It's holiday party time! The season for festive sweaters, glittering jackets and sequined skirts! All year long we plan for this and some of us have saved last season’s bargain finds for this year’s festivities…but as we study the invitation, we wonder if that reindeer nosed sweater is really appropriate for this year’s event? What should you wear? Oh wait! There's no dress code on the invitation! What should you do? Well, first, don't leave dress to guesswork. If you're not sure, ask the host/hostess.
Next, realize that in spite of the dress code, your attire should always reflect professional presence. Just as one is cautioned not to overdo casual Friday i.e., change only one item of clothing, dress up times should be equally as conservative. Clothes communicate powerful messages about status, authority, power and rank. Whether we like it or not, success and professionalism have developed their own image within all social circles. Our clothing is our social exchange for belonging within a certain group. According to Wikipedia, “dress codes are written and, more often, unwritten rules with regard to clothing.” Clothing has a social significance and is an important part of social exchanges. That means you can't show up with your blinking nose reindeer sweater and assume it will be OK "because it's just so cool". Protocol demands that you take pains to ensure you wear the proper attire and don't give away your personal power.
In her book, Etiquette in Minutes, Etiquette Expert Syndi Seid offers guidelines to selecting appropriate party attire:
Black Tie: Men should wear a single or double breasted suit jacket with a black silk bow tie, black slacks and shoes. This is commonly referred to as “tuxedo or tux” dress for civilians or "full dress uniform" for military personnel. Women should dress in a floor length gown, one piece or separates.
Black Tie Optional: Men may wear tuxedo attire or a dark suit with a white shirt and a tie. Avoid light colored suits, sweater jackets or sport coats. Women's choices are a floor length gown, an elegant suit or cocktail attire.
Business/Smart Casual: Business casual, meaning slightly informal but neat attire is the least understood dress code because it is only used in America! It can include items such as a leisure suit, nice shirt or sweater, slacks or khakis. But, you should err on the side of caution. It is best to be overdressed than undressed. Removing a jacket or necklace can tone down an overdressed outfit, but nothing disguises denim or athletic wear! Generally, you do the following when attending a business casual event:
Men should wear a sports coat, colored or white shirt, slacks and loafer-styled shoes. Women can choose business attire, church attire, or skirt/slacks with a matching jacket/sweater or blazer. Select shoes that accent your outfit, but avoid sequined or high heeled stilettos unless that is what you normally wear.
Casual Dress: Men can dress in long or short pants and a collared shirt with a coordinated sweater or a sports jacket. Ties are optional. Women can wear shorts, pants or skirts with a blouse, sweater or jacket.
Formal: Men may wear a dark suit with coordinated tie and shirt if the occasion is before 6PM. Women traditionally wear cocktail attire, business attire or a dressy suit. After 6 PM, formal is equal to Black Tie.
Informal or Semi-formal: For occasions before 6 PM, this attire is similar to Business Casual in the United States. A coat and tie or a business suit is appropriate for men. For women, a dress suit or church dress is appropriate. Any event after 6 PM should be considered dressier. So, men may choose to wear a dark business suit while women dress in a long cocktail dress or business suit.
White Tie: Men are expected to appear in a tailcoat with a white bow tie. Women should appear in the fanciest floor length formal gown, complete with gloves should they desire!
Following proper protocol when choosing your attire is essential to establishing and maintaining the power of presence. Remember, you're not dressing to impress; you're simply and silently communicating the power of your presence.
I am Pamela Coopwood, and I am “Speaking of Protocol”