Ready To Wear

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2007

We’re now well into the event season, with lots of RSVPs right around the corner. (I’ve attended more events here over a two-year period than I did over my entire media career in New York). The concentration of philanthropic and arts organizations in our region is one of our distinguishing characteristics. We’re a supporting, giving community. But I have one question: What do you wear to all these benefits?

It’s easy when the invitation calls for black tie. Men wear tuxedos or white dinner jackets with bow or solid straight ties. My only decisions are straight or wing collar, white or black shirt, which tie and pocket square. Nice, easy and appropriate. Women wear gowns or something equally as formal.

So, formal’s a snap. But the challenge is when the invitation doesn’t really tell us what to wear but provides us with vague genres like cocktail, celebrity or Hollywood chic, business attire, business casual or casual chic. Chic is used a lot. I actually never saw that word on an invitation prior to coming here 10 years ago. It was just assumed that people would be stylish, whatever style works for them.

To sort it out, I enlisted a couple of fashion pros for their recommendations: Sally Schule, general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue, for womenswear, and Geoffrey Michel, owner (with wife Brenda) of The Met, on menswear.

Cocktail Attire

SALLY: “Don’t wear white if you drink red wine! Kidding—black is always the safe bet if the invite says cocktail. The little black dress is always a winner. Be sure it draws attention to the best part of your figure. If you don’t have great legs, be sure to wear opaque hose or go with a dressy pant and top.” GEOFFREY: “A black suit and tie is always a safe bet, but not the outfit we wear to work. The look needs to be more luxurious. Cocktail attire could [also] be a classic, well-tailored black blazer. Depending on the purpose and vibe of the party, it could be worn with dressier denim, or tan flat-front trousers and a classic luxurious white dress shirt, tie or no tie.”

Celebrity or Hollywood chic

SALLY: “Really, it’s like the edgy version of cocktail. Think L.A. awards show attire: lots of glitz and a bit daring.” GEOFFREY: “Same black suit, black or white shirt, solid black tie or no tie.”

Business attire

SALLY: “It means just that—no low-cut necklines or too short skirts. Keep it professional. You might be meeting your next boss.” GEOFFREY: “Black suit or blazer with charcoal trousers, white dress shirt, clean silver tie. In business, you can never go wrong with a classic black or charcoal suit.”

Business casual

SALLY: “Typically this is for a business seminar or outing. A basic skirt and top works as well as a classic pant and tailored blouse. Keep it basic and simple.” GEOFFREY: “Tan flat-front trouser with a luxurious white shirt, great belt, great shoes.

Casual chic

SALLY: “Here’s when jeans work well—jeans with a classic blouse, strappy sandals or high boots.” GEOFFREY: “Cream gabardine flat-front trousers and the same white shirt, great belt, great shoes.”

Good, practical advice. We can now spend more time thinking about how to grow our businesses in 2008 instead of how to be chic.

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