water polo hats From black tie to cocktail chic
One of the thrills in this age of Evite, email, text and Facebook invitations is receiving a printed invitation in the mail. The calligraphy on the front, the elegant or creative design, and, no doubt, the special feeling one gets of being invited to a swanky affair one worthy of a printed invitation. I have seen them all I think. “Cowboy Casual,” “Black Tie Fun,” “Creative Casual” and “Swanky Chic” are a few that come to mind. A former co worker would call them clever, but he wasn’t being particularly complimentary.
Harsh? Maybe. But hear me out. While party hosts are crystal clear about the purpose, date, time and location of the event, it seems they enjoy getting creative when it comes providing with cues about what to wear. Really, what does Creative Casual truly mean? And does it mean the same thing to everyone?
I don’t consider myself an etiquette expert, so I turned to those who make it their job to know: the Emily Post Institute. (And for those who may be unclear of who Emily Post is, she wrote the definitive book, “Etiquette,” in 1922.
“If you look at Emily Post’s original book, table manners seem very similar. Then there are those that evolve more rapidly, such as communication,” Senning said. “Attire fits in the middle of this.”
But what about the new dress code terms? “If you use a creative description, such as emphasizing a theme, be prepared to handle more phone calls about attire,” Senning said. “You, as the host, need to get the word out, and provide a good (method) of contact for (guests with) any questions.
“It is your job as a host to make your guests feel secure,” he said. “Good information about dress allows for your guests to be a good guest.”
What Senning, Betty Hunley of Betty Hunley Designs, as well as Margaret Jones of Scriptura, all agree upon is this: If you are not clear about dress code,
you better be prepared to handle a lot of phone calls about it.
“Whenever possible I counsel clients to leave off cheeky or potentially misleading attire wording,” Jones said.
“When including attire on an invitation, it is best to be clear and straightforward. Humorous or colorful adjectives paired with attire can be confusing or too obtuse to understand,” Jones said. “Direct and unambiguous wording makes guests feel most comfortable, for example coat and tie, jackets preferred, seersucker and sundresses.”
So what to do when dress codes leave you wondering?
Here is a list of common and creative dress codes that I have come across (and I know I have probably just scratched the surface), with definitions created from my own experience as well as from advice offered by Hunley, Jones, Senning and other sources.
For men, it’s a tuxedo. For women, this can be a little trickier. (with a cocktail hour), a woman can wear a more formal cocktail dress. This is a formal, festive event.
“Black tie optional says you are shooting for formality, but not as strict,” Post’s Senning said. “This also allows a man to wear a dark suit if he doesn’t have a tuxedo.” (And again, harkening to New Orleans in the summer, the white linen suit.)
This also allows women to wear a formal cocktail dress, but if the urge to wear a long gown arises, then do so.
Hunley likes “Black tie preferred” better than “Black tie optional”: “Somehow ‘preferred’ seems a little clearer how the host would really like all the guests to dress.”
The invitation sets the tone. Or, a white dinner jacket which tradition also dictates can only be worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Of note, I also have seen black tie invitations on which the evening attire is quite clearly spelled out (“Long dresses no pants”) which may seem to be extreme, but definitely gets the point across.
Costume de rigueur for Carnival balls
This is a French term that essentially means a strict dress code must be adhered to. It is usually seen on invitations for Carnival balls.
When I asked a few of my non Carnival ball associates what they thought it meant, they all answered, “We get to wear a costume?”
No. (But a perfectly reasonable assumption.)
White tie and tails for men, and gloves if they are presenting a debutante; floor length, evening gown for women and white, kid leather gloves (length depending on sleeve length of dress.) And, no white dresses that’s what the debutantes wear!
This is where one sees the clever creativity come into play. Some good,
some . too clever. Here are our best guesses at definitions.