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Dress code: Clothes do make the party Fashion: Abundance of holiday gatherings is an invitation to make the season bright by wearing the right attire.


The social season draws near.

Soon many of us will be partying amid festive gold, red and silver decorations at dinners, charity benefits or other holiday shindigs.

So, how will we dress?

Preferably, in accordance with what is written on the invitation. It's polite to do that, despite our contemporary laid-back attitudes, which make jeans the favored attire for many.

"People don't take invitations literally anymore," says Karen Spratt, president of Innovative Special Events, a 6-year-old Charlotte, N.C., company that stages everything from large corporate events to private parties. "I don't know what it is, but there are so many people that don't like to dress up."

I recently attended a "black tie" affair where several guests wore business suits, casual dresses, pantsuits -- one even wore a casual shirt, slacks and clogs.

This behavior is not only disrespectful to the host, it can say a lot about the guest's attitude toward the occasion and other guests.

It takes a lot of planning and money to pull off a major social gathering. Guests who dress properly enhance the festive ambience and help to make the effort worthwhile.

Granted, sometimes ambiguous wording on the invitations makes it difficult to figure out appropriate attire.

Some hosts dream up dress-code phrases and leave the interpretation to the guest. It's not unusual to get an invitation calling for "holiday chic," "elegantly casual" or "festive attire."

Translation: Wear what you will -- at least that's the effect.

Hosts should be clear about their expectations regarding dress. The phrases may sound catchy, but they can drive people crazy.

With the exception of theme parties (requiring Western, island or ethnic attire, for example) hosts who really care what their guests wear should keep the dress-code language simple. Use the traditional terms and allow the guest to decide just how elegant, or festive or chic to be.

The traditional terms of dress are casual, informal, semiformal, black tie and white tie.

Etiquette experts agree on these definitions for dress codes: Casual dress is relaxed clothing: pants, shorts, skirts and shirts. (Technically, jeans are not appropriate even for casual affairs, but they are widely accepted.)

Sports jackets, blazers and sweaters may be worn if the weather is cool. No neckties.

Informal attire is a dress for a woman and a coat and tie for a man. Before 6 p.m. a man may wear a sports jacket or blazer and tie. A woman may wear an afternoon, or luncheon, dress, similar to what you might wear to church or work.

After 6, the woman may wear a dinner dress or dressy conservative suit; the man wears a dark or light business suit.

Semiformal attire means the woman may wear a long or short cocktail dress or a dressy suit; the man wears a dark suit.

Black tie denotes a tuxedo for men, starched white shirt, studs, French cuffs, cuff links, black shoes and a satin bow tie. The woman wears a long or short evening dress.

Black tie optional gives men the option of wearing a tuxedo or dark suit, and women can wear gowns or cocktail dresses.

White tie, a rare occasion, is full, formal dress. The woman wears a full-skirted ball gown and long, above-the-elbow gloves. The man wears a tuxedo with tails and white kid gloves.

Thoughtful and judicious guests, recognizing that how they present themselves influences their personal and professional relationships, will honor the dress code of the host.

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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