Your Official Guide to Party Attire and Dress Codes
Putting together party outfits is always a delightful challenge, but deciphering dress codes can feel like a tricky dance. While cocktail and dinner parties may be regular occurrences on your social calendar, how often do you find yourself navigating the realms of black-tie and white-tie events? And what about those invitations that leave you wondering whether “festive,” “come as you are,” or “outdoor elegant” should guide your ensemble? While it’s safe to assume a sophisticated look is a go-to, it’s the unique nuances that make each occasion special.
And let’s not forget about themed events—how much should you embrace the theme, if at all? Fear not; I’m here to answer all your questions and break down every special occasion dress code. Get ready to uncover all the whimsical details, and always remember: Stay true to your own style.
Attire and dress codes for parties can vary widely depending on the type of event, time of day, location, and the preferences of the host or hostess. Here are some common dress codes and what they typically entail:
- Come As You Are: Perhaps the most confusing dress code opens guests up to too much interpretation. The definition of ‘come as you are’ is casual but not too casual. Don’t show up in sweats, but rather in a put-together, casual, and cool look. You can wear comfortable and relaxed clothing, such as jeans, a T-shirt, or a sweater. You can also opt for a casual dress or skirt with a blouse. Confidence is the best accessory, and if you feel great, you will look great, wear whatever makes you feel your best!
- Dressy Casual or Smart Casual: This dress code has more of a laid-back tone, often applied to professional settings, networking events, or parties at someone’s home. Reach for shorter dresses, separates, slacks, or a skirt with a blouse, sweater, or cardigan. Acessories are key with this dress code, too—classic styles like pumps, elegant flats, boots, or simple sandals work well with almost any dressy casual look.
- Cocktail: Cocktail or semi-formal attire can allow for more silhouettes and colors. Think shorter-length dresses, easy separates, and maxi dresses for these affairs. I suggest always opting for the dressier side and making a statement. Look for unique silhouettes and festive details. A shorter hemline is the perfect opportunity to show off a statement shoe.
- Formal or Black Tie Optional: While you can still opt for black-tie formality, guests have a bit more flexibility with this dress code. You can choose a classic style or something more trendy, but make sure it’s elegant and sophisticated. Prints and textures in luxe fabrics for bigger statements and sophisticated solids provide the perfect backdrop for accessories. The look should be elegant and tailored, but feel free to express a bit of your personality.
- Black Tie: The black tie is all about formal wear, specifically gowns and tuxedos. In a traditional sense, black-tie means you must wear something black. However, through the years, it has evolved to allow for more festive colors in dresses and separates. This event is typically an evening wedding or gala where you should dress to impress. Floor-length hemlines, luxurious fabrics, and special touches like lace and beading are all perfect options. With simpler formal dresses, add bold shoes or a bag. Not into dresses? An elegantly tailored pantsuit also fits the bill, recommending a statement earring to up the glam factor.
- White Tie: White tie calls for the fanciest of attire, so be prepared to pull out all the stops. This dress code is the most formal; it’s a world-class event where you will see and be seen. Picture yourself on the red carpet and get ready for your close-up. Full-length evening gowns are a must for white tie, suggesting pared-back and elegant designs but noting applique and beading as welcome flourishes. Be sure your gown is fitted by a tailor, and splurge on hair and makeup for a flawless finish.
It’s always a good idea to check with the host or hostess about the dress code before attending a party to ensure you dress appropriately. Remember that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, so if you’re unsure, it’s best to err on the side of caution and dress up a bit.
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