Rob’s Rules: Where to Wear – Revisited

March 15, 2013


One of the most common questions I am asked as an event designer is, “What should I wear?” For many years, rules of etiquette clearly defined the standards of dress for work and social engagements, and left no room for doubt. However, in an age of mass production, a more casual society, and lack of both propriety and taste, we assume that anything goes. It doesn’t! The point of this article is not to encourage people to buy boring clothes…the point is to build a wardrobe with standard basics and then add more fashion-forward elements to them to individualize your look. A closet full of unrelated separates makes it very difficult to get ready in the morning and also pack for a trip. I call this the ‘Sale Rack Syndrome”. I have seen people buy five clearance items that go with nothing rather than buy two items that go with everything! Do you wake up in the morning and feel like you have nothing to wear? If you answer “Yes,” you need to stop being seduced by separates and build some basics that relate to each other. Knowing that you are appropriately dressed and look professional at work builds confidence and gives you a professional edge. And honestly, employers know that if they relax the dress code, they can justify paying you less. Especially if you look like it doesn’t matter to you.

Meeting planners of today are challenged with making their events different and out-of-the-box. With that, standards of dress for business and social occasions are being given creative new names that are often ambiguous and confusing. I believe that the key to success is clarity in communication. If you are planning an event, leave out the colorful phrases and be clear about dress code. If you have to put a spin on grammar, maybe enclose a separate card that defines the dress code more clearly. A follow-up company e-mail with descriptions and examples also can be very effective – maybe throw in a picture or two. Your reputation is as much at stake as your guests’. Make sure your guests also communicate with their spouses or dates to ensure that no starlets or showgirls are in the crowd. Having a master list of e-mails for a “What to Wear” e-mail blast can solve that problem. Posting a flyer in the company lunchroom or break room also can be effective. And be sure that you are up on the latest standards of dress. If you don’t know, neither will the guests.

The savvy professional knows that creating a positive selfimage can improve career advancement. What you wear can make or break you as easily as what you do… and maybe it can get you the job! Although we all want to be creative, stick to the basics and add your personality in small doses. Understanding what different attire categories mean can help take the guesswork out of deciding what to wear.

“Ultra black tie” continues to be the most formal standard of social dress, and is generally seen at formal weddings, events of state and balls. The traditional tuxedo with tails and all white accessories remains the standard for men. A white bow tie, vest, pleated shirt, black patent evening shoes and sometimes gloves are the only options for men at this type of event. A full-length evening gown, evening shoes, evening bag, evening coat or wrap and sometimes gloves are required for ladies. The nature of this event calls for a more formal hairstyle than normally worn, and professional makeup application.

“Black tie” affairs require men to wear a black, square cut or double-breasted tuxedo with black accessories. Men should be in a formal white tuxedo shirt with a black bow tie or a white collared shirt and a long black matte satin tie. However, at many current black-tie events, men now are wearing a black tux shirt or collared shirt with a black tie or another monochromatic color scheme. Either a black cummerbund or vest is appropriate. It is not acceptable for men to wear a suit to a black-tie affair. A white dinner jacket may be worn in the summer months or in a tropical climate as an alternative to your black jacket. Ladies must wear a cocktail or full length evening dress with evening accessories and shoes. Leather “daytime” shoes are not acceptable at this type of event and it is important to remember that black-tie events call for more elegant and understated dresses and gowns. Avoid cliché “New Year’s Eve” or “Las Vegas” looks. Black is still the color of preference and a simple black dress can be transformed with the right accessories. Today we see evening dresses worn with no stockings in the summer. However, stockings are generally preferred at all black-tie events and are required in the winter months.

“Creative black tie” allows a more individualized look and creative freedom for the guest. The biggest mistake made with creative black tie is thinking that no tuxedo is required – it is. If the invitation reads black-tie, it means a tuxedo. Men are still required to wear the traditional tuxedo jacket, not necessarily black, but without the traditional tuxedo shirt and tie. Accessories traditionally match the theme or nature of the event. For example, a country western event in Dallas would allow a western shirt, bolo tie and western boots to be worn with a tuxedo. Ladies might go for a more southwestern look with silver or turquoise accessories and boots. A safari-themed event might mean a white dinner jacket for men with a linen or collarless dress shirt and sandals. Ladies might wear a twopiece silk print pantsuit with sandals and carved wood jewelry. Regardless of the theme, creative black tie permits traditional black tie to merge with current fashion trends. It was created to allow guests to be a greater part of the “look” of the event, and it is meant to relax the atmosphere.

