Once upon a time, it was pretty easy deciding what to wear.
Sartorial conventions, as well as the customs of civilized society codified in etiquette manuals, were straight-forward: The aptly named dinner jacket (tuxedo) — itself an evolution of evening dress (white-tie) — was reserved for dinner, daytime