What To Do If You’re Woefully Underdressed

tumblr_m6v9saBuT61qmgz9uo1_500The other weekend, I went to a beautiful wedding of two close friends where the website clearly indicated “semi-formal” (aka cocktail attire, dressy, or black-tie optional) as the dress code. Everyone looked pretty great. However, at one point a number of us seemed to distinctly notice one guest who had shown up in an untucked button down shirt, shorts, and a backwards baseball cap. Of course it couldn’t distract from the amazing ceremony and reception, but for a while before things got rolling, our section of seats was a little distracted and surprised.

This guy seemed to have no clue that he was dressed a bit inappropriately (he didn’t even take his hat off for the ceremony!), but it happens to the best of us–you misread a situation and show up dressed completely wrong. Here are a few steps you can take to remedy the situation.

  1. Apologize! Make it clear that you too see how you’re dressed, and that you realize it’s wrong. You don’t need to be groveling to everyone all night, but a quick “Oh my god, I didn’t realize I needed a tie!” to the host will smooth things over greatly.
  2. Work with what you have. Take off your hat and tuck in your shirt. See if you can borrow lipstick from someone, or if you have a pretty pair of earrings at the bottom of your purse. The venue you’re at might have a lost-and-found with a spare sport jacket in it, or maybe you can run home quickly and change into pants.
  3. Don’t make yourself the center of attention. Okay, so at this wedding, the guy sat in the SECOND ROW. Don’t do that. If it’s a wedding or some other thing with seats, sit yourself in the back so you’re not in every single photo in your dumb hat.
  4. Be extra polite otherwise. Make up for your fashion faux-pas with impeccable manners elsewhere. Offer to grab people drinks, introduce yourself with a firm handshake. In general just be so charming that people forget you’re wearing shorts. That’s not too hard, right?

What To Wear To That Funeral

Only wear outfits like these if you're going to a fashion designer's funeral

Only wear outfits like these if you’re going to a fashion designer’s funeral

It’s an unfortunate fact that, as we get older, we start attending more and more funerals and memorial services. It’s also unfortunate (or maybe fortunate) that, for all the talk we have about weddings and baby showers and bar mitzvahs, no one spends a lot of time talking about how to conduct yourself at one of these things. For instance, when Victoria and I discussed what to wear, I said the only guidance I was given was “wear black,” while she said her mom told her not to wear black to the one funeral she has attended. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

We don’t seem to be the only ones who are confused. Over at Etiquette Hell, this woman writes that she was chastised for wearing a black, sleeveless dress and a hat with a mini-veil to a wedding, and the commenters seem to be completely divided over the issue of what she wore. So where does this leave us? Here are some tips on what to consider when picking out an outfit for a funeral.

1. Where is it? – If the funeral services are being held in a place of worship, you’re more likely to find a more conservative dress code. In the Etiquette Hell link, but the woman was told that her outfit was inappropriate for the grieving family’s “faith and culture,” though it’s unclear what those are. But keep in mind that if you’re in a place of worship, your shoulders and knees will most likely need to be covered. For men, a black suit will do you just fine. For women, if you can’t find a dark-colored dress with sleeves (or it’s too hot to wear one), invest in simple jacket or shawl.

2. Who is it for?– Victoria said that, traditionally, wearing all black connotes “strong mourning,” and is most appropriate for the immediate family of the deceased. This isn’t to say that if you have a black dress you can’t wear it, just that you don’t need to be stressing yourself out if all you have on hand is something in dark blue. It’s better to wear a muted colored dress or suit than to show up in leggings and a baggy sweater because those are the two black things you happen to own. Traditionally, veils are reserved for the spouse/parents/children of the deceased, so if you decide to wear a hat make sure it doesn’t include one. Of course, this depends on your culture and traditions, so use your best judgment. The problem with wearing something “showy” like a hat with a veil is that it draws attention to you and away from the deceased and their immediate family, especially when people don’t really wear hats anymore. Like a wedding, you should absolutely avoid wearing anything that draws particular attention to yourself (unless you are the immediate family.)

3. Think conservative– A sleeved, long-ish black dress is great. A black satin dress with an open back is not. Try to keep jewelry, super-bright colors, and overall shine to a minimum. Same thing with shoes–now is the perfect time for sensible flats or boots.

4. Ignore all of this if the deceased wants you to– Apparently some people get very specific in their wills about what you should and should not wear at their funerals. Some people want everyone in their favorite colors, or specifically ask for no black. Usually you’ll be notified of this if this is the case.

