Dressing up: How to make sense of different dress codes

Dressing up: How to make sense of different dress codes

With a whirlwind of barmitzvah invitations arriving through her letterbox, Suzanne Baum finds herself having to make a valiant attempt to decode the dress code without losing the plot!

I have three kids, and with two of them aged 12 and 13 the past year has been a whirlwind of simchas. Bar-and batmitzvahs have taken over our weekends but, wonderful as it is to have an excuse to party with those close to us, it does come at a cost. I’m not talking about the gifts or even the money we have to lay out on getting babysitters for our five year old but it is the party clothes themselves that are proving pricey!

With a selection of dresses in my wardrobe, I’m not short of an outfit to wear. The problem is the majority of invitations we receive all have different instructions when it comes to the dress code! And to think I used to huff and puff over what to wear to when a black-tie event came along;  compared to the dress codes we are being asked to follow recently this is an easy one…  A tuxedo for my husband and a full length gown for me and we (used) to be good to go!

dress code pic 3
Dressing for a simcha used to be simple-tuxedo for him, black dress for her

As every invitation that arrives in the post is greeted with excitement there is another part of me that inwardly groans. What will the hosts be asking us to wear this time? We’ve had so many different dress codes over the past year nothing surprises me anymore. Cocktail wear, formal wear, smart wear, dress up/dress down, fancy dress; it’s all proven mind boggling. And that’s before the most confusing dress code of them all and one that seems to keep on coming;   ‘black tie no tie’. I mean really?  Can’t the hosts make their minds up! Do they want us to wear black tie or not?

Of course it goes without saying following a dress code is all about respecting your hosts – it shows that you read the invitation, you paid attention, and you put in some thought. Ignoring the dress code makes it look like you are apathetic, decided to come at the last minute, don’t really care, or worst of all, gate-crashed the party.

I totally get it that a dress code  gives you a head’s up on the tone of the evening; however, in a bid to ensuring everybody follows the same dress etiquette there is always a chance you are not going to get it completely right!

For instance, opening a recent invitation that required guests to ‘dress down’ I had to glance at it three times before wondering if our friends hosting the simcha had lost their marbles.  Although happy on this occasion not to spend money getting a fake tan, my hair and make-up done and a new dress, I was hardly going to attend a barmitzvah in my jeans. Looking back I wished I had as my maxi dress made me stick out like a sore thumb!

dress code pic 1 (example of rsvp invitation)
An invitation deisgned by Melanie Conway, of RSVP invitations

Someone who knows all too well about dress codes is Melanie Conway, who specialises in designing party invitations through her RSVP invitations business.

“Years ago, when it came to a dress code for a simcha it was simply lounge suit or black-tie guests were required to wear.

“However, nowadays there are a number of options.  Black Tie No Tie, Cocktail attire and Dress to Party seem to be the most popular, but increasingly I get asked for “something different”.  The problem with being too alternative is that it is very often unclear to the guest what an earth they should wear!!

“For instance, with the dress code ‘Dress Glamorous’ – does that mean jeans are allowed for the men? If you don’t specify then the host will get a barrage of calls from guests about what is acceptable which defeats the object of putting it on the invitation in the first place.

“An idea that has come from America is actually requesting a colour for your guests to wear – for example a recent client specified her guests all wore white – whilst she, the hostess wore lime green – I can only imagine how amazing her photos were!  So my advice – don’t try to be too clever with it, keep the dress code clear and simple ……… you don’t want Uncle Harry turning up in a dinner suit if everyone else is in jeans!”


dress code pic 2
‘Dressed to party’ at my son’s barmitzvah earlier this year

When it came to our son’s barmitzvah earlier this year our invitation stated ‘dress to party’. Friends did call to ask what exactly that meant and as I reassured them it was anything they felt comfortable partying in, it kind of left me stumped what to w ear. Convincing myself as the mother of the barmitzvah boy I was entitled to pull out all the stops, I did; my long green silk backless halter neck dress was perfect for the occasion.

My husband on the other hand was so confused it was harder choosing his attire than my three son’s altogether.

As for our second son’s barmitzvah, due to take place in Israel next summer, I’m opting for something entirely different.  Guests will be encouraged to come underdressed- after all it’s taking place on a beach!