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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Feminine cardigans are allowed when it comes to smart casual, as seen
in the Anna Sui springsummer 2000
You can't go wrong with a suit for the smart invitation
for men: this from the BCBG Max Azria fallwinter
20001 menswear collection. A tie is recommended, however
A shorter black dress is acceptable as cocktail wear. This offering
from Cynthia Rowley's fallwinter 2000
Special occasions such as a wedding demand a smart dress with coat
or jacket, as shown at the Christina Perrin
collection for fallwinter 00
Evening dress for men: a dinner suit without tails. An elegant evening
dress is expected for women
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.