservative dress.  Meanwhile men your suit options can range the entire color spectrum, regardless of whether or not it is light or dark.  I can’t say to the men enough how important socks and shoes are.  NOTHING is sexy about seeing you all prettied up and then look down and see sweat socks hiding inside of severely scoffed shoes.

Things tend to get tricky when Business Casual is the dress code, after all the type of venue and company can mean all of the difference between wearing a suit jacket versus a pair of jeans.  Regardless, your outfit should always say “I am a professional.  I am here”.  And whether female or male that statement should only be a dressier version of your casual clothes – so envision, a pretty sweater or blouse with khakis, slacks or a pencil skit for the ladies and a collared shirt with slack or khakis and a pair of loafers for the gentlemen.  I would encourage you to stay away from jeans but if you must, only wear the darkest pair you own and make sure they aren’t frayed, faded or ripped.

As I mentioned earlier you’ll want to bring sexy back if the invitation requests Cocktail Attire / Cocktail Attire Festive.  Chicas, have fun with it and pair a sexy pair of sandals with a flowy knee-length dress or tailored trouser pants, work your hair into a playful high ponytail or flirty curls, add some shimmer and lip gloss and strut your stuff!! 

Gentlemen, you may not have to wear a tie but you might want to consider concealing one inside of your jacket pocket until you can be sure.  Don a colorful button down shirt with a pair of dark tailored dress pants and nice soft or hard-bottom shoes.

Still in Doubt?  You have options.  You can always call the host to ask what is appropriate for the event or you can take my advice and overdress.  Who doesn’t want to look better than everyone else in the room and if asked, you can always fib and say you’re on your way to another party.

Happy Partying!!