The parties are back, but how to dress? a holiday guide

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NEW YORK (AP) – Despite the season’s triple virus threat, the parties are back, and they brought with them the potential for some dress code chaos.

White tie, black tie, creative/festive black tie, semi-formal: It might take some extra re-entry energy to figure out these pre-pandemic directives in a jaded world more accustomed to hoodies and sneakers.

Sometimes invitations don’t specify attire, leaving it to the RSVP stage or waiting for guests to deduce based on experience or an event description. This was perhaps easier pre-pandemic, but many people are ready to rise to the challenge, shed their cozy casual clothes and dress nice again.

“The stories I hear from people are that they’re happy for an opportunity to get out of their sweatpants,” said Lizzie Post, Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter and co-author of a rejuvenated new edition. of “Emily Post’s Etiquette” to mark the book’s centenary.

With the help of Posts, a summary from most formal to least formal attire:


This, the most formal traditional attire, involves a white bow tie, black tailcoat, matching trousers, and white evening vests. Swap the morning coat for the day.

Think royal events, ultra-gales or super-formal weddings.

“I think what people are most insecure about is formal attire, because most of us have few occasions to wear it,” Post said. “That’s a category that people get stressed out about, but it’s a well-defined category.”

By well defined, she means: pants with a satin or braided band; French shirts with high collar and plain front; stiff white pique vests; cufflinks or studs; black or white suspenders; black stockings; and black patent leather pumps or lace-up Oxfords. Button studs or covered buttons are options.

Chesterfield coats, which are formal, dark in color and knee-length with velvet collars, are suitable as cold weather outerwear as opposed to the parka underneath.

Floor-length dresses, or possibly VERY formal two-piece outfits, with optional gloves of varying lengths. A dress-pants combination is rare.


It’s the next most formal attire and means tuxedos in black or midnight blue. The collars can be winged or regular in white. Ties are black. As well as suspenders or suspenders. Vests are optional, but forget the waist band if you wear a vest.

Not just any cummerbund will do. Make sure it matches the bow tie and lapel fabrics. Footwear is the same as a white tie. White jackets are acceptable in summer or hot weather.

Dresses are also long here, but can be more casual than white tie in materials and structure. A very formal cocktail dress might work if the hem is at or below the knee.

Black tie is much more familiar to many than white tie, Post said.


The costume is the same as the black tie, but with added colors or embellishments for a little more dazzle.

For dresses and two-piece outfits, there’s room to experiment with colors, textures and accessories, Post said.

“It’s where you get the best man at a wedding in flip flops instead of shoes because the wedding is on the beach and everything is going to be on the sand,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s used to celebrate a specific holiday or something. If I’ve been invited to a festive Christmas event, I’m looking for a bow tie and sash that has Santa Claus or reindeer or something,” Post added.

Be sensitive to other people’s cultures and holidays, she added.


Expect suits, jackets, and ties with full-length pants, tops, dress pants, and hemlines that are long, but not full formal dresses. Tea-length, knee-length or two-piece outfits will all fit here.

Think maxi dresses in a casual knit for a beach wedding or a jacket with corduroy pants and suede shoes for a gallery opening.

It goes by other labels too, like semi-formal “creative” when a “diamonds and jeans” theme or a “western dress” vibe is noticed, for example.

Semi-formal events cover a lot of ground, from holiday parties and charity events to retirement parties and milestone birthdays or anniversaries.

“Given our day and age, people really like to be explicit in invitations to semi-formals. Cocktail attire is a subset of that,” Post said.


Dressing for work varies greatly, but when business attire appears on an invitation, tradition can kick in.

The safest bet is suits and ties, button-up shirts, belts and dress shoes. Dress slacks or slacks with a smart top are acceptable, along with a conservative dress (nothing too low-cut, short or fancy) and closed-toe shoes, depending on how fashionable the crowd is expected to be.

“It’s still important to be you,” Post insisted.


Things get confusing here too.

Many returnees live in this zone, but what that means depends on the company’s industry or environment. It could mean a suit or jacket worn without a tie and pants, or jeans with buttons or polo shirts or sweaters.

Dress pants or pants with a more casual top can do the trick. The same goes for the skirt and top combination, but nothing too short or low-cut, depending on the event.

If an invite says business casual, it’s up to you to figure out what’s acceptable.


A little less complicated, but still dizzying.

It could mean jeans and a sweater or a casual button-up shirt. It also means dress pants and casual top, or dress pants and dress shirt.

Comfortable dresses or skirt and top combinations will also work. The best part: any shoe.

“You want to feel any event to be sure,” Post said.


Almost anything goes. Almost.

Jeans, shorts, t-shirts, pullovers, hoodies, tops, dress or skirt with any top, any shoes.

There are lines that can be crossed, however. Casual does not mean sloppy. Leave the stained T-shirt at home and maybe the ripped jeans too.

“I think we’re all out of practice with those delineations, that’s for sure,” Post said. “There has been a gray garment haze for most of us.”


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