Guide to Decoding Dress Codes on Party Invites
Guide To Decoding Dress Codes On Party Invites 

WhatsApp has made it easy to send formal invites for even the most inconsequential of occasions, each mandating a dress code, sometimes with oxymoronic terms like ‘Smart Casual’. Here’s our guide to decoding them

There was a time when everyone dressed well, even if they only bathed once a month. That explains the excessive perfumes. Either way, cholera, and plague aside, I would’ve loved to live in those times. For one thing, things were simpler back then. No, I don’t mean knowing the right hashtags and the best time to post a reel. I am talking about simply knowing what to wear when heading out at any time of the day for whatever specific occasion may have been on your calendar. 


Today, each of us has so many social appearances to make, that it seems like we all are heads of our respective states on diplomatic missions to meet other similar heads of states. Sometimes, we fight two such fires in the same evening. Besides the thought of dealing with the traffic snarls ahead, the conundrum that invariably stresses most of us out when one opens the wardrobe  is what to wear for which occasion.  


What can one wear all through the day so that we are workplace suited by day and cocktail-ready by evening. Alas, no one such formula exists, certainly not for men. What we wear is dictated by many factors – from hierarchical, like our job profile and position in the company, to practical, as in, is it comfortable to work and move about it. 


Given that no two people will ever make the same choice of clothing to see them through the day, it only makes sense for hosts to put something down on the invite to indicate just what they wish their invitees to put on. This is in the interest of decorum or, otherwise put, to ensure that the photographs turn out pretty without having to Photoshop someone out of them. But even the dress code terms used on the invite could sometimes be very confusing. Here is my guide to cut through the ambiguity. 



Casual: Simply put, casual is anything that puts comfort over all else. If you can lounge in it, wear it to bed or for a walk by the beach, or simply to go shopping or running errands around town or about the house, that’s pretty much casual. Some do it in track suits, while others prefer slightly less sporty gear. My grandfather wore a suit and tie just to fetch the morning newspaper from the porch, but I think we can all agree that lives today don’t allow us that kind of luxury of time anymore. 


Semi-Formal: The in-between category, some call it lazy, but, to me, it’s the most pragmatic approach to establishing a certain sense of decorum where none exists. You don’t need a three-piece suit to crack this one. But definitely include a jacket of some sort (no, not a track top, nor a shell jacket). Ideally it should be an over-layer in natural fabrics with buttons up front and some form of a collar and preferably a lapel. You can ditch the pleated trousers for the comfort of chinos or denims, but keep it fitted as opposed to baggy. Shoes are good, they can be sneakers too but only the lifestyle ones, not the performance kind which are mostly intended for running or cross-training. Else, if the weather is balmy, sandals work fine too. Socks too can be dispensed with if the weather, and consequently, the shoes you choose, allow one to go sock-less (shoes in canvass or loafers with soft leather linings are the kind that work. I wouldn’t advise a tie, but a pocket square is a welcome addition.  


Formal: This is, as the textbook suggestion suggests, sober and, as most people execute it, borderline boring. But it needn’t be; one can stay within the realms of formal and yet spruce things up with a flair of colours, patterns, textures and other accoutrements like collar pins, tie bars and cuff links. Usually, formal suits are preferred in dark shades – blue and grey are most popular – but if you can carry off a lighter shade of olive green or burnt ochre, go for it. Do not match ties and pocket squares to each other, if at all one must, park them in the same colour family as your socks or the accessories. Shoes and belts must match or at least belong to the same tonal family and its safest to stick with shades like chestnut and mahogany. Black is a bit working class so reserve it for an office get-together event. 


Black-Tie: This is penguin-level monotonous but not half as fun as watching endless reels of those flightless birds up to their antics. I am always somewhat taken aback by how this one category has stayed so stoically unmoved since it was first conceived a century ago. Surely there is room for play in a category where the most risqué thing one can do is to declare it a white tux (as opposed to black) and even then, wear a jacket that’s meekly off-white. Personally, I colour block with my cummerbund in the flashiest of colours and match my bow tie to it. Socks can follow suit. Shirts should ideally have a French collar and double cuffs; trousers should have tightening straps on the sides instead of belt loops.  Shoes should ideally be black, but you can wear other dark shades, but ensure they are lace ups, in patent leather, always.  


The Smart- prefix: I don’t get it at all when they pre-fix ‘Smart’ to any category from above. Is there an option? Who aims to dress un-smart? Is that even a thing? And if so, why? Who signed off on it? If I am not smart by my own humble admission, I’d be very worried because it would mean that I am possibly extremely sick for nothing else could explain consciously planted sloppiness of appearance. Well, chiding aside, if you see the word ‘Smart’ in the dress code, just avoid shorts, vests, and sandals. That should pretty much cover it.  


In the end, remember the golden adage, `when in doubt, overdress’. 

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