Black and white parties aren't what they used to be. At one time, a black and white party was synonymous with "black tie, please." As black and white parties have become more popular, however, they've also become more creative. If you received a written invitation to the party, it should say something about the expected attire. If not, ask the host or other guests if the party is formal or informal and if there is a theme.
If the invitation or the host tells you that the party is "formal," it means one of two things. One, wear a tux. It's always appropriate, sophisticated attire for a formal gathering. If you don't own one, rent one. Or, the invite could mean you may be able to wear a white or black dinner jacket, white or black tie and black dress pants. A dinner jacket is not the same as a suit jacket; it is more formal, with a black satin collar or trim, a shawl collar (a smooth, non-notched lapel) or satin trim and silver, gold or covered buttons. With either choice, wear black dress socks and black dress shoes.
Casual means different things to different people, so it's important to know exactly what your host means if she says that the dress code is "casual." For example, "dress casual" means nice, casual clothes that you'd wear to work or church if you aren't wearing a suit. Pair black pants with a white dress shirt, a black leather belt and black dress shoes. If you aren't certain, wear a black tie and jacket, which you can always remove if you're the only guest wearing them. Casual may mean "dress casual," too, since it isn't formal. Or casual can mean that anything goes, as long as it's black or white, in which case black jeans and a white polo might be just fine.
If the black and white party is also a costume party, find out if the host means crazy costumes, conservative costumes or "anything goes." If you're half of a couple, you could dress as priest and nun or Laurel and Hardy. (Reference 3) A black sheet cut and taped, with a white felt collar sticking out, can easily become the priest's garb. Laurel and Hardy only require black suits and white shirts; it's the bowler hats and mustaches you add that turn the costumes into the characters. If anything goes, black and white balloons can turn any outfit into a costume with a little imagination. A black tail, black ears and face-painted whiskers make a definitive mouse.
Theme parties can be the most fun to dress for because they give you direction without telling you what to wear. If the theme is "Old Movies," Charlie Chaplin comes to mind. In fact, since old movies were in black and white, dress like any character from that day, because in the movies it looked like everyone wore black and white. Be a cowboy, an FBI agent or King Kong, as long as you wear only black and white. Remember that men always wore suits, from silent movie days all the way into the 1950s -- and the suit wasn't finished without a proper hat. Add an accessory or feature to make your character. Consult pictures to get the exact shape of Clark Gable's mustache, or practice the distinctive voice of James Cagney. Be creative. If the theme is "theater," you don't want to be one of the dozen phantoms in a black and white mask. Add a pocket watch and a scowl and go as Mr. Banks, the stern father from Mary Poppins, instead.
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