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All About Dress Codes

By: Laura Farrant - Updated: 23 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dress Code Smart Casual Black Tie Formal

Not sure what smart casual means? You are not alone.

There are no rules when it comes to dress codes. Perhaps this is where things become confusing. The boundaries of what is considered acceptable dress have been stretched beyond the point of recognition. Here is a short guide for you to use to navigate this particular social minefield that has long caused both guests and hosts anxieties.

Imposing a Dress Code

So many people have fallen fowl of the dress code scenario. Have you even been invited to a party, told it was informal, only to arrive and see that everyone, bar you, is dressed to impress? You are not alone.

The question of what to wear to an event is still an ever-present and important one. If you are concerned that what you intend to sport will be inappropriate, don't be afraid of asking the host directly. Remember that it is not a social faux pas to seek clarification beforehand.

If you cannot get hold of the host, use your common sense. Try and imagine who the other guests will be and what the context of the event is. If you are going to be sitting across from an elderly grandmother at a family event then sporting a racy number may not be appropriate here.

The Sign of a Good Host

Of course, a thoughtful and polite host will see to it that the dress code is specified and that it is a code that their guests are going to actually understand.

If you are the host, try to avoid making up an innovative, dress code. However original and wacky you might think you are being sending out invitations with expressions like "smart/relaxed" on them will not endear you to your guests. Similarly avoid expressions like "Sunday casual". Does that mean dress worthy of church attendance or slouchy tracksuit bottoms for those lazy days reading the papers and watching the TV? You can see how easily the recipient can get confused. Make the message clear - an unintelligible dress code will leave guests bemused and they will inevitably turn up in their outfits of their own choosing.

So what is acceptable? "Casual", "business casual", "black tie" and "white tie" are all expressions that are easy to understand. They are familiar enough for every age group so anyone receiving an invitation with these terms on it will be able to translate their meaning easily and apply it to their own wardrobe's offerings.

Do We Need a Dress Code?

It has been said that there are few rules when it comes to modern day entertaining. For many of us, the only time we ever encounter a dress code is for themed fancy dress or very formal event. For every other kind of event the mantra appears to be "anything goes".

Of course, if you are invited to a formal affair and the host has clearly indicated a specific dress style, then clearly, the guest will be expected to respect that. However, a host should consider carefully whether such a stipulation is really necessary. The trend these days lends itself towards casual entertaining and generally speaking, guests will be more relaxed if they can dress in a relaxed manner.

The lesson learned here should be that imposing a dress code is fine as long as the one you impose is intelligible to your guests. If you are the guest then don't be afraid of seeking advice from the host on the matter. After all, we surely all want to be remembered for the right reasons when we attend a party.

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