Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at news-sentinel.com.
Q. Karen, we have just received a wedding invitation that states “black tie optional” as the dress code. What does this mean and what are we expected to wear?
A. The term “black tie optional” has become a popular dress designation on invitations these days and causes, I think, more confusion than ever. Strictly speaking, an event is “black tie” or it is not. However, I think people issuing the invitations who want their wedding or event to have a more formal feel, but don't want to eliminate those who do not own a “tux” or who do not want to rent one, use this term. “Black tie optional” allows a male guest to wear a dark suit if he chooses.
Today, with “business casual” as part of the usual work attire, the lines for appropriate dress in certain situations have been blurred tremendously. And many people are clueless as to what to wear to special events, such as weddings, parties, church, funerals, etc.
A person's dress should reflect the seriousness or the special nature of an event. To come dressed in shorts and flip-flops to church or to a funeral is disrespectful. Here are some terms that can guide you in choosing what to wear when:
•Casual means sports attire that would be appropriate for barbecues, pool/patio parties, casual dinners and sporting events. If guests are participating in a sports activity they should dress in specific attire for an individual sport. (Many clubs and resorts have very strict dress guidelines. Do your homework.)
For men: Trousers – long or short, shirt – with or without a tie, sweater or a sports jacket would be appropriate.
For women: Slacks, skirts, shorts and capris are acceptable.
•Informal or semi-formal is just a level under “black tie.” Informal dress before 6 p.m. calls for an afternoon dress or dressy suit for a woman and a coat and tie for the man.
Sport jackets or a light business suit can be worn before 6 p.m. (Take into consideration the season and geographic location.)
After 6 p.m. a woman can wear a dressy afternoon dress or a short or long cocktail suit or dress
A man would wear a dark or light business suit and tie.
•Formal usually means a man would wear a dark suit and tie and the woman would wear a dressy dress or suit before 6 p.m.
After 6 p.m. formal dress would be “black tie” or “white tie.”
Black tie means a black dinner jacket with a black silk bow tie (commonly known as a “tuxedo” or “tux”). White dinner jackets are often worn in the summer months.
Women can wear long or short evening dresses for “black tie” events.
White-tie events are the most formal of all. It is an event most of us will never attend, such as the inaugural ball for a president or a White House dinner hosting a head of state.
White tie calls for full evening dress, where a man would wear a long black tailcoat, vest and a white pique bow tie. A woman would wear a very dressy long gown. Military personnel wear their formal uniforms.
If you receive an invitation with “creative dress” terms on it, such as “creative casual” or “festive attire” and are unsure of what is expected, call the hostess and ask. These terms usually mean you can have more fun with what you wear and step outside the box a bit.