Friday, 18 December 2009

Dress Codes

It's the season when everyone ends up going to a whole string of Christmas and New Year parties. Casual team lunches, client dinners, business drinks, family parties, New Year cocktails; we're faced with a bewildering array of different dress codes, many of which won't be made entirely clear, leaving us no option but to make a few educated guesses.

Dress codes used to be easier, and there was a time when the only two options for an evening event were Black Tie or White Tie. The code was clearly stated on an invitation, and no room for confusion remained. This is certainly no longer the case, and a modern list of dress codes includes a bewildering range of possibilities.

I don't have space in this post to try and explain all the options out there, and there are many places that do this better (I reccomend a good men's style book from Debrett's or Esquire). Instead, what I would like to do is to provide a few tips to people who might find themselves needing to set a dress code, in the hope that by they can avoid some of the pitfalls that make dressing for an event more difficult than it really needs to be.

Be Bold
It's your party, you get to set the dress code. If you want people to wear Black Tie then make that the dress code, but don't qualify it with 'Black Tie Optional' or 'Black Tie Preferred'. This just creates confusion and guaruntees that at least a few people at your party will feel incorrectly dressed. Have the confidence to set a dress code and stick to it.

Be Specific
The classic dress codes of White Tie, Black Tie, Morning Dress and Lounge Suit are clear and unambiguous, everyone knows (or ought to know) what is expected of them.
Things get more complicated, however, with dress codes like 'smart-casual', 'business informal' or just 'smart'. I recently received an invitation with a dress code of 'smart' and this means nothing to me, since I consider both White Tie and a blazer and chinos to be pretty smart in different contexts. Instead of going down this route, say something specific like 'Jacket and tie'. This makes it clear what is expected, and also gives people clues as to the rest of the outfit. Faced with a 'jacket and tie' dress code, most men will know without being told that jeans are out, but a suit is not neccesary.

Consider the time of day
There's a move in some quarters towards seeing black tie as a catch-all formal outfit, which may explain why it is sometimes seen at day-time weddings. Unfortunately, black tie does not look its best in daytime, which is why it has traditionally been worn only after 6pm.
When setting your dress code it is best to bear this in mind and pick a dress code appropriate to the time of day. The daytime equivalent of Black Tie is generally a lounge suit, while the daytime equivalent of White Tie is Morning Dress.
Enjoy the Christmas parties.


  1. I frequently use "Black Tie Preferred.' All of my guests are appropriately attired, with most in dinner jackets. He who doesn't own a tuxedo is almost always in a dark suit. Although I agree with setting your dress code, I do like to be able to include a few friends who have yet to take the plunge (or can't justify the expense) in our increasingly casual society. A well fitted suit is always preferable to a rented and untailored dinner jacket; at least to my eye and for this sort of a brawl.

    Besides, every year I wear them down a bit more and get at least one "This is the year; you've inspired me to get a tuxedo."

  2. A fair comment, and at least 'Black Tie Preferred' has the advantage of making your preference known, which I definitely think is important. However, I would suggest that those of your friends who genuinely cannot, or will not, buy or hire black tie would, if faced with a simple 'Black Tie' dress code, still turn up in the same well fitted suit, secure in the knowledge that you would not turn them away. If so, the 'Preferred' might be superfluous?

    You're absolutely right, though, there's definitely a lot to be said for the power of a good Black Tie function to encourage people to buy their first tuxedo.

  3. Over here in the US it is even more ambiguous. Christmas parties will state the dreaded "business casual" specification. I haven't met one person who actually knows what this is. I go for a blazer no tie, others go for sports jersey or sport logo sweaters, total mystery.


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