Many may not believe this to be true; however, knowing the type of attire to wear is just as important in social decorum as the use of manners — and actually the two are parallel with each other.

The way you present yourself, or dress, is critical and is a statement as to how you should be addressed. I cannot begin to tell you how many events, and or functions, I receive inquiries on where guests ask my opinion on an invitation received where the attire selection is not clear. After all, attire selection may depend on the hour of the event, location of the event and the type of event (party or social) befitting for a specific look.

Not knowing, or understanding, which attire is most appropriate for a specific occasion is not only a social faux pas to a host or organizer of an event. It can be detrimental to the success of the event. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than appearing at a function either under-dressed or over-dressed for the occasion.

So what should one do if the attire selection requested on an invitation may not be the appropriate attire to fit the occasions?

I, too, have received invitations when the requested attire is completely inappropriate for the setting of the event. Well, as a guest, it is in order to phone and inquire from the host if in fact the attire selected is correctly stated on the invitation. Asking a question is not in bad taste. After all, you did not give your opinion; you merely inquired about the attire selection requested on the invitation to ensure you’re appropriately dressed for the occasion. Also, inquiring about the requested attire may clue the host that the attire selection requested may not be the best fit for the event… especially with multiple inquires.

However, one should still try to dress as requested on the invitation. Below are a few attire looks which may be worn for various social engagements.

Semi-Formal Attire: The definition of semi-formal attire can be somewhat confusing and for the most part flexible, particularly for women. Generally, semi-formal attire is defined as clothing that is more dressy than every day or business attire, but not so formal as to venture to tuxedos or embellished gowns.

Semi-Formal Dress: Notice the word “dress” after formal. This is not the same as attire. Semi-formal dress is considered formal wear and should be approached with this in mind. The type of clothing that is most appropriate for a semi-formal dress event will often depend on the event itself; semi-formal attire for a daytime wedding can be different from that worn to an evening business event or a party which would be semi-formal dress.

Cocktail or After Five o’clock Attire: For ladies, this includes a lovely little cocktail dress or the ever popular go to piece “LBD” Little Black Dress. Note: Be mindful as to how “little” the black dress is for a specific event. Ladies, if you feel uncomfortable wearing a dress, substitute it with a chic and stylish pantsuit or skirt suit. For gentlemen, stylish blazer/dinner jacket, pant, button down shirt (statement tie may be optional depending on venue) with nice polished shoes.

Formal Attire: There are two common kinds of formal wear – 1). Black tie and 2). White tie, which are for the most part simple terms for a suit and black tie and a tuxedo with a white tie. Women’s formal attire is usually much different from men’s attire. Even in countries where the garment is essentially the same, it is often more socially acceptable for women to wear, or don, more colorful patterns that are customary and or flattering to the figure. The key here for ladies is that formal means a full length gown – not a dress, rather a gown. There is a difference.

Rose Hedgemond is CEO of Avenues of Excellence and an etiquette and social protocol professional. Do you have an etiquette or social protocol question? Email her at or follow her on Facebook at Rose Hedgemond and Twitter @AOE_IN.