Redirecting Our Efforts
Whether you prefer a step up or a step down to play it safe, our debate ad nauseum
can't solve the problem. We know what semi-formal should always mean. And the problem isn't that it has come to mean something else. The problem is that it has come to mean ANYTHING,
not one of two possibilities but a wide range: from chinos to tie to sport coat/blazer to suit to black tie. This is the sad state of affairs with dress codes and habits since they've been intended and taken to mean virtually anything for so long that no one knows what is appropriate without calling the host directly for clarification by listing examples. Stating formality can actually cause more confusion than it solves, as we have seen time and again here.
So, as we strive to teach dressing well by lesson and example, what can we do to clean up the invitation dress code mess? Let's go to the source of this problem. How can we educate others? Some thoughts are to:
1. Use the correct traditional designation. If you use "formal" to mean ties and coats, what will you use for suits, "extra formal"? And for black tie, "uber formal"? White tie would have to be "astronomically formal" or something likewise ridiculous. Stick with the traditional, make no accommodations for modern dress codes; it only prolongs the illness. Secondary benefit - some may begin to understand that black and white tie, listed as semi-formal and formal, aren't so astronomical and ties and coats aren't so formal.
2. Include a brief parenthetical explanation. Yes, this is redundant but people don't know and you're taking the opportunity to educate.
3. Step up the dress for your events (not necessarily black or white tie). This may not work for every occasion, but the more people see and equate correct dress and its designation the better. Secondary benefit - having everyone dressed better will automatically make the event more classy and memorable; nothing else needed.
4. Send more invitations. If we stop and think, many social get togethers we plan can use invitations - definitely when the event is more formal or includes more people, especially for both. Besides, they are useful and elegant. Engraving gilded vellum is not required, just be classy and simple. I LOVE written invitations because the information is all together, I tend to remember it better, and I can easily refer to it later.
5. Answer questions politely and with confidence. If they have to ask then they don't know, which means you are the authority in this conversation (nevermind that you are the host). Be ready with a simple reference or two if they ask for one (www.blacktieguide.com
, original Emily Post, etc.).
6. Include some help for the ladies. Women are often dressed better than men, but they have their habits as well. The "little black dress" is NOT the solution to any and all non-swimsuit occasions and "cocktail dress" is no more authoritative than "business casual." Business dress is at least knee-length and conservatively styled (covered shoulders and no low-cut tops). Semi-formal calls for at least mid-calf length. Formal is floor length evening gown or ball gown.
Other than our own events, how do we educate and spread the good word? Even influencing events of friends and family is slow in the overall scheme. I don't have all the answers. There are those among us who have written books, made presentations, done interviews, published reports, consulted, etc. on clothing and advocated for classical style. Can something be done with dress code designations and invitations? Bridal magazines and trade publications? Community presentations as a service of AAAC members? I believe in using the forum for more than debating shoe styles and looking for discounts.