How to Decode an Invitation’s Dress Code

What you need to know when deciding what to wear to your next party


If you’ve been lucky enough to score an invite to Lauren Bush’s marriage to Ralph Lauren’s son David this weekend, then you might just be wondering what exactly to wear to the grand “black tie with a Western twist” wedding, to be held at Lauren’s Colorado ranch. A tuxedo or chaps? Heels or cowboy boots? Well, here you can do both (though we’d recommend the tux with cowboy boots and hat, as the bride will be dressed in a formal Ralph Lauren-designed gown).

Click here to see How to Decode an Invitation’s Dress Code Slideshow.

When invited to black tie weddings, it used to be that knowing what to wear was straightforward: a tux for the men and a nice dress for the ladies. But nowadays, what’s admissible and what should be left in the closet can be confusing. After all what’s the difference between black tie, black tie optional, and black tie with a twist (below, right)?

The dress code confusion isn’t just found at the more formal end of the spectrum, either. Just last month, one New York woman wearing a long shirt over her denim shorts was asked if she was wearing anything on under her shirt at all, only to later be pulled from the Florida-bound JetBlue flight. Had she’d known short-shorts are too relaxed to be considered casual, she’d have had no issue. Maybe she figured if one man can get away with wearing something that resembles women’s underwear, short-shorts are OK? Then again, at least she wasn’t wearing pajama pants

Click here to see How to Decode an Invitation’s Dress Code Slideshow.

Generations ago, when the invitation specified formal attire, there was really one option for both men and women: a suit and a long dress. Nowadays, dress codes have relaxed. Cocktail dresses are now considered appropriate enough for formal events as long as they’re not too revealing. That’s exactly what one Alabama teen learned last year, when she was suspended for three days because of the strapless dress what she wore to her senior prom. 

Whether you’re headed to a backyard barbecue or are invited to a formal white tie wedding (right), knowing exactly what to wear so you don’t commit a party foul and stick out like a sore thumb can be a challenge. That’s why we’ve deciphered eleven of the most common codes of dress that are likely to appear on party invitations. No, the “creative black tie” on that wedding invitation doesn’t give you creative license to forgo the tux altogether? But opportunities for expression of style abound about when it comes to your shirt, bowtie, and cummerbund. We’ll even help clarify the confusing nuances between business formal and cocktail dress to ensure you don’t commit a fashion crime of your own. Hopefully Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino isn’t heading to a function at an old-fashioned club like New York’s Union League Club or San Francisco’s University Club any time soon. “Club attire” requires he wear at least a nice pair of khakis and a button down shirt. Now that preppy retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has offered to pay him to not wear their clothing, where else will he go to get his preppy chic fix?

Click here to see How to Decode an Invitation’s Dress Code Slideshow.


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