Did you know there's a difference between "semiformal" and "dressy casual"? Here are the finer points of proper dress.
Step 1: Put on your tails If the invitation says "white tie," men should wear a black tailcoat with a single stripe of satin or braid; a white pique wing-collared shirt with stiff front; a white vest, white bow tie, and white or gray gloves; and black patent leather shoes and black socks. Ladies should wear a floor-length evening gown.
TIP: In Europe, the man's tailcoat should have two stripes.
Step 2: Get out your tux For black tie, men wear a black tuxedo jacket and matching pants; a pique or pleated front white shirt; a black bow tie; a black cummerbund or a vest; black patent leather shoes, black socks, and no gloves. Women can choose between a floor-length gown or a short, dressy cocktail dress.
TIP: In the summer or on a cruise ship, wear a white dinner jacket and black trousers.
Step 3: Have your pick When the invite reads "black tie optional," men have the choice of a black tuxedo or a dark suit, white shirt, and conservative tie. Women have three choices: a gown, a cocktail dress, or dressy separates.
Step 4: Be creative For "creative black tie" men can add a touch of whimsy to a black tux, like a colored or pattered bow tie. Women can jazz up their gown or cocktail dress with a feather boa, interesting shawl, or eye-catching jewelry.
Step 5: Go halfway Wear a dark business suit with a white shirt and conservative tie to a "semiformal" event if you're a guy, and either a cocktail dress or a dressy skirt and blouse if you're a woman.
Step 6: Be festive Think "bright," "sparkly," and "colorful" when the invite says "festive attire," which is basically cocktail party attire – business suit for men, and a cocktail dress or dressy pants outfit for women – with a holiday-themed accent.
Step 7: Dress kind of casual Men, wear a sport jacket or blazer, slacks, and an open-collar shirt if the invite says "dressy casual" or "business casual." Ladies, wear a dress, a skirt with a fashionable top, or a sleek pantsuit for dressy casual and a skirt or slacks, and a shirt or sweater for business casual.
Step 8: Look good Look good in whatever you're wearing and you can get away with breaking some of the previous rules.
FACT: Nearly 40 percent of managers feel their workers dress too casually, according to one survey.