Society / The Seen

A Real Guide to Society Party Dress Codes

From White Tie to Casual Chic, What It All Really Means


In the days of Truman Capote’s gilded Black & White ball and eons before that, tiaras, coronets, and diadams were strictly forbidden to anyone other than royalty. Likewise, those shunning the requisite dressing for an evening out were shunned. Not so much anymore. But certain rules, shall we say guidelines, still apply when it comes to stepping out on the party scene.

And what a Rubik’s Cube it can be not only with the tried and true rules but also with hostesses going to ever greater lengths to be imaginative (confusing?) in that little space on the invitation where they petition for a certain fashion motif. With the winter/spring party season just an Instagram away, it’s time to refresh your party fashion savvy.

White tie: This is one dress code for which there is no room for interpretation. Long gowns are required. The occasion is ripe for those Oscar de la Renta or Marchesa bouffant gowns. Aside from deb balls, typically only two annual events call for this most formal of dressing — the Consular Ball in the fall and the Houston Grand Opera Ball in the spring. Short cocktail dresses and evening pants would be serious fashion faux pas. The gents will just have to grin and bear the white tie and tails, perhaps finding solace in the debonaire vibe.

Black tie: Ah, a little breathing room for the ladies here. Long gowns are most appropriate but the froufrou cocktail dress is acceptable as is a glamorous pants ensemble. If the black tie event is held during the week, femmes can get away with a glitzy cocktail dress. As for the guys, there is no room for variation on the tuxedo. But the peacock in the gents can enliven the sartorial scene with colorful cummerbund and bow tie.

Black tie optional: I hate this. And I suspect that many others do as well. But there are those who want a dressy affair but don’t want to put the squeeze on those who might not have that tuxedo. This means that cocktail attire (see next entry) will do. Often, table hostesses will inform their guests to go one way or the other, making for a uniform table.

Cocktail attire: Think dark suit and velvet dinner jackets for men and a variety of choices for women. Love those frothy cocktail dresses by Rickie Freeman and Carmen Marc Valvo. Likewise, an Armani tux for the ladies makes a grand cocktail party fashion statement. Tea length dresses are another popular option.

Holiday Gifting

  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Casa di Lino
  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Nocturne Studio
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Mariquite Masterson

Business attire: Exactly what it says — a suit or sports coat and slacks for men, daytime dresses or office attire for women.

Casual chic/dressy casual: Operative words here are chic and dressy. Dolls, leave the yoga pants at home. Instead opt for one of those little frocks by Kate Spade or palazzo pants by Phillip Lim. Nice slacks and a fancy top always work as well as sexy shorts ensemble. Guys on the other hand can win best dressed kudos wearing jeans with a crisp white shirt and a snazzy blazer. Men going the slacks and nice shirt route should check with the host to see if a jacket is recommended.

Urban chic: Think basic black. This of course is wide open for interpretation from apocalyptic torn jeans to Chanel chic. You’ll have to know your host’s intentions. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Black tie variations: Black Tie & Boots, Black Ties & Baseball Caps, Tuxes & Tennies. Once the brand is bastardized, practically anything goes for men and women. This is costume territory. But don’t think overly casual. Keep “fancy” in mind. We’ve seen numerous interpretations from tuxes worn with T-shirts to tux style above the waist and strictly western below. This is a tricker fashion question for women, who tend to stick to cocktail attire and throw on a pair of Luccheses for this sort of event.

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - PC Guides

Featured Properties