The holiday season has arrived, and at all manner of seasonal celebrations with family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors or work colleagues, we want to look both festive and occasion-appropriate. Invitations sometimes include puzzling or unhelpful dress codes-for instance, how dressy should one’s apparel be when the invitation specifies “cocktail” or “festive” or, even less helpfully, “please wear white.”
The December 2009 issue of Allure magazine provides an assortment of tips for how to be a guest “who truly knows what it means to be the life of the party.” Being the life of the party, thankfully, is not the goal of every guest at every gathering – after all, there are only so many lampshades in a living room. However, even the most party-shy introvert can benefit from a few tips for interpreting the language of party invitations and knowing how to dress in order to maximize the fun and minimize the stress.
First, as to the language of invitations: Some etiquette books are out of date, so let’s take a look at some of the more common dress codes and what they mean today.
• Black-Tie. For men, this means a tuxedo. For women, a full-length evening gown is the classic choice but a short cocktail dress or ensemble with dressy evening pants is also entirely appropriate. This is the occasion for wearing one’s most fabulous gems. Think elegant.
Illustration: A selection of diamond watches appropriate for the dressiest occasions, as pictured in the December 2009 issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. These would be appropriate in response to the “wear white” directive.
• Black-Tie Optional. For women, dress in one of the options noted for Black-Tie. Men can skip the tuxedo in lieu of a dark suit and tie.
• Cocktail or Semi-Formal. Allure states that “Cocktail” used to mean “wear a dress” but today it’s meant to convey “dress up a little”–”whatever that means to you.” In my opinion, that approach interprets the standard too loosely. One would feel out of place in jeans, boots and a sparkly sweater. For men, the most appropriate apparel is a suit; a dark suit for events after 6 p.m. For women, a dressy short dress, suit or pant outfit is appropriate, and bold jewelry provides the perfect finishing touch. Work-appropriate suits or ensembles are generally not sufficiently dressy, although some ensembles can be made appropriately party-friendly, for example, by swapping a blouse for a camisole and with a significant change of accessories, including shoes, bag and, of course, jewelry.
• Festive or Dressy Casual. The point of this directive is to encourage guests to have some fun in their choice of party apparel. Allure equates this directive with its interpretation of “Cocktail,” quoting stylist Tina Chai for the statement that “anything but a little black dress or jeans” is appropriate. I think either of those items can be appropriate as elements of “Festive” dress so long as the accessories, and particularly the jewelry selected, are all about dressing in a manner that is festive and fun. This is the time for adding shine and sparkle to an ensemble, and for wearing one’s most over-the-top jewelry designs – the massive bib necklace, multiple bracelets, or shoulder-duster earrings.
Among the items Allure recommends for the best-dressed party-goers to wear, along with jackets (from motorcycle jackets to blazers), lace (on a dress or on accessories such as gloves, shoes or stockings), and all manner of texture, including ruffles, pleats and beading, are two particularly popular styles of jewelry: the cuff bracelet and the statement necklace. Allure quotes creative consultant Stephanie Winston Wolkoff: “You can get away with the plainest outfit if your jewelry has impact.” The magazine further reports: “If you want to buy yourself an early holiday present, the experts are unanimous: Splurge on a big necklace.” However, elsewhere in the issue, the magazine also highlights evening watches.
Illustration: The December 2009 issue of Allure features a selection of eight evening watches, all “Delicately trimmed with sparkle and set on slim black bands” and which “work as evening bracelets.” Wear these at “Cocktail” or “Festive” as well as “Black Tie” events.
Beyond dressing appropriate to the specified dress code, one should never be late to an event or get-together. Allure advises that “fashionably late” is an outmoded concept: “It’s more important to have a good grasp of ‘acceptably late’-a margin that varies depending on the circumstances of the event.” Among the Allure guidelines:
• Arrive no later than 30 minutes after the start of a party.
• Phone the host if you will arrive more than 15 minutes after the start of a party at which a meal will be served.
• Call or text if you will more than 10 minutes late for meeting a group at a restaurant.
After all that effort to dress well and arrive promptly, and given the ubiquity of cameras these days, how does one best memorialize that perfect party look in photos? Allure engaged celebrity photographer Matthew Rolston to provide pointers on how to look good in photos. His full comments in the December issue are well worth a read. Among his recommendations: “Stick with solid colors-they photograph the best. Patterns and lots of jewelry can be distractions.”
Rolston’s last comment should not cause jewelry lovers to gasp. Remember that jewelry is about adorning the person. As a general rule, choose jewelry so that people see you, not your jewelry, first. However, sometimes rules are meant to be broken. If you happen to own one of the following watches, then by all means wear it and distract away!
Illustration: A second, even more amazing collection of diamond watches pictured in the December 2009 issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine.
Another great tip for photo savvy comes from fellow image consultant Mimi Dorsey, quoted in the December 2009 issue of InStyle magazine in the article “10 Ways to Look Better in Pictures.” Dorsey suggests you stick your neck out – literally: “Push your face forward ever so slightly,” she urges. “It feels absolutely ridiculous when you’re doing it, but it makes your face look thinner and hides any sign of a double chin.” And, may I add, it also helps display any necklace you are wearing to best advantage.
Getting back to that invitation specifying white apparel I mentioned at the top of this blog post, consider the invitation dress code to be the equivalent of “Festive” and then be alert if the host (whether mischievously or purely innocently) serves pasta with tomato sauce or messy finger food. Pin a napkin to your ensemble with a couple of sparkly holiday brooches, preferably rendered in white diamonds, and have the last merry holiday laugh! Or, if you prefer, stick to the champagne and focus on being the life of the party.Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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