Chances are, at some point during your mother's lifetime, women wore dresses for all occasions. There were school dresses, house dresses, day dresses and of course party dresses. Any lady worth her weight in rhinestones knew how to wear clothes; and in most social scenarios, that was in a dress.
Now in an era when it is not uncommon to see workout pants in the office, our codes for dressing have become muddled, if not outright sabotaged. Alas, in so many instances, the art of dressing has been lost. Hopefully it has only been misplaced.
But even though I'm definitely a proponent of fancying up a bit, I'm admittedly often confused by the many opportunities for doing so. In the name of research, and for the sake of the greater good of glamour, I've hit up two local resources for all things fabulous. I have enlisted the advice of fashion experts Amanda Viles, director of marketing for Saks Fifth Avenue, and Kelly Mize, owner of Little Black Dress, to help us decipher modern day dress codes for every occasion in our lives.
The Office Dress/Skirt Suit
In most offices, you really can't go wrong with a suit or shift dress. In most 8 to 5 work environments, conservative is key. While it's great to be feminine, you never want to channel sexy at the office. Unless glitter is an expected part of your work wardrobe, skin is never in. By investing in neutral colored pieces, you'll get more bang for your buck by changing your look with colorful or textured blouses and accessories.
"A black suit might sound boring and unexpressive," Viles said, "but add a colored pointy-toe pump, a faux fur animal print skinny belt or a ruffled feminine blouse and your personality can shine through while still keeping it all business."
If your working environment is, say, more advertising agency than law firm, business casual might be more appropriate for day-to-day dressing. "Business casual is crisp, neat, and should look appropriate even for a chance meeting with a CEO. I think the important thing to remember here is that while it's casual, it's still professional," Viles said.
When deciding between traditional business dress versus business casual, it's imperative that you take a look around at your coworkers. While the old adage "dress for the job you want" still rings true, the office is one environment where a certain amount of conformity is key. Unless you happen to work for Anna Wintour, don't out dress your boss.
The Date Night Dress
A night out on the town is certainly an opportunity to get creative. Potential looks really run the gamut.
"In general, I am an advocate for being a little over-dressed, than under-dressed," Mize said. "This is fairly easy to do these days, as our society has embraced more of a casual vibe overall."
When a night out follows work, it is very possible to conscript your dresses into double duty. Viles recommends utilizing accessories and a few layered pieces for changing your look from day to evening. "I have a satin black cocktail dress that is sleeveless a-line style -- I get a ton of use out of it. When I put a black or pinstripe jacket over it, minimal jewelry and suede or leather heels, I can wear it for work. Without a jacket, gold strappy heels and some jewelry, I'm set for a cocktail party, trip to the PAC or nice dinner date," she said.
The Party/ Wedding Dress
Wedding styles can vary as much as the personalities of couples do. Mize stresses the importance of both the time of day of the wedding and also the location when selecting your dress.
"I always ask my client about the venue, as I think this helps determine the dress code, if it's not specified on the invitation. If the wedding is at a ranch in the middle of the day, she might want to wear a cute silk sundress with cowboy boots, however, if the wedding is after 6pm and being held at a more formal venue, like the Mayo or another hotel, I'd say dressier is best," Mize said. "This is the time when I think it's really important to find a dress or outfit in a place where really good customer service is offered. A good sales-associate will ask you the necessary questions to help you find something that's perfect for your event."
The Benefit or Gala Dress
Fundraisers and benefits cover the spectrum as far as location and theme. There's a huge difference in the look and feel in say Waltz on the Wild Side and the CANdlelight Ball. While safari chic might be appropriate for one event, another might call for sequins and lace.
"For the full length gown vs. cocktail length debate, we are seeing formal events get more casual, so in most cases a cocktail dress (or something not full length) can work. However, if the invite says "black tie" or "gala" we do see more long dresses," Viles said.
Mize advises that you take into consideration whether or not the men will be wearing tuxedos. "If the man is wearing a tux, the woman is going to want to wear a long evening gown or a really dressy short dress," Mize said. "I've been to several very formal/black tie events recently where women were wearing short dresses, and I think this is the trend now. There are not as many uses for evening dresses, so many would prefer to have a short one that they can wear to more occasions, which I totally agree with."
Regardless of the occasion, there's a dress out there that has been made to suit it. The right, well-made dress will never fail you. Should you ever second-guess yourself as to whether or not it's worth dressing up for, you need only ask yourself, "What would Holly Golightly do?" She'd put on a little black dress.
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