We’ve all been there. We receive an invitation to attend an event (wedding, parties, inauguration, you name it) everything looks fine and we get excited until we read something like: black-tie, white-tie, semiformal, business, cocktail attire, business casual, etc. What the heck do all these words mean?
Dress codes have been around for a while -- they are a formality that instructs guests what to wear for the occasion. They are hard to be broken so don’t try to improvise with a new creative twist. It’s ok to add a personal touch though, but keep it to a minimum; you don’t want to be remembered as “the neon shirt guy” at your cousins’ wedding. Think of dress codes as a true gesture of gratitude to the people who invited you. Sometimes we may not feel totally comfortable with the dress-code, but if you don’t follow it, the feeling of being absolutely out of place could be even worse. The key here is rather simple: if you get noticed, either you missed the code completely or you nailed it in a memorable way.
What’s important to know is that wearing the proper attire will allow you to blend with the other guests easily resulting in a more enjoyable experience. If you need extra help, please make sure to remember these two things:
1. When in doubt, it’s always fine to directly ask your hosts -- they are the most interested in avoiding confusions.
2. If you are still in doubt, it’s always a safer bet to attend over-dressed. But for god’s sake, don’t wear a tux to a birthday party.
Just think of Fred Astaire, how elegant is that? The White Tie is the most formal dress-code, you should feel honored if you enjoy such flamboyant social life. Typically it’s only worn for royal events, state dinners and formal balls. The real deal is composed by black tailcoat (with silk facings), white wingtip collar shirt (minimal in decoration), white waistcoat, white bow tie and black formal shoes (patent pumps, velvet slippers and classic oxfords are accepted).
The famous tuxedo is the main character here. Despite the name, nowadays it’s also accepted in midnight dark blue. Another variation is with white dinner jacket and black pants but it’s only advisable for warm weather. The traditional attire includes: single breasted tuxedo (with or without silk facings), black cummerbund, black bow tie, white turn-down spread collar shirt (with a pleated front) and black formal shoes such as oxfords.
This little cousin of the traditional black tie also accepts a dark suit with a tie or bow tie instead of the tux. So it’s up to you to decide. A new relative is “Creative Black Tie”, so if the invitation says so, then maybe that's your chance to get wild. If you opt for the suit instead of the tux, wear it with a plain white dress shirt, conservative tie, dress socks that match your suit color, and a pair of well-shined shoes such as monk-straps or oxfords.
The most popular of all formal dress-codes. It’s still formal but leaves a little more room to creativity. You can sport a cool pattern in your tie, and in some cases, colored socks. However, suits and ties should always be in dark hues but never black (unless you are a priest). Bold patterns are not easily accepted but a well-fitted windowpane suit can also work really well. Wear them with a pair of well-shined shoes such as brogues, oxfords or monk-straps.
The least formal of all dress-codes allows you to wear or not a tie. Patterns and textures are welcome, so are button-down shirts and dark jeans (no holes, no effects). If you are in doubt of looking too informal, you probably are. So tuck in that shirt mister! Classic wool sport fabrics like tweed and windowpane are always recommended. Make sure to not wear suit jackets as sport jackets, or you will go straight to style-hell. As for shoes, feel free to rock your chukka boots, loafers or brogues.
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