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IN A WORLD where "what is acceptable" is always changing, it seems that people are more confused by the more choice they have.
   Once dress codes and indeed fashion were very strict. To stray outside of what was "right" was to risk being a social outcast. Thankfully, those days are long gone, but in these loose times for dress the question is still often, ‘What am I going to wear?’ or more to the point, ‘What should I wear?’
   Whilst this was unlikely to be a problem for those of our parents’ generation, many young people don’t know exactly what the old codes mean. This is potentially embarrassing if you turn up at your second cousin’s wedding in what you thought was fairly appropriate, only to find them all dressed like the cast of Dynasty (diamonds included).
   To help you through this minefield, may we present a brief guide of what to wear when the invitation says…

This is unlikely to confuse the invitee, as any invitation with this on is likely to come from someone you know fairly well. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that you will want to be reasonably covered so perhaps leave the mini-mini skirt and bikini top for the beach and go with jeans without tears, khakis, longer-style shorts, skirts, smart T-shirts, jumpers and cardigans.

Smart casual
Sometimes tricky. Many say ‘No denim’, which, as a general rule, works well. If you’ve got dark, well-pressed denim combined with a smart shirt for men or a feminine cardigan or top for women, then you may pull it off. However if you’re uncertain then khakis, tailored trousers, button down shirts and blazers are a good bet for men and women would do well in pretty skirts, tailored trousers, shirts and jumpers/cardigans.

This gets easier as you go along. For men, a lounge suit, also known as town or business suit cannot be wrong. A darker suit such as navy or charcoal grey is always suitable, whatever the occasion.
   Subdued shirt colours are giving way to bolder ones which is a good thing—only don’t startle everyone by straying too far from your usual, or you will probably end up feeling uncomfortable yourself.
   Ties with cartoon characters should stay at home (they aren’t in good taste, trust me). Stick with something less whacky such as the same colour as the shirt if it’s coloured but with shine or texture, or a dark tie with a white shirt.
   For women, a skirt or trouser suit can easily be dressed up or down slightly with blouse or shell-top and accessories such as shoes, jewellery, etc. A smart twinset in yarns such as silk or cashmere will make any outfit look slick and will dress up a knee-length or longer skirt or a pair of flat front trousers. For those of you thinking of trousers with pleats—flat fronts really are more flattering, no matter what your size. A pair of well fitting trousers will make you feel brilliant so invest your money in a pair.
   The traditional blazer is dying out a bit. Think of softer lines with hidden fastenings for a fuss-free minimal look.
   Shoes should have some kind of heel, small or otherwise. This gives a much better line than any flat shoe.

Cocktail wear
Not as popular as it once was, there are still times when you may be asked to wear ‘cocktail wear’. This will usually be to a cocktail or drinks party, and requires something more dressy than ‘smart’.
   Women usually wear short dresses although trousers will be acceptable if paired with a sophisticated top. You cannot go wrong with the perennial favourite, the ‘little black dress’, which is always fashionable. Along with hosiery and heeled shoes, you will always look right for the occasion.
   Men, a dark business suit will suffice. Unless requested, evening dress will look over the top and out of place.

Special occasion/formal
For many occasions, such as a wedding, the invitation will specify what dress is to be worn. If there is no dress code, you may be advised to ask when replying but otherwise a lounge suit for men and a short dress or tailored suit, with or without hat for women would be advised for most afternoon weddings.
   Sometimes a very formal wedding will call for ‘formal’ dress, which mainly requires that men wear morning dress. At its most traditional this involves a black morning coat and striped trousers, plain coloured (doeskin) waistcoat, white shirt with stiff collar, silver tie with pearl tie pin, black top hat and black patent or calf oxford shoes. If morning dress is ‘requested’, there is the option of wearing a grey top hat, known as a white hat and also a grey three-piece morning suit.
   For women, a smart dress with coat or jacket, or suit is suitable in all occasions.

The glove note

1 Three-quarter-length sleeves should have gloves which reach the sleeve with a slight overlap.
2 Wear very long or very short gloves with evening wear.
3 Rings should always be worn on the inside of gloves.
4 Wear gloves to dance or in a receiving line. Remove to eat.

Evening dress
For invitations with ‘black tie’ inscribed, men are required to wear what Americans call a dinner suit or "tuxedo", or the British call a dinner jacket. These are one and the same and comprise of a black tailless jacket and matching trousers with white dress shirt and black bow tie. A waistcoat, usually black, may be worn otherwise a cummerbund is also correct.
   In hot climates, a white dinner jacket is acceptable in place of the black.

Full evening dress
This is the most formal dress and is rarely required nowadays. As it is expensive to buy, most people tend to hire.
   For men, this requires a black tail coat, black dress trousers with braid down the side, traditionally two rows, white piqué stiff-front shirt with separate wing collar, white piqué bow tie and waistcoat. Shoes are of black patent leather.
   Whether for evening or full evening (black tie, balls, galas), a woman’s dress is much the same. A ball dress may be long or short, but as a general rule, a long dress will never look out of place, whereas a short one may.
   Full evening dress means a woman may wear more formal jewellery such as precious gem necklaces, earrings etc., and also gloves will most likely be more in observance.

S I M O N E   K N O L

Simone Knol is editor-in-chief of Lucire.

What to wear in 2000

Levi's Free to Move range for winter 2000: casual when denim's acceptable

Amber Valletta in Anna Sui spring-summer '00, photographed by Richard Spiegel Photographed by Richard Spiegel
Feminine cardigans are allowed when it comes to smart casual, as seen in the Anna Sui spring–summer 2000 collection

BCBG Max Azria, photographed by Richard Spiegel Photographed by Richard Spiegel
You can't go wrong with a suit for the ‘smart’ invitation for men: this from the BCBG Max Azria fall–winter 2000–1 menswear collection. A tie is recommended, however

Photographed by Richard Spiegel
A shorter black dress is acceptable as cocktail wear. This offering from Cynthia Rowley's fall–winter 2000 collection

Photographed by Richard Spiegel
Special occasions such as a wedding demand a smart dress with coat or jacket, as shown at the Christina Perrin collection for fall–winter ’00

Photographed by Meredyth Lewis
Evening dress for men: a dinner suit without tails. An elegant evening dress is expected for women

Photographed by Richard Spiegel
Christina Perrin has managed to produce some of the most lavish gowns that go with the red carpet. Full evening dress is illustrated with this item from her fall 2000 range. Read more about it here.

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