Get the dress code right

Teddy boys
Credit: Brizzle Born and Bred

Ever embarrassed yourself by turning up at a smart event in an inappropriate outfit? A ball gown when everyone else is in jeans (yes indeed, I’ve been there), or a flimsy cotton tea dress when the other ladies are in taffeta? Dress codes have not been so topical since the dying days of the debutante season.

Thankfully, if there is a dress code, it’s usually mentioned on the invitation or the ticket – but you’ll need to decipher it. Time to do some research: and for the record, requirements for Ascot’s Royal enclosure are morning suits for men, with cravats and brown shoes a no-no. Ladies should sport a modest skirt length plus proper hats, not feathery fascinators.

It’s black or white


For men, ‘black tie’ means a dinner jacket or tuxedo, says etiquette guide Debrett’s, with a white evening shirt, cufflinks and black bow-tie (hand-tied, of course). Strictly speaking, the jacket has to be single-breasted with no vents, the trousers must have braid down the side and shoes should be black patent-leather or “highly-polished”.

Depending on the formality of the occasion and your confidence to pull off a slightly more outré outfit, you might wish to risk some minor variations – though there’s never any excuse for novelty bow-ties.

And for women? There’s more freedom to experiment, but if in doubt, the proverbial little black dress is a fail-safe. A classically-styled and well-made ball gown or cocktail frock can rise to the occasion many times, especially if accessorized differently at each outing, so it’s worth making an investment in a good one.

One way to help you spread the initial cost could be by credit card, especially if you’ve got a card that offers a 0% period on purchases. It’s important to bear in mind though that if you don’t clear the balance within the introductory period, you will be charged interest.

White tie’ is more formal yet, and involves a black tail-coat, a white bow-tie, a shirt with wing collars and black patent-leather shoes for men; women are expected to wear a long gown, and don’t be surprised to see gloves. Smart weddings or other daytime events may call for ‘morning dress’, with a shaped cutaway jacket and waistcoat, a plain shirt, silk tie or cravat, and in some cases, a top hat.

Members of the armed forces (Army, Royal Navy, RAF) will often wear their ‘mess dress’ uniforms to black or white tie events, and in Scotland you can opt for Highland dress – including kilts.

Lounging around

Credit: Asnagpal

The description ‘lounge suits’ may suggest loose, pyjama-like garments for relaxing in, but think working wardrobe: smart, office-y and businesslike for men and women alike, though an evening dress could be worn for a night-time function. Men may not need a tie.

Smart casual’ is a stage less formal; a buttoned shirt, not a T-shirt, no denim (unless it’s explicit that jeans are acceptable) and proper shoes, not trainers or flip-flops. If in any doubt, err towards the smart, rather than the casual: it’s generally better to be over-dressed than under-. Especially if you run the risk of ridicule in a national newspaper.

This is a Sponsored Post by Guest Blogger Polly Vaughan on behalf of Sainsbury’s Bank.


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