What To Wear To That Formal Event (Which Is Probably A Wedding)


Please, wear clothing. [Flickr user violet.blue]

Does anyone else get insanely excited about planning outfits to wear to a wedding? Or other formal event? I’m going to assume that most of the events you’re getting a formal invitation to are weddings, because if you’re getting invited to a ton of awards shows and other galas…you probably don’t need this post.

I know it can be a chore, but personally, I love getting dressed up. I love seeing my friends wearing ties. I love having an excuse to not just be wearing sneakers and a ponytail. So it’s fitting that I get excited when I see the dress code printed on an invitation.

Firstly, I want to say to anyone planning a wedding, engagement party, or otherwise “official” event–have a frickin’ dress code! Otherwise you may be inundated with calls from friends going “Is this purple dress ok? But I also have this blue one I really like, but that one is longer. And I never wear the purple one. But what are you wearing?” and it will make you want to punch all your friends. Explicitly stated dress codes mean you don’t have to talk to anyone, which really is our goal right?

Now, on to what to wear once you know the code.

Do not wear a wedding dress (men, this goes for you too).  Unless the invitation says to wear white, you want to steer clear of any type of white dress, even if it looks nothing like the bride’s gown. Though this rule only applies for our “traditional” American/European wedding ceremonies. My cousin wore a white dress to a family member’s wedding and it was fine…because the bride was wearing a red and gold sari. Don’t wear a red and gold sari to an Indian wedding.

What you wear really depends on what it says on the invitation, and the season. Usually the couple will specify something like “Black Tie” or “Cocktail Attire” on the invite, which should give you an idea of what to wear. Here are the basics for that.

White Tie: You will never go to a White Tie wedding. We can pretty much guarantee this. But if you do, men should wear an evening tailcoat tuxedo with a white bowtie. Women should wear a floor-length ballgown and usually elbow length gloves, and really elaborate hair/makeup/clothing. Good luck shopping. (I would also like to note that a Google Image search of “White Tie” brings up the suggestions “Fred Astaire,” “Downton Abbey,” and “Obama.” Interpret that how you will.)

Black Tie: This is the most formal wedding you will probably go to, which has men wearing tuxedos (sans tails) and women wearing either floor-length gowns or more formal cocktail dresses (think darker colors, satins and silks, etc.). Think red carpet gala for clothing inspiration.

Black Tie Optional: This is most likely what the wedding you’re going to is, and IT SUCKS. PEOPLE, STOP PUTTING “BLACK TIE OPTIONAL” ON YOUR INVITATIONS. For men it’s fine; they either get to wear a tuxedo or a dark suit, which pretty much every man has. But for women’s attire, The Knot suggests “A long dress, a dressy suit, or a formal cocktail-length dress.” That is literally every possible clothing option, and it’s infuriating. You can’t go wrong with a nice cocktail dress in a deep color, though. But seriously, either put Black Tie or Cocktail Attire on your invitations, and stop the madness.

Cocktail Attire: This is what people most likely want when they say “Black Tie Optional” but they don’t know about it, so NOW YOU KNOW. It may also be written as Semiformal or Dressy Casual. This means a dark suit for men, and a cocktail dress for women, which is pretty much exactly what everyone thinks of when they think of what people wear to a wedding.

The main differences in these attire suggestions concern the time of day and the season. Most people do not host a daytime Black Tie wedding, because making women sweat in heavy satin dresses in the sun is a mean thing to do (on this note, according to Official Etiquette, tuxedos should never be worn before 6pm, but omg who cares anymore). So consider the information on the rest of the invitation. Is this going to be a winter wedding? Think darker colors and thicker fabrics. Outdoors in July? Lighter fabrics work better, in a brighter color or pattern. A blouse and skirt combo also works for this for women, and men can go for lighter fabrics and colors too in the summer, like light grey or blue.

There are a slew of others, from “Creative Black Tie” to “Evening Resort” to “Festive Attire.” Some may ask you to wear a specific color, or dress to a certain theme. Sometimes there are even costume changes. One person we know said it was tradition in his community to wear suits to the wedding ceremony, then change into jeans and t-shirts for the reception. When in doubt, ask! If a couple is asking for a specific, more non-traditional dress code, they’re probably ready to receive some questions about it.

A Note on Black for Women: Wearing black to a wedding is still a tricky subject. My mother-in-law enthusiastically told me to wear a black cocktail dress to my sister-in-law’s black tie optional wedding, but in many circles, black is an absolute no. “But UC!” you cry, “I have just the cutest black dress in the world, and I need to wear it because it makes my legs look fantastic and I need to bang one of the groomsmen!” Use your best judgment! If you’re running with a more traditional and conservative crowd, then perhaps not, but if it’s a chic evening wedding in the city, go for it! To be on the safe side, dress it up with colorful or sparkly accessories. You just don’t want to look like you’re going to a funeral.