How to Word the Dress Code on an Invitation

Be clear with the dress code on your invitation.
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You've just entered the elegantly decorated ballroom, arm in arm with your new husband. As you scan the room, shock and surprise set in. Guests are attired in all manner of dress and obviously didn't understand that a country club wedding requires a certain dress code. You rue the omission of a dress code on the invitation because shorts, sneakers and even jeans dot the room.

Every invitation event requires an explanation of what attire the hosts expect from their guests. The wording must be clear in order to avoid surprises.

Dress Code Request: White Tie

While elegance seems to have slipped from required dress to optional dress, the mention of "white tie" indicates the formality of the event and the color of the men's ties. If you want your guests to dress to the hilt, the mention of "white tie" is required. Women use the occasion to drag out their most formal gowns and even long-sleeved gloves as an accessory. Jewelry is overstated, and the vault is emptied of even the most valuable items.

White Tie for Men:

  • Black tailcoat
  • Matching trousers
  • White shirt with studs and cuff links
  • White bow tie
  • Suspenders
  • Black patent-leather shoes and black knee-length socks

White Tie for Women:

  • Floor-length gowns
  • Elbow-length gloves
  • Dazzling jewelry
  • Heels or flats

Dress Code Request: Black Tie

Black Tie for Men:

  • Black tuxedo. If the tuxedo in your closet is old and ill-fitting, rental tuxedos are available at most men's clothing stores.
  • A white dinner jacket if the event is in a tropical climate
  • White starched shirt with studs and cuff links
  • Cummerbund
  • Black patent-leather shoes and silk socks

Black Tie for Women:

  • Gown or fancy cocktail dress
  • Elegant jewelry
  • Heels or matching flats

If you mention that either "tie" is optional, be prepared for guests to wear whatever they want. Be specific on your invitation. Don't give them options.

Dress Code Request: Semiformal

To avoid guests having to rent a tuxedo, word your dress code as "semiformal." Most men will have a dark suit hanging in their closet, and the women welcome a chance to dress up.

Men:

  • Dark suit and tie
  • Black shoes

Women:

  • Cocktail dress
  • Heels or coordinating flats

Dress Code Request: Upscale Casual

While the word "casual" evokes denims and loafers without socks, take your attire requirements up a notch. In the South, colorful dinner jackets make an appearance. In the North and in more conservative areas, a jacket or blue blazer fits the bill.

Men:

  • Sport jacket or blazer
  • Tie that can be removed and a coordinating, open-collared shirt
  • Shoes coordinated with the color of the pants and socks

Women:

  • Dress with matching wrap
  • Heels or coordinating flats

Casual Dress Code

Discretion is best when mentioning dressing for a casual event. Guests should determine where the event is located and dress accordingly. However, direct them. If it's on a boat, be sure to mention wearing rubber-soled shoes.

For a barbeque in the hot afternoon, a mention of shorts and sundresses is appropriate. To avoid having your guests show up in torn jeans and T-shirts, the invitation can be worded to include "no T-shirts or jeans."

Fancy Dress

In the United Kingdom, an invitation to a "fancy dress" party means costumes. In the United States, the term means that guests dive deep into their closet to find clothing that is more than office attire. Jewelry dresses it up. Elegance is the key to attire, especially when the invitation is engraved and arrives in the mail.

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