Cracking the Dress Code

Ahhhh, the holidays! A time for Silver Bells, exchanging well thought-out Christmas cards, festive attire, gathering with friends and family, gift giving and parties — lots of parties. From the ugly Christmas sweater shindig to the cocktail gathering with colleagues, receiving invitations in the mail is something many look forward to each season. On most, there is a clue about what to wear printed in small letters at the bottom — black-tie, holiday attire, business casual or coat and tie. 

But what if the invitation has nothing, nada, no details on the attire? When the fear of showing up in a cocktail dress while others are coming straight from work, or making your husband put on a tuxedo while other gentlemen are dressed in a coat and tie — don’t panic! Crack the dress code by simply breaking down exactly what the invitation means.

Invitation Style: Is the invitation written in a beautiful gold calligraphy on a heavy card stock with a sheet of onion paper to separate the response card? Most likely this event is black-tie. Floor-length or cocktail dresses, hair and makeup to the nines are appropriate for the women, and a tuxedo, bow tie and cummerbund for the men.

A lightweight invitation with a colorful fun graphic or pattern will most likely be more casual or cocktail. A coat and tie for gentlemen and a knee-length cocktail dress for the ladies is perfect for this occasion. 

Wording: An invitation printed in black ink that reads: “You are cordially invited to … ” is a good indication that the event will be semi-formal or business casual. With wording such as, “Christmas comes but once a year, let’s get together for some holiday cheer!” then casual holiday attire is appropriate. 

Party Time: The time of day can help you determine exactly what to wear. An event held during the afternoon of a workweek generally calls for business causal. Men will be fine in a sport coat or blazer, and a dress or skirt with a bold piece of jewelry or scarf will work for women. For morning or day parties, a button-up or collared shirt and khakis for the guys, and a holiday sweater or blouse, dark jeans and boots are perfect for the girls. 

The Venue: Where is the event held? If you’ve never heard of the venue, research it online to get an idea of the setting. The location can give you a lot of clues on what to pull out of the closet. A lovely gathering at an upscale venue such as The Lace House or a country club calls for cocktail or semi-formal attire. For a backyard barbeque or small gathering at a restaurant with friends, you can get away with wearing something more casual.

Cracking the dress code on an invitation that did not specify exactly what to wear can be one less thing to stress over this holiday season. If the invitation is sending you mixed messages, it never hurts to ask a friend or family member what they will be wearing. Showing up to a cocktail party in a 1988 sweater you pulled from your mother’s closet, for what you thought was a “festive” party, can easily be avoided with a few decoding tricks!