Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dress Code Decryption

Dear Grace:
I have become flummoxed of late by some recent invitations. The dress codes invoke some sort of jargon that I don't speak and I am fearful of showing up inappropriately attired. I received two printed invitations phrased as follows:
For a 30th birthday party: "not cocktail, but smart".
For a wedding rehearsal dinner: "evening casual".
Translations, please?

Grace Says:

Oh, dear. You are wondering whether to go for "I'd like to thank the Academy...."

Or, "I just cut the grass...."

What you want is something in between. We'll get to that in a moment.

As to the invitation....there are some things that benefit from creativity. Art. Music. Food. Decor. Gift giving (to a point). Fashion. Party Planning. But dress code wording does not. Hosts need to use clear, unambiguous language when it comes to directing guests how to dress.

Yes, it is nice to use the traditional terms--but in many cases they have lost their meaning. "Informal", which which used to convey not-black-tie-but-dressy, is liable to result in guests arriving in gym clothes. This link provides an excellent summary and decoding of the terminology on this thorny topic.

Personally, I love the term "tidy casual", which is commonly used in Australia to describe the attire appropriate at a vast majority of restaurants. I may try to spread it here.

As to the cryptic phrasing you received....both the birthday party and the rehearsal dinner are festive occasions, and clearly both hosts want guests to arrive in something other than Yogawear. Ladies, don dresses, skirts or nice pants. I wouldn't do it--I always dress 'up' not 'down'--but you can get away with jeans if they are dark wash, not ripped (even if the rips are part of the fashion statement), and you pair them with heels and a dressy top. Gents, wear pressed pants, a collared shirt and/or jacket (no tie required).

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