You’re Invited! Styling for Special Events 101

Posted on October 17, 2019

‘Tis the season for weddings, graduations, charity events and seasonal parties galore. Any occasion that calls for dressier attire is an opportunity for you to look and feel your best. Receiving invitations to special events is always exciting, but it can sometimes create anxiety for our clients around what is the appropriate dress for the occasion. Our style team empathizes with this age-old fashion struggle.

So, What Should I Wear?

It is important to take note of what is written on the invitation to help determine what your attire for the event should be. Often times, the expected dress is often specified on the invitation, but if it is not listed, the time of the event and the aesthetic of the invitation can give you important clues. But as a general rule of thumb, when in doubt, just ask the host or hostess!

Here are some common dress codes you will see on invitations and what they mean:

The following dress code breakdown is an excerpt from BJ Wilson’s book, An Expert’s Guide to Fashion: A Workbook and Practical Guide

White Tie or Full Dress

The event is an ultra-formal affair such as a wedding or debutante ball starting at 8 p.m. or later. Men should wear full dress: white tie, tails, vest, and shirt. Women wear long gowns.

Black Tie

A black-tie affair is a formal event such as a wedding or ball that starts at 7:30 p.m. or later. “Formal” and “Black Tie” are interchangeable, calling for formal attire. A man should wear a tuxedo. A woman should wear a cocktail dress, long gown or dressy evening separates.

Black Tie Optional

A man can wear either a tuxedo or a dark suit and tie. A woman should wear a cocktail dress or dressy evening separates.

Semi-Formal or After Five

For these occasions, tuxedos and long dresses are not required. An evening wedding (after 6 p.m.) would dictate dark suits and ties for men and cocktail dresses for women.

Cocktail Attire

If Cocktail Attire is specified, the invitation is for a cocktail party or an evening wedding starting between 6 and 7 p.m. Appropriate attire for men is a dark suit and tie. For women, a short, elegant dress is perfect.

Business Formal

Business Formal is the same as Semi-Formal for a man. For women, Business Formal suggests more tailored dressy suits and dresses, nothing too slinky, low-cut or sexy.

Themed Parties

An invitation to a themed party may specify dress specific to the theme or reflect a dress code of the local or regional culture. For example, at a “Texas Black Tie” event, a man can wear a tuxedo with cowboy boots. A woman can wear a long skirt with a ruffle top, turquoise jewelry, and boots. Debutant parties are often themes and can be elaborate affairs. Pageantry, pomp, and formality have been a part of debutant balls and parties since these events began.

Dinners, receptions, parties and other gatherings by invitation

Appropriate dress is dependent on time, venue, activities and theme. A holiday party might be a formal evening, calling for a cocktail dress, or a casual get-together, where jeans and a fun holiday sweater are appropriate. If you are unsure about the dress, check in with the hostess.

Do you have any special events on your calendar for the upcoming months? Whatever the occasion, we can help create the perfect outfit for you. Contact us today for an appointment with your own personal stylist and shopper. You can check out our professional services here.

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