Socially Savvy: What to Wear — and When
GQ Magazine described St. Paul as one of the 40 worst dressed cities in America this summer. This accusation is a hit below the belt, but let us view it as a wake-up call not only to St. Paul, but to the Twin Cities as a whole. Let’s step up our game and put our best well- shoed foot forward.
The Midwest’s fashionistas know the names and work of designers, yet have managed to ignore both the competitive sport of fashion on the coasts and the pageantry of the South. By following a few simple guidelines, you can sport appropriate wear for all occasions. Being well dressed not only saves confusion, it puts you on equal footing with other guests in social occasions and with your colleagues in the workplace.
Let’s break it down into five categories: Casual, Casual Dressy, Business Casual, Best Business and Black-tie.
Casual runs the gamut from sportswear to jeans. These are the clothes your mother wouldn’t let you wear to church. Save casual clothes for running errands at the super-center or lounging in a hammock. Most hipster fads fall under this category. Casual shoes include flip-flops, clogs, sneakers and the like. Casual clothes include nifty warm-up wear, yoga clothing, jeans with store-bought tears/fades and rhinestones. Tattoo impressions, Bahamas prints (unless in the Keys) and lewd phrases are also included in this category, as are most nightclub outfits. Cotton and jersey fabrics are casual.
Casual Dressy is ironed slacks, buttoned shirts and structured skirts. Cottons to wool, these fashions could swing through a summer church service. Shoes are more tailored and include loafers and boat shoes, flats (for women), leather sandals and suede. Muted colors of white, tan, soft blues, grey, black and subtle prints are perfect. Summer seersuckers, khaki cuts and chinos in relaxed fits belong here. Business Casual doesn’t mean suits, but a somewhat more formal look—at least slacks with nice sport coats for men and tailored dresses for women. Ties for the guys are optional. All shirts button and have a good collar. Shoes are closed-toe for men, but women can have some fun with peep-toes and sandals. All of the colors of Casual Dressy are appropriate. If you want to wear stronger colors, such as yellow, red or pink, accessorize and keep it above the waist—and by all means, save Kellygreen for St. Patrick’s Day. Business Casual doesn’t mean rumpled, so pick structured fabrics that don’t pucker and wrinkle. Wools, fine cotton and other materials that hold their shape will present a tailored fit.
Best Business is the most formal daily wear. Well tailored or custom suits in dark colors for men and full coverage (below the knee) outfits for the gals. Footwear is conservative, with closed toes for both men and women. Leather is the gold standard for footwear, finished simply with little trim work. Colors are generally muted; greys, black and navy blue are preferred. Crisp white for shirts with minimal accessories (no pinky rings!).
Black-Tie is about as formal as it gets these days—the occasions are few and far between when we get to wear white-tie and tails! Tailoring for formal wear is crucial, to have a perfect fit. Even a second-hand tuxedo can be acceptable with the right alterations. Under no circumstances does black-tie imply a fun bowtie or cummerbund. Save the polka dots and hideous colors for the dentists in the crowd. As for those handy-dandy clip-on bowties, just say “No.” Tying a proper bowtie is an easy and invaluable skill to learn. For the ladies, floor-length dresses are best. Evening formal wear should be sleeveless or have sheer arms; capes, wraps and light tailored jackets keep those shoulders warm. Daytime formal attire may include sleeves, especially for weddings.
Let’s look at some events that might appear on your social calendar this fall and the appropriate clothing to wear:
A date to the orchestra or heading to the opera with Mother? Business Casual unless it’s opening night, then Black-Tie.
Holiday party at the boss’s house? Business Casual, but make it your best—dress for your next promotion. The same applies to parties at the office.
Dinner with your future in-laws? Business Best—this will be your most important interview and first impressions count.
Tea party in a private home? Casual Dressy to Business Casual. Be bold with your accessories; it will give you and your host something to talk about.
Cocktails at a fundraiser? Usually Business Casual to Business Best.
A benefit with dinner and auction? Black-tie unless otherwise noted. Dinner at a fine restaurant? Business Casual to Best Business. A suit jacket always looks sharp in a dining room.
A friend’s wedding? Venue determines attire. Is it in a private club or a barn? When in doubt, dress up, but keep it simple; don’t compete with the bridal party.
Remember these basic dress codes; it seems that people are so afraid of over-dressing for any event that they’re willing to run the risk of under-dressing. You probably already have the right attire; it’s just a matter of putting it into play. Just keep in mind these questions as you choose your attire:
What kind of event is it: formal, semi-formal, casual, acquaintance?
Who is my audience: business, friends, public, private?
What time of day is it?
What kind of venue is it: ballroom, restaurant, private home, poolside?
Dress guidelines are not intended to exclude. They are designed to give people, no matter their background, a level playing field. So get dressed for your event; we hope to see you there!