May 17, 2010

"Formal" wear

As I'm sure some of you are aware, prom season is upon us. Our local rag does an online photo gallery from most of them; candid shots from throughout the evenings. I glance through a few from each prom just to see what things look like now...

And you know what strikes me? Somewhere in the not-quite-fifteen years since I went to my prom, the idea of formal wear got lost, or significantly downgraded. IMHO, the whole idea of prom is a sort of milestone between youth and (young) adulthood. It's a time to be grown-up, without someone standing over your shoulder saying, "Don't flick your peas at your sister."

Prom was, and should continue to be, a "black tie" event.

Gents, you should be in, at minimum, a three-piece suit, and preferably a tuxedo. A black and white tuxedo. If you want to add color to your outfit, it should be done as subtle accents, or ONE piece of the ensemble: colored studs and/or cufflinks to compliment your date's dress, or a colored vest or cummerbund with the same thought in mind. Yes, it means planning in advance with your date. Shoes should low-cut polished black leather. Red Converse are completely NOT OK.

A fresh (within the preceding two hours) shower and shave and a one- or two-day-old haircut is mandatory. Nails must be clipped. If you must wear cologne, apply *sparingly*. Someone should be at close conversational distance in order to get more than a faint hint of it. (And remember that some women find "clean" to be a very acceptable scent on a man, no enhancement needed.)

Ladies, you should be in a dress/gown. Not a skirt and blouse, a dress. BELOW the knees, and ideally near floor-length. Strapless may accentuate your bust (which I'm all for), but it distracts from the effect when you're pulling up the front of your dress every few minutes. Spaghetti straps are a good thing. Solid colors are good, subtle patterns are fine. Florals or wild patterns, not so elegant. Shoes - wear something you can stand in for a couple hours. You'll probably be on your feet for a while, and honestly, walking around barefoot an hour into the evening defeats the whole idea of "adult". Also, make sure you wear the same shoes when your dress is fitted - otherwise length will be way off.

Like the gents, a shower immediately preceding is important. Nails should be done however you prefer, as long as they are neat. Hair should be "done". That may mean just washed and brushed, or it may mean a trip to the salon. Your discretion. Same rules for perfume: it shouldn't be noticeable beyond close conversation/dancing distance. A dab under the ear and on the wrist is plenty.

(Every woman should have the classic "little black dress", it's true. Prom is not the time to wear it. The LBD is not black-tie formal. It's a cocktail dress. A prom is not a cocktail reception.)

Folks, if you have kids you owe it to them and society to teach them "right" and "wrong" dress for events. Here's my rough outline, all to be considered "minimums":

- Church: Khakis and a polo/skirt and blouse. (Business casual.)
- Cocktail reception: Business casual-plus, gents - add a blazer, ladies - up to LBD.
- Court: Business casual.
- Fancy dinner: Jacket and tie over slacks, not khakis. Dress or skirt with blouse and blazer.
- Funeral: Jacket and tie over slacks, not khakis. Dress or skirt with blouse and blazer.
- Job interview*: Jacket and tie over slacks, or suit. Dress or skirt with blouse and blazer.
- Prom/Ball: Black-tie formal up to white-tie formal. (White tie: Gents, add tails to your coat. Ladies, a gown is de rigeur.)
- Wedding: see invitation. If not indicated, business casual-plus.

These are minimums. If you're not sure about something, ASK, or over-dress and risk be the odd one out. I don't know of anyone being offended by a guest over-dressing.

Last but not least, jewelry.

Jewelry is an accent, (usually) not a statement.
Gents, if you have pierced anything, go subtle. A simple gold stud is fine. Other than that, a wristwatch (ditch the Casio and spend a little for something with a metal band. Fossil on up through Bulova, Seiko, Rolex...), and a wedding band if you are married.
Ladies, no watches. ONE bracelet, ONE necklace, subtle earrings. It's tough to beat the classic gold/diamond tennis bracelet with a strand of pearls and gold stud earrings for all-purpose elegance. Wedding band/engagement ring as appropriate.

(I recognize the fact that different areas have subtle variations. For instance, some places consider nice jeans to be a suitable replacement for khakis. Texas, I'm looking at you here. Know your local standards and dress to them!)

Wikipedia has a pretty good article on Western dress standards.

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." -- Mark Twain

* - I have seen suggestions that someone dress for an interview as though already employed at the business. Bovine feces. If I did that I'd have worn no better than khakis and a polo to most of my interviews. Dress in a jacket and tie or suit and tie, at minimum. You are showing respect for the job, the employer, and the interviewer. Calling and asking what to wear for an interview is also a no-no in my opinion - they are not your parents, they are a potential employer. (If you're applying for a farm job or oilfield work, disregard this info.)

3 comments:

Christina LMT said...

What, no watch?!

And who made you the fashion police?!

ZerCool said...

@Christina: I don't feel a watch is appropriate with a gown. Just my opinion. And *I* made me the fashion police. Here's your ticket! :-D

mhaithaca said...

The exception to the guest over-dressing not being offensive guideline is that no one but a member of the wedding party should be dressed in a tuxedo at a wedding unless it's a black-tie event.