Gracious Living Guide 23: Respecting Dress Codes


Photo: Landon Jacob

Spring and Summer are the popular wedding seasons. It is also a season of many charitable fete and soiree. As events become more 'offbeat' and 'innovative', ensuring that I attend with the right dress code can be a challenge. Does my host took into the account of the searing heat when a formal dress is requested for an all day event? Should I attend with my senses or according to the invited dress code?

Many internet sources have tips for the bride and bridegroom on choosing the appropriate attire for their big day. However advice on picking the appropriate outfit for the invited guests is usually scarce. It certainly did not help when dress code stipulations on invitations are vague, serving to confuse the guests even further.

So we seek the expertise of Philip B Crook from on what dress codes truly mean and styles that you can rely on to make sure you are within the requested dress code. It would also helps if we, as host, provide a guideline and examples on our invitation (or perhaps a blog post) on our requirements if we have stipulated a dress code. As a guests, if we are unsure, the best is always to ask and ask specifically with details of what you have planned put on for the event. 

According to Philip B Crook's guide, the event's venue is also a good indication to which attire you ought to pick and usually stipulated dress code does not differ too drastically from the venue. Here are the 4 categories of dress codes that one may required to follow when attending a wedding or a summer fête



Images by Fairchild Archive

At a "formal" summer wedding—usually held in a hotel ballroom or some equally opulent setting—women are expected to wear floor-length gowns in lightweight luxurious fabrics (think: silk chiffon or silk crepe) with a tasteful neckline and an elegant silhouette. It's about looking dignified and sophisticated—not too tricked-out, revealing, or nightclub-y. To match, men should wear a tuxedo with any of the classic elements: cummerbund, peak lapel, bow tie, studs, and round-toe shoes. But a white jacket tuxedo, for example, feels lighter for formal (also called "black tie") summer weddings. If you are the host and aren't a stickler for tradition but still want to host a formal event, consider writing "black tie optional" on the invite, which allows men the alternative of a dark suit and women the choice of cocktail dresses or dressy separates.



Images by Fairchild Archive

Most of us will feel at ease seeing "semiformal" on our invite. This indicates the kind of attire we are most familiar with for evening weddings and summer soiree: cocktail or festive, dinner party-appropriate attire that we can find in the evening wear section of a department store. Semi formal does not however mean come as I wish, we're talking knee-length, "big-night-out" dresses of the sort they might wear to a New Year's Eve party or on a special date. "Semiformal" is the reason why the little black dress exists, although at a summer wedding, color feels more seasonally-appropriate (from pastels to jewel tones). Men in the business world also have an easy time with "semiformal" as they can wear a suit-and-tie combo appropriate for the office. To put a festive spin on the standard, men might also consider pairing shirts (how about some stripes?) with vibrant and/or patterned summer ties.

Daytime Semi Formal

summer-wedding-guest-attire-3Images by Fairchild Archive

As semiformal's more casual sibling, "daytime semiformal" denotes a dress code suitable for country club or garden weddings—a midday event where the vibe is traditional but without feeling overly fancy. The key here is to to be comfortable while also dressing up a little more than we normally would for church or a ladies' tea party or brunch. Women should wear lightweight dresses (cotton is fine), perhaps in a flora print, while men don the standard uniform of slacks and a sports coat. Or a seersucker or linen suit, as the case may be. And here's where we reach the great tie debate: Tie or no tie? Answer: Either! A less formal, daytime event leaves neck wear up to the wearer, although we might suggest a bow tie as a happy medium (and potential conversation starter).



Images by Fairchild Archive

If the dress code of the event you have been invited to is "informal", this opens up their options to include whatever they would wear to a nice weekend brunch — a good idea for weddings on the beach, in the backyard, or at the barn. Casual cocktail dresses or a simple, flowy sundress are appropriatre. Obviously, separates are also an option. While we wouldn't go so far as to recommend jeans for a man at your wedding, Nantucket reds work just fine, and some men can get away with dressy shorts so long as they pair them with a blazer and nice shirt.

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