“Resort chic” refers to a more casual but elegant style of dressing commonly seen at high-end resorts and spas. It is a destination look and helps the guest “blend in” with the environment. Having attended resort-chic events, I can tell you that it generally requires men to be in long pants and a short- or long-sleeve shirt. Fabrics are usually cotton, silk, linen or seersucker. Loafers and sandals are the normal foot apparel. Hawaii and surrounding islands call for the quintessential pattern shirt and white pants. Ladies have a wide variety of styles to choose from and can incorporate more vibrant colors and patterns into their looks. But avoid the muumuu!

“Resort chic evening” indicates that a jacket is preferred for men in linen, cotton or seersucker, and a cocktail dress, resort inspired outfit or pant suit for ladies. Women can wear bolder accessories and often local flowers with their ensembles. This look often is the dining room standard on a cruise ship or at a resort.

“Resort casual” indicates that a shortsleeve polo shirt or button-up shirt with tailored shorts is acceptable. Bermuda length shorts or Capri pants are the acceptable choice for ladies. However, resort casual still requires a clean and tailored look. At all costs avoid denim and “workout” apparel looks.

“City chic” encompasses a wide variety of current fashion styles, and varies by climate. We commonly see this metropolitan look for dinners out, dates and clubbing. A current look for men is a long-sleeve designer shirt, untucked, with high-end jeans and loafers or boots. Ladies’ looks vary from casual dresses, fitted tops paired with jeans, and heels and leather looks. This is a hip, urban look that defines us and sends a definite message to the beholder. When in a strange city, all black or a black top with stylish jeans is usually your best bet. Have fun, but maintain good

“Business casual” is probably the most misunderstood and poorly executed of all the apparel categories. Today, most companies that allow business casual have an enforced dress code policy in place. It is critical that you follow your company’s standards, and I always recommend dressing a bit above those standards. I have seen guests and planners look ridiculous and even get reprimanded over this look. Play it safe. As a general rule for men, business casual means polo shirts and short-sleeve shirts for summer. Pair those with Dockers-style or cargo pants. For winter, a wool blend or corduroy pant with a long-sleeve collared shirt, a fine gauge knit sweater, or turtleneck is acceptable. A gentleman should always have a casual blazer available for pop-up meetings or an unexpected dinner engagement. In spring and summer, ladies can wear a simple cotton or linen dress, a short-sleeve polo shirt, a short-sleeve button down or a short-sleeve fine gauge knit top or blouse. These are paired with pressed cotton trousers, Capri pants or summer skirts ‒ knee length or lower. Your skirt length sends a definite message to the office staff and the client.

Rob’s Rule for ladies – The longer the skirt, the stronger the character. If you feel the need to wear tight little skirts around the office, you will get noticed, but not necessarily promoted. Winter months can include neutral sweaters, knit twinsets, turtlenecks or long-sleeve shirts with wool pants, skirts or knit pants. Dress jeans, not weekend jeans, are acceptable if listed on the company dress code. Jeans with holes, distressed finishes or embellishments are never acceptable. Above all else, wearing clothes too tight for your figure looks ridiculous. People of means often buy one size larger than what they need and then have those items tailored to fit them. And wearing the proper foundation garments that give you posture and shape makes you look younger!

In the meeting and event industry, travel is often required.Having the right essential basics in your closet will make packing a breeze, and guarantee you will always look appropriate. I always use black as a year-round neutral, and khaki or gray as a summer alternative. As a rule, I always try to buy tropical weight worsted wool suits, sport coats and trousers. They breathe well, keep their shape and travel beautifully. I prefer linen, cotton or seersucker fabrics in the summer and pack a lot of neutral basics. I can pair them with colorful accessories such as ties, T-shirts and jewelry. Here are my essentials to create stress-free packing and style success!


This column is meant to provide practical advice, tips and rules
of engagement you need in the meeting and event planning
industry. If you have a question, whether it’s how to dress, how
to address your guests or what to serve as the main course, e-mail
Rob at [email protected] Your question might just
inspire the topic of his next column!

Robs Rules At A Glance

About the author

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