My last week's column partially addressed a query made to me by "Annoyed" who was (and possibly still is), upset about:
1. Wives not being invited to their husband's Christmas office parties (and presumably vice a versa). This I answered last week, but to those who may not have read it, I will briefly recap. It would be expensive for companies to invite all partners of their staff, but suggested that these types of functions should take place during the day (perhaps luncheons), and that parties after 6 p.m. really encroach on the private family time, but perhaps every few years (when their balance sheet shows improvement), they can give a big bash and invite all partners!
2. Why are many envelopes of invitations addressed to the man alone? I quite agree that this is most annoying because even though the invitation does have Mr and Mrs, why is this not written on the envelope? I also discussed the inappropriateness of simply adding those awful and dreaded words "and Guest". Extremely bad manners, unless it is a known and established fact, that the gentleman has no wife/partner.
I am, therefore, now answering "Annoyed's" third question; "What on earth does the word "Formal" mean?
Who is the invitation really addressed to?
To avoid wearing the wrong outfit, always remember that the dress code is usually meant for the man. But where does that leave the women? Well, the solution is in the basic rule of the three Ws: Who is the invitation from? Where will the function be held? And what time is the function? You wouldn't wear the same dress to Christmas drinks at your friend's house as you would to the Prime Minister's New Year's Eve Ball, would you? Luckily, deciphering "dress code" code isn't rocket science.
In a casual tone
The function is an all day lime at the home of good friends: You know what to wear, but let's say your date is wearing cargo shorts and a polo shirt. You can co-ordinate with Bermuda shorts and an embroidered halter top. As it's at a friend's house, you can go for relaxed and comfortable, but always tasteful. Try to avoid the sheer or the shiny styles, as they look overdone in the light of day.
The invitation reads "Casual"
It's a day party at the boss's house. Your partner/date could wear a smart pair of slacks — khaki always works — and a short-sleeved collared shirt. You can wear a simple dress with a square or round neck, or easy-fitting pants and a round-neck, sleeveless tunic (if your arms are slim and firm).
The invitation reads 'lounge suit' for an important charity luncheon at 1 p.m
Your date should wear a light-coloured suit (NOT WHITE) with a long-sleeved shirt and a tie. You can opt for a stylish, light-coloured pant suit; also, a well-cut linen dress would be equally appropriate. However, when travelling, be careful that your colours are not too bright. Some cities, such as Washington DC, New York, Vienna, and Geneva may lean toward the conservative side when it comes to the more upscale functions. A more muted colour scheme may be preferable to pink and bright green, despite that in the Caribbean we believe in colour.
The invitation reads 'Casually elegant' or "Elegantly casual"
This is the theme for the 7.30 p.m. soirée you've been invited to. The gentleman should wear a long-sleeved shirt and dress pants or a long-sleeved shirt and a blazer, but no tie. You can wear something soft and flowing, perhaps a chiffon cocktail dress. The material should not glitter; however, a small sprinkle of sequins somewhere won't hurt.
The invitation reads "Lounge Suit"
This simply means a jacket and trousers made of the same material and a tie is a MUST. The words Jacket and Tie mean the same thing, but now the gentleman can get away with darker coloured trousers and a dark blazer, a long-sleeved shirt and a tie.
Will those who are issuing the invitations from large and small companies please understand these dress codes and could you please ensure that the ladies (usually) who man the telephones when people are replying to these invitations, please understand what the dress codes really mean?
The invitation asks for 'lounge suit' for
8 p.m. drinks and hors d'oeuvres
This time the gentleman should wear a darker lounge suit with a long-sleeved shirt (we need to see the cuffs of the shirt please) and tie. Ladies can wear a deep or whatever coloured cocktail or calf-length dress and in this case, shine and glitter are more than welcome. Of course, sequins head-to-toe may not be the best way to get attention.
The invitation reads Semi-Formal
(horrible and confusing words)
These are words that you should avoid on invitations that you are giving out. If, however, they appear on your invitation, please call your hosts and politely ask do they mean lounge suit. I pray they will understand what these words mean. (Actually IN SOME instances they probably do).
The invitation reads FORMAL
Finally, an invitation comes along declaring 'formal' as the order for the evening, but you have a nagging suspicion that this host and hostess do not know what they mean. Again, please call and politely ask if they mean the tuxedo (or as it can be called "Black Tie" this means he is expected to wear a tuxedo), if there is some hesitation on the phone before they reply, then you can be sure that they probably mean… again.. the lounge suit, but are confused. But when the host knows that formal entails Black Tie and means it, the gentleman should wear a REAL red carpet-worthy tuxedo, while you can reign supreme as the belle of the ball with an exquisite flowing gown. Satin and lace always add elegance to a dress, so don't shy away from something opulent.
The picture in my column last week of a gentleman in a long black tie is to be worn to a funeral, NOT at a joyous event like a formal dinner dance. Black tie means a BLACK BOW TIE, NOT A LONG BLACK TIE and no, the lady does not have to wear a black dress.
CONCLUSION: PLEASE DO NOT PUT FORMAL ON YOUR INVITATIONS UNLESS YOU REALLY WOULD LIKE THE GENTLMEN TO HAVE ON A TUXEDO.
Hope you will find this column useful for all your Christmas parties!