Step Two: Choosing Proper Attire

Step Two: Choosing Proper Attire | Darling Magazine

This is part of our Professional Dinner Guest Series, a guide on how to become the kind of dinner guest that people enjoy having over and invite back regularly. Catch up on previous posts here. Also, since choosing proper attire is something that many of us struggle with for all kinds of occasions, we will be doing a special series on how to dress for specific occasions in the coming months.

Of at least equal or perhaps even more importance than bringing a “thank you” present, is what you have chosen to wear as a guest and participant of the party’s theme. In today’s world, there seems to be a lot more diversity in style than, say, back in the 1800s. We obviously do not (often) require men that they keep their dinner jacket on the entire event, or expect floor-length gowns and up-done hair on women.

Still, there exists for any occasion a variance of appropriate clothing and attire from which we probably shouldn’t stray far from. Unless you have made your mark in your group of friends as the eccentric odd-ball who randomly dons scuba attire in public like Spike, the character from Notting Hill, what you wear to an event speaks volumes about your respect for the hosts and the other guests.

Firstly, consider two basic principles of clothing…

Ask “what are we celebrating or enjoying?” and remember that there is a line between being interesting and tiresome. Clarify with yourself the difference and keep your clothing within the boundaries of interesting (funky glasses) and not stray into out-of-place (face paint). What you put on your body is your statement to those around you about not only what you think of yourself, but also what you think about them and their party. Your attire at these kind of events will always be noted and catalogued by others, as much as we like to pretend they aren’t.

Ask yourself: “By my clothes, am I honoring the theme and my hosts?” Wearing that plunging neckline shirt or shorter-than-short cocktail dress when you are seated next to your hostess’ man/husband/boyfriend/father will most likely not win you any brownie points and can be a deciding factor in whether or not she would like you to be present at her next party. I’m not suggesting that you wear a potato sack, but do be sensitive to both the moral and social customs of the family or home you are entering, honoring other women’s relationships through your own modesty. In a nutshell: dress with style and integrity, and save that hot number for another night out (or in) with the girls or your own man.

Now that we’ve covered that, there are four basic attire choices that most outfit choices fall under: girly, swanky, relaxed, and costume.

This is what I would classify as any event that is “girls-only,” and can include—but is not limited to—pre-wedding teas, lingerie showers, book-club parties, birthday (daytime) luncheons, and perhaps sweet-sixteen strawberry shortcake soirees (I’m just dreaming here). If the event is about girls getting together, enjoying sweet treats, celebrating friends and their birthdays who are ladies, or just having a bit of fun over discussion of books or doing crafts, then I classify it as “girly.” This does not mean that you have to enjoy the color pink (I don’t) or be in love with polka-dots (I am), but that nothing would be more inappropriate than to come wearing your skin-tight leopard-print mini-dress, or, conversely, cut-off shorts and a t-shirt. If the gathering has a theme like “tea party,” coming in all-black—though it might reflect your inner sarcasm—is just a downer for the other guests who dressed according to the standard of the party.

I use this term mostly for fine dining, dinner parties, events (a show or awards ceremony followed by an after-party), and some ladies’ nights. I once went to a party in Sardenia, Italy at Cipriani’s “Club Billionaire” (I can’t help but mention the obnoxious name), the theme of which was A Touch of Turquoise. The invitations had turquoise silk ribbons tied around them, and I took mine and wove it through my hairstyle, keeping with my planned black dress. Immediately upon arrival, a woman in a see-through glittering dark gown waltzed in front of me. Her “touch” of the color lay under her gown, in bright and garish blue display for all to see (I’m not thrilled that I now know that she prefers high-cut to low-rise briefs).

Please remember who will be at parties even in your quest to be flirtatiously fun, and keep on the classy side, especially at parties where other women will be with their husbands or boyfriends. Also, if your hosts have planned a party invitation that reads something in the line of “dress to impress” or “formal fun,” arriving in jeans, sandals and a sweater—no matter how nice the fabric—conveys the impression that you do not care for their careful preparation nor the atmosphere they wanted to create in their event.

This is for the “bring your own meat” BBQ dinner, potluck, or birthday party. Unless otherwise stipulated as formal, anytime I receive an invitation for a dinner and it has the word “potluck” or “barbeque” in it, I remove fancy heels, silk dresses, and extreme jewelry from my mental wardrobe. I also remember that “pool party” doesn’t mean that I can remain in my bikini until 10:00 p.m., and make sure to bring a relaxed skirt and top or halter dress so that I can transition with the rest of the party, and remain warm into the night.

Costume or Theme
This one is fairly obvious. If a theme has been presented such as Halloween, Superheroes, Hip Hop, 4th of July, Hunger Games, Wes Anderson characters, you name it, then come dressed as one of these. It’s frustrating for a host to go to all of the effort of creating a particular setting and atmosphere only for guests to ignore it or believe themselves to be the exception. The reality is, you will quickly gain a reputation as that person who won’t play along, and it can be a deciding factor for your invitations once numbers are crunched. If you are struggling with an idea, call a friend also invited or the hosts themselves. The theme and the party belong to the people creating it, not to you, so if you decide to attend, you must remember to attend in the spirit by which you are invited. Come ready to be ridiculous with the rest of the party—we can all use a little less self-imposed seriousness and an injection of silly from time-to-time.

In the end, enjoy each occasion for what it is, and get into the spirit by dressing according to the situation. You are invited to join into what has been planned, not to stage a theme-party coup. When in doubt, ring up your hostess or host and ask what they are planning to wear, then match their level of commitment to their theme. If they tell you that they are still waiting on their authentic studio-made replica Catwoman costume to arrive, your idea to come in street clothes and write “hipster” on a sign might need to be altered. When preparing to attend these parties, go all the way—buy that Moonrise Kingdom pair of binoculars, find a fancy and fashionable cocktail dress, or have your flouncy frock on standby to be ready to party, whatever the occasion.

Image via Matchbook Magazine, November 2012

Teresa works as Darling's Managing Editor for print and has her BA with honors in English Literature and Art History from Vassar College (NY). Born in London, England, she is currently settled in Los Angeles after living in Tauranga, New Zealand. She loves to travel, write, sport her grandmother's couture from the 1940s.