The son of a close friend is getting married in a few weeks. A lovely invitation came yesterday. Printed on the card were two daunting words: “formal attire.” When my husband saw this he exclaimed, “I hope I can still fit into my tux.” I assured him a dark suit would be fine. (His sigh of relief was palpable.)
It has been so long since we have been able to attend social engagements that we may have forgotten criteria for casual, cocktail, semi-formal, black tie–or even white tie–dressing. Let’s refresh our memories. If not only for ourselves, but for our husbands, sons, daughters, and grandchildren, who may be confused about the terminology.
If you have a copy of Quintessential Style, you can turn to page 16: “The Eternally Vexing Question: What Shall I Wear?” Listed there are five simple criteria to consider when choosing an outfit:
- Time – Is the event during the day, after five, or after 8 p.m.?
- Occasion – Are you attending a ball game, picnic, cocktail party, wedding, funeral?
- Location – Will it be held at a home, office, country club, church?
- People – Who will attend: family, friends, co-workers, strangers?
- Objective – What is your purpose at this event? And, how do you want to be perceived?
But one important thing to remember is: Typically the later in the day, the more formal the attire. (Unless you are going to a slumber party.)
Women are usually pretty keen on picking up vibes for an occasion. We also have an advantage–we can talk to other gals who are attending the same event to compare notes on what to wear.
In Case you need a reminder, here’s a quick guide to special occasion dressing:
Casual is pretty self-explanatory: Shorts, capris, sundress, jeans. But please don’t take this to mean stained, ripped, or wrinkled. That’s not casual–that’s just tatty.
Smart Casual or Resort Formal (a term often used in the cruise business to encourage folks not to walk straight from pool to dining room wearing dripping swimwear) implies slacks, skirt, or dress for women and a jacket for men (no tie necessary). Khakis or dark jeans will work with a sport coat. Tip: The darker the jeans, the more dressy they look (that goes for men and women).
Semi-Formal or After Six usually suggests slacks and a jacket for men (not necessarily a suit), and a tie. For women, palazzo pants, a suit, or a cocktail dress is fine, but you may want to watch the bling. This is where a little black dress–or navy, chocolate brown, or whatever color is most complimentary to your complexion– can become a staple in your wardrobe.
Formal Attire (Black Tie) for men means a tuxedo OR a dark suit (again, darker is always more formal than light) with a tie. Women can wear more bling (i.e., sequins, etc.) and may choose a longer version of their cocktail attire.
White Tie (the most formal of formal). Unless you are British–or a fan of Downton Abbey–you may not be familiar with this term. For men, it consists of a black tail coat (alternatively referred to as a dress coat) worn over a white shirt, white pique waistcoat and a white bow tie worn around a standing wing collar. Along with mid or high-waisted black trousers. (While you’re at it, you could add a black top hat, white gloves, and pocket watch.)
White tie for women means a full length evening dress or ball gown. (Optional: white gloves and tiara.)
Creative Black Tie for Men
A slightly different interpretation of the term “Black Tie” for men might mean straying from the traditional white shirt and black tie and opting for a more fun, modern look. Such as a colorful shirt or a themed tie with your suit or tux. (But, remember, the outfit should still included a “tie.”)
Because men don’t typically have as many options as women when it comes to formalwear, it’s fun to individualize a look and make it a little less conservative. However, don’t stray too far, or you might just come off looking like you’re wearing a costume. Take a look at the image below:
Women can customize their formal looks with jewelry and accessories: an evening bag with a pop of color, shoes with detail. Again don’t go overboard.
NOTE to women: Never, never wear white to a wedding in consideration of the bride (even if her gown is a color other than white). (The exception to this is when the bride and groom request everyone wear white.)
Formal events are usually meant to highlight some important occasion. And wearing appropriate attire is one way to show appreciation and consideration as a guest. When you feel confident in your appearance, you always feel more at ease. And when you feel at ease, you are guaranteed to have a good time.
Hope this helped. Please send questions and comments below. We love hearing from you.