love parties. From the moment an invitation arrives in my inbox or mailbox, the anticipation begins. Who will be at the celebration and what new people might I meet? My imagination dreams about the décor, food, and drink—not to mention a fantastic band or an awesome DJ.

More than once I have stumbled over promptings such as “snappy chic” or “smart casual” that seem to raise more questions than answers.

My wonderings about the future event are quickly reined in when the all-important question pops quickly to mind: “What will I wear?” Back to the invitation, I search for some verbiage to indicate the hosts’ suggested attire for the party. The dress code is usually the last detail provided on the invite, so I look, hoping that the recommendation is more clear than clever. More than once I have stumbled over promptings such as “snappy chic” or “smart casual” that seem to raise more questions than answers. 

While there may be countless ways to describe a preferred dress code, the time and location of the event will offer the biggest clues on what to wear. Here are some basic suggestions to consider.

White tie: ultimate posh soirées, like an inaugural or debutante ball

The fanciest of formal attire is required for the grandest of the grand affairs. Women should dress in formal, floor-length evening gowns, likely with opera-length gloves. Men are to wear formal black tailcoats with all the accoutrements, including a white bow tie and white gloves.

Black tie / formal: upscale parties, formal weddings

This dress code is usually reserved for events that start at 6 o’clock or later. Ladies may wear a dress of any length, but should take a cue from the word “formal” and err on the side of glamorous. Tuxedos are preferred for gentlemen, though in the summer months, especially in the South, a white dinner jacket may be substituted for a black tuxedo jacket. 

Cocktail attire / semi-formal / black-tie optional: weddings after 5 o’clock and fancy, festive parties

Ladies, this is the perfect time to pull out that little black dress (or your favorite elegant party dress). Don a pair of heels and accessorize with some sparkly jewelry to complete your festive look. For the gentlemen, if black tie is optional, your tuxedo is appropriate. No tuxedo, no problem—but a dark suit and tie are a must.

Festive attire: cocktail parties, anything with the word “chic”

Think bold, shimmering details, ladies, and “chic” encourages you to go extra. Again, a little black dress with sophisticated bling will have you fitting right in. Men, this may be the time to pull out a fun blazer; tie is optional, but preferred.

Garden party / dressy resort / island chic: outside weddings or parties

The key here is to know the party is outside, so girls, think shoes first; avoid heels and stick with wedges or flats. A sundress is ideal. Men, leave the socks at home. A light blazer will assure you’ll look dashing.

When the description of a preferred dress code is perplexing, feel free to contact the host for clarification, remembering to first express gratitude for the invitation. Also, as a rule of thumb, I prefer to be overdressed than underdressed for any event. Final bit of advice: Remember, your most important accessory for every party is your smile. 

I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.