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Modern Manners + Etiquette: Dress Codes + Umbrella Etiquette

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Wedding times and dress codes can confuse... does Informal really mean informal, and what to wear for a 6 o'clock ceremony? Photo: sleepyjeanie/flickr.

Imminently important this week were questions about dress code etiquette at Didi Lorillard's Newportmanners.com, what to wear when dressing up for an important business dinner and how wedding guests determine the level of formality when figuring out what to wear. What exactly is the dress code for an informal wedding? With all the spring rain, questions about the dos and don'ts of umbrella etiquette have been pouring in.

Dear Didi,

My company is having a recognition ceremony and dinner. I have been nominated for two awards. All of the directors and managers (not me) will be in the annual business meeting all day and then head straight over to the dinner/recognition ceremony (which is the part I've been invited to). It's late June on a Tuesday in a run of the mill banquet hall. Cocktails at 5, dinner at 6, ceremony at 8.

I work in an office at our manufacturing facility and we're limited to slacks and company polo shirts while working so no one from work has ever seen me dressed up, though I am comfortable in a dress or skirt. I don't know how dressy to get. About 50% of people at the ceremony will be coming straight from the business meeting and I assume they will be in business attire. So, do I wear business clothes, a formal evening dress, or somewhere in between?  Thanks!  Annie, Taunton

Dear Annie,
What does the dress code on the invitation say? If it doesn't specify a dress code such as Black Tie or Formal Attire, you can assume the dress code is Suits & Dresses. Then consider that you want to look the part of the professional level you aspire to heading for. Since you're on your way with these two awards, dress up. I don't mean dress dressy, I mean find yourself a knee-length, lightweight skirt-suit to wear with beautiful shoes. The height of the heel would depend upon your own height since men don't like being over-towered; you'll have to be the judge of that. They are testing you to figure out how you would project the image of the company should they promote you to a job where you would be going out into the industrial world representing them. Believe me, it will be a good investment because you'll also be able to wear the skirt-suit to weddings, funerals, as well as job to interviews—should you start looking elsewhere for a better opportunity. Once again, dress according to the position you might be offered next and want to accept.  ~Didi

Dear Didi,

I have always read that weddings held after six in the evening are considered formal. Does that include a wedding held at six o'clock on the dot? Growing up, I was always told that ladies should wear long dresses for any wedding held in the evening. However, I have been to many weddings recently, which have started at six or later in the evening: there only the members of the wedding party plus the mothers and grandmothers of the bride and groom were wearing long dresses. As a female guest, what should one be expected to wear? Also, is black tie obligatory for evening weddings or are dark suits acceptable? I have seen a lot of dark suits at nighttime weddings recently.  A.T., Boston

Dear A.T.,
When the wedding invitation doesn't specify Black Tie or Formal Attire, the invited guest assumes the dress code is Suits & Dresses. Generally, the later in the day, the more formal the wedding. Black Tie weddings usually don't start before six o'clock, but a six o'clock wedding isn't necessarily Black Tie.

It used to be that often for an afternoon church wedding, guests would change for dinner, meaning for the reception dinner dance at seven-thirty. In that instance, a champagne and cake reception following the church wedding would be offered to all the wedding ceremony guests and later in the evening the dinner dance would be for family and friends. Former colleagues, coworkers, secretaries, staff, children, etc. would not be included at the dinner dance.

Nowadays, most weddings ceremonies are held at either five or six o'clock, immediately followed by a reception with a cocktail hour and then a buffet or seated dinner with dancing. When the wedding begins at five, then Suits & Dresses are the acceptable dress code. For a six o'clock wedding, the men wear either their best business suit or formal attire and women have the option of wearing either a dressy cocktail dress, dressy knee-length dinner suit, or a long dress. For a formal seven-thirty seated dinner dance, the dress code would be tuxedos or dinner jackets and evening dresses, which are dressier than a long dress but not as dressy as a ballgown.

You are correct in assuming that a lot of women wear dressy short dresses, usually monochromatic (just one color), instead of evening gowns. The LBD (little black dress) is especially popular for weddings that start from five o'clock on.

It's a funny thing about dress codes. Most men like having a specific dress code and most women don't, which is why the dress code Suits & Dresses works well for most weddings. The invitation may not state Black Tie, but that doesn't mean that men aren't going to wear their best dark business suit, with a white-collared shirt, tie, and black shoes. ~Didi

Dear Didi,
What's the etiquette on using an umbrella on a crowded street at rush hour. I nearly got my eye poked out and then my umbrella went inside out and I had to toss it in a trash can.  ~Donald, Providence

Dear Donald,
Using an umbrella in a city requires great swordsmanship because you have to be mindful of many things. To begin with, point the umbrella down toward the ground and to the right while opening it. Shielding yourself with an umbrella expands the space you use, so a big golf-size umbrella—the SUV of the sidewalk—is harder to maneuver on a crowded street corner than a small tote. Then, of course, you always want to keep to the right while walking. Those without umbrellas are racing to find shelter, so anyone wielding an umbrella is responsible for using it properly by lifting it higher or lower to avoid hitting anyone coming toward their umbrella point and, again, creating two tiers, higher and lower, for approaching pedestrians with umbrellas. The question is always, who raises theirs first, who lowers theirs first? Place your unfolded umbrella between you and the oncoming gusts of wind, either in front of you, to the left or right of you, to block the wind from turning it inside out.

Always close your umbrella before entering an enclosed area and tap it a couple of times to drain the rain so it doesn't make a puddle at the resting place inside. When placing the umbrella in a stand with other umbrellas, fold it up and fasten the strap to corral the nylon and prevent it from becoming entangled with another in the umbrella stand. When there isn't a stand, be aware of umbrella pooling when your umbrella is still wet. When in doubt leave it on the floor—not on a piece of furniture or a rug. As you exit, be sure you grab your own from the umbrella stand and not someone else's. Never swing a folded umbrella because you could jab someone overtaking you from behind.

In a subway, bus, train station, shop, or outdoors when the rain has let up, always aim your umbrella point straight down as though it were a walking stick that was too short to use for balancing every step; except on an escalator or stairs when umbrella tote-ers have to keep them lifted high enough to prevent them from catching and taking you down.  ~Didi

Dear Didi,

We're a young married couple attending an outdoor wedding at 5:30 pm; however, the invitation states "Informal." What should we wear? O. & J., East Greenwich

Dear O&J,

Even though the invitation states that the dress code is Informal, you are being invited to a wedding. Unless the wedding is taking place on a mountain top or on some other rugged terrain, guests will still be in Suits & Dresses. It's always easier to take off a tie and put it in your jacket pocket, rather than arrive and find that you're under-dressed. Out of respect for the bride, you would dress appropriately. A man would wear a tie, jacket, trousers, leather shoes with matching socks, but not necessarily a suit, and a woman would wear a good dress with beautiful shoes.

I would have to know more about the setting/location to be more specific. For instance, an informal wedding in a city would be dressier than an informal wedding in a rural area. If you're not sure, ask around to find out what others are wearing or ask the bride, her mother, sister, or best friends. If that's not possible, dress casually but wear good quality clothing. It might not be a dressy wedding, but since it's a wedding, you want to be well-dressed in attractive outfits. In other words, you wouldn't wear flip-flops, tattered jeans, gym clothes, a bare midriff, cargo pants, shorts, beach clothes, sneakers, or a "wife beater."   ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches shifting etiquette and dress codes at NewportManners.com and you are welcome to browser her archives of Q&As or ask her a specific question here. Find Didi on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest after you've read her other columns, some of which are listed below.



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