Attire Wording for Invitations

by Gail Sessoms
Clear invitation phrasing helps guests understand your wishes.

Clear invitation phrasing helps guests understand your wishes.

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Hosts often worry about how to convey the required or suggested attire for their events. Potential guests also worry about the meaning of attire instructions on invitations. No one wants to show up at an event underdressed or overdressed. While there are agreed-upon phrases for attire, such as "formal," the meaning of the phrases may vary among different groups. Hosts also want to avoid attire wording that is open to interpretation, so the challenge is in how to make sure you are understood without including a list of no-no's on the invitation. Your guests will appreciate your use of appropriate attire phrasing.

Degrees of Formal

"White tie" is the most formal dress attire type and the one least open to interpretation. White tie means men wear a shirt, vest, white tie and a tailcoat. Women wear long gowns, but gloves are optional. "Black tie" means women wear long gowns and men wear tuxedos. "Black tie invited," or black tie optional, means guests may wear tuxedos and gowns, but neither is required. Men may wear dark suits and ties and women may wear gowns or evening attire. "Elegant attire," also called "formal attire" or "semi-formal," means that a suit and tie are acceptable and a tuxedo is appropriate, but not required. Ties for men and long, formal dresses for women are required. Cocktail attire requires men to wear dress shirts and dark suits, tie optional, and women may wear less formal, shorter dresses. Cocktail dresses are appropriate for cocktail attire.

Business and Casual Attire

"Business attire" is worn at corporate events, such as those scheduled during or directly after the work day. Employees who head for such an event right after work are dressed appropriately. Suits and dressy attire appropriate for a corporate office are appropriate. "Casual" usually means guests may dress in comfortable clothes of the type worn to work for dress-down days -- shirts with collars, nice pants, simple dresses and tie not required. While there is no real dress code for "casual," most guests will probably stop short of flip-flops and tattered jeans.

Come As You Are and Special Attire

"Come as you are" means wear whatever clothing you have on when it is time to attend the event or wear whatever clothing you want. Come as you are means there is no dress code. Sometimes an invitation for a themed event requires "special attire" and will specify the color or other characteristics of the clothing guests should wear. The invitation might specify vintage clothing, holiday attire, all-white attire or beach wear. Use the term "festive" attire to alert guests that colorful clothing is in order for a fun event or that they should develop creative attire to match the event theme.

Wording and Additional Information

Include the appropriate attire phrase on the invitation and use an additional word or two if it will help guests who might be uncertain. For instance, provide additional information on the invitation if the event location may have unexpected hazards. Let guests know if the event is on a beach or a large grassy area. Inform guests if there will not be a place to check coats. This type of information helps guests make decisions about attire that is appropriate and comfortable. The style and type of your invitation also speaks to your guests. An event that requires formal attire should reflect that in the formality of the invitation.

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