Dress codes are always tricky things: they involve myriad rules and regulations and countless ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts,’ and in certain situations, these laws are pretty much set in stone. While ‘formal’ is perhaps an easier classification to understand than vague directions to wear semi-formal attire or, even more confusing, clothes that are ‘smart-casual,’ it is still not always an especially clearly defined category. Because misreading a dress code can result in serious embarrassment on your part – imagine turning up in a ball gown to a do where all your friends are wearing denims – it is a good idea to get a firm grip on what the various major dress codes entail. To help you get on the right track here, I’ve done some reading and put together a list of 7 tips to dress for a ‘formal’ occasion.
While formal appears to be a fairly straightforward instruction, it is important to remember that it is, unfortunately, not absolute. There are gradations within the classification and these will vary from one event to another. In its purest form, formal dressing can include both black and white tie, and thus might require you to kit yourself out in an actual ball-gown. However, the term is also commonly used on invitations to events where the host just wants the guests not to wear jeans and faded trainers …. In order to make sure what you are dealing with, you will want to check things out with the party organisers.
2. Decode: ‘Black Tie’
Invitations that specify ‘black’ or ‘white’ tie can be a little confusing for us girls. While they seem to point out, very clearly, what is required of the men, they say nothing on the subject of what to wear if you’re a woman. Basically, both classifications are variations on ‘formal.’ Black tie, also known as ‘dinner dress,’ is the more flexible of the two. Depending on the occasion, you can sometimes get away with a cocktail dress or even a stylish, tailored suit. Typically, though, women wear longer evening gowns and men get kitted out in their formal tuxedoes.
3. Decode: ‘White Tie’
White tie is fairly uncommon in certain countries; however you still see it specified as a dress code to a few very smart events. Conventionally, the term refers to an elevated variation on formal dress. Men are required to get kitted out in a tail coat and, of course, they need to wear a white collar and tie as the dress code suggests. To this kind of very formal occasion, women are usually expected to wear a ball-gown – traditionally a full skirted, full length formal dress with a décolleté top.
4. The Cocktail Option
As we’ve established, it can be appropriate to wear a cocktail dress to a formal event. Ordinarily, this kind of outfit is shorter and a little more fun that your traditional, longer length evening gown; you can usually get away with this sort of thing if the formal event you are invited to is something like a drinks party taking place in the early evening.
5. Suit up?
You might like to step away from the norm and, instead of a skirt or gown, wear a beautifully tailored suit and a pair of killer heels to your formal event. Of course, this might not be appropriate attire for every occasion … but then again, the men will invariably be wearing suits so why shouldn’t we?
6. Two Piece Variations
If you get invited to a lot of formal events, you’ll doubtless be looking to economise a little by making your outfits work as hard they possibly can. A two-piece evening gown with a long full skirt and a bodice top is a great investment. Go for a fairly solid, versatile colour and fabric and you’ll find it’ll be able to take you to a variety of different formal events. Pair the whole thing with heels and uber-glam jewellery to go to a white tie do, and swap the bodice for a tailored blazer before heading out to a less swanky, black tie affair.
7. Formal Footwear
Basically, your formal shoes should coordinate with your dress. If you’re keen to take this instruction very literally, you can pick up a pair that has been specially manufactured to be dyed. However, this is not always necessary: simply go for a lovely heel in a colour that compliments your outfit. If you’re wearing a floor length gown, you’ll find that few people will see your feet anyway!
As a dress code, formal is perhaps among the easiest to understand: in short, you need to wear something smart and appropriately glitzy. However, it is nevertheless important to remember that within the classification, there are distinct levels of etiquette. Hopefully, this list of 7 tips to dress for a formal even will help you to navigate the protocol of black and white ties successfully: do you have any suggestions of your own to add?
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