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Dressy Casual… what does that mean??? Should you wear your little black dress or slacks and rhinestone encrusted flip flops?!? Ever received an invitation to a party with confusing suggestions on what to wear? Most etiquette books cover traditional dress such as white tie, black tie, etc What happens when the terminology isn’t in the etiquette books. We have compiled a list of dress suggestions that might appear on modern invitations, beginning with the traditional and moving to the “what are they talking about” selections.

White Tie
White tie is ultra formal and used primarily for diplomatic occasions or debutante balls. Men wear a black coat with tails, black evening pants, black patent leather shoes, stiff white wing collared shirt, studs, white pique vest and white tie. Ladies wear formal evening gowns.

Black Tie
This is also formal attire. Men should wear a black tuxedo jacket (white dinner jackets are fine in the summer or in the tropics) and matching trousers, formal white shirt (plain or pleated front), studs and cufflinks, black bowtie, black cummerbund, black patent shoes (highly shined black leather lace shoes are acceptable). If you choose to wear a vest, it should be a subtle pattern or black. Ladies can wear either a formal evening gown or a short dressy cocktail dress. There is also stunning evening attire for women which feature pants which is also acceptable today. Just be sure the look says “Elegant.”

Black Tie Optional
Gentlemen may wear a tuxedo if the event is after 6 p.m., otherwise a dark suit with a white shirt and conservative tie is appropriate. Ladies wear an evening dress, dressy cocktail dress or dressy cocktail separates. Again, if you choose to wear pants, elegance is the guideline.

Men wear a dark business suit, white or very traditional colored shirt, conservative tie and dressy leather shoes. Ladies choose between a short dressy dress and cocktail attire.

Creative Black Tie
This is a fun one. Men can take their black tuxedo and add a trendy tie, vest or colored shirt. You can go so far as to wear dressy bermuda shorts with your tuxedo jacket. Women can accessorize their formal or cocktail attire with unusual jewelry, a boa, fun shoes, etc. Let the theme of the event and your hosts’ personalities guide your creativity.

Festive or Holiday Attire
This is seen especially around the holidays. Men should think about dress slacks with a sport jacket, shirt and holiday themed tie, or dressy sweater or vest. Ladies put on that favorite holiday outfit. A little glitz is always fun.

Dressy Casual or Casual Chic
Dress slacks, sports jacket/blazer, open-collar shirt, color shirt and tie. A collared golf shirt and jacket/blazer may also be appropriate depending on the location of the event. Street-length dresses, skirt and nice top or a dressy pants outfit are great for the ladies. You should not wear formal but you should look like you are going to a really nice event.

Smart or Business Casual
Khakis or slacks, a sport jacket/blazer, sweater, shirt and tie or open-collar shirt are all just fine. A collared golf shirt and jacket/blazer is ok depending on the location of the event. Ladies have choices including an afternoon dress, pants outfit, slacks/skirt and a sweater or nice shirt. Our take on this one: no jeans and a nice casual look which could be acceptable in a business or professional setting.

Sporty Casual or Casual
Khakis, jeans, nice t-shirt, golf/knit shirt, casual front button shirt are all great for the guys. Ladies can wear khakis, colorful pants, jeans, golf/knit shirt, nice tee and so on. Finally, you can wear jeans!! This is usually a laid back, fun, truly casual get together – dress accordingly.

Beach, Island or Tropic Casual
Men have lots of choices ranging from khakis, bermuda or cargo shorts, golf/knit shirts, casual front button shirts, tropical themed shirts, even a sport jacket. Sundresses, skirts, bermuda shorts, knit shirts or tropical themed attire are great choices for the ladies. Don’t forget a light jacket or sweater for those cool evening breezes (or the A/C). There are a traditionally a few “Don’t”s such as bathing suits, cover-ups or daisy duke shorts. The location of the event is very important. You will need to dress differently if you are at a destination wedding on a beautiful Caribbean beach than you would at a cookout around your neighbor’s pool. Let the theme, location and hosts of the party determine how casual you go.

After all this, if you still receive an invitation with an “innovative” dress requirement and you have no clue what it means, our advice is to simply call your host and ask what everyone is wearing. This simple question can prevent an embarrassing moment when you arrive and realize you totally missed the dress memo.

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