Q: I am confused. What exactly is the difference between formal, semiformal and informal dress? I need some guidelines.
A: There was a time when the difference between the three was clear-cut. But the anything-goes attitude toward dress codes that prevails today has blurred the edges. But these basic guidelines should see you appropriately attired for todayâ€™s dressier events:
A tuxedo, white shirt and bow tie for men; a long dress, cocktail dress or dressy separates for women.
A dark suit for men; a cocktail dress or dressy separates for women. For daytime semiformal events, a suit is appropriate for men; a short dress or dressy suit for women.
A suit, or a dark blazer and dress pants, for men; a short dress, dressy suit or pantsuit for women. Note: Informal is not the same as casual, which means jeans, khakis, T-shirts, capri pants, sundresses and similar casual clothing is not appropriate.
However, thereâ€™s no denying that trendy jeans teamed with a smart jacket or sexy top and dressy shoes is the â€œnew informal.â€ But we are not talking washing-the-car jeans, tank tops and flip-flops here. Save those for casual occasions.
Also, keep in mind that the above definitions are open to interpretation. For example, for a trendier formal look, men may team their tux with a black shirt or regular necktie. For a semiformal evening look, women may choose dressy pantsuits. Or, for an informal look, capri pants could work, provided they were in a dressy fabric and were worn with a chic jacket and heels.
Whatever the dress code, however, itâ€™s always better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.