Social Graces: Solving the Dress Code Guessing Game

Who, what, when—wear? Deciphering an event’s dress code from the invitation can be quite the puzzler. Luckily, most leave clues as to the event’s appropriate attire. Here are a few tips for debunking your invite:
First, look to the bottom right corner of the invitation. Sometimes the host is very helpful and will leave a note announcing the dress code directly. The only hitch with this clue is knowing the lingo. Here’s a cheat sheet:

Black Tie – Ladies: Evening gown (preferred) or fancy cocktail dress. Men: Tuxedo (preferred) or dark-colored suit and tie.
Black Tie Optional – Ladies: Evening gown, cocktail dress or fancy suit. Men: Tuxedo or dark suit and tie.
Formal – Ladies: Fancy cocktail dress or suit. Men: Dark suit and tie.
Semi-Formal – Ladies: Cocktail dress or skirt and blouse. Men: Suit and tie or khakis and blazer with tie, light or dark.
Beach Formal – Ladies: A more formal sundress and flat sandals. Men: Light summer suit and sandals. Tie optional.
Casual – Ladies: Sundress, skirt or pants and blouse. Men: Dress pants and button-down shirt or polo.

No dress code listed? No worries! Invitation style, font, and details will help you avoid a fashion faux pas. First, take a look at the invitation as a whole. Is it on heavy cardstock? Is there filigree around the edges? Are the colors and design formal? If the invitation seems fancy, it’s almost guaranteed the event will be fancy, so lean to the Semi-Formal or Formal options. If the invitation is more relaxed, has a lot of color and a picture or art in the background, it will usually be less formal so lean towards Semi-Formal or Casual.
decoding wedding dress codes
Next, look to the font and verbiage of the invitation. Elegant cursive fonts have a fancier flair compared to a basic print.  Another indicator is the language used. If it says, “request the honor of your presence,” that is much more formal than “invite you to.” If you’re not sure about the sophistication of language, judge  by
whether you would say the phrase in normal conversation. If not, it’s likely a Semi-Formal or above event.

Finally, the details included offer informative clues. What time of day is the event? Daytime events (before 5p.m.) are less formal and, depending on the season, warmer, so lighter, more casual attire is appropriate. If the event takes place after 5 p.m., it likely falls in the Semi-Formal or above category. Another great clue is the location. A country club offers much fancier surroundings than a barn, and thus, guests’ attire will follow suit.

Still unsure? Ask someone closely involved with the event, so long as it’s not the bride, and, as a final rule of thumb: It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Photo: Invite from SincerelyJackie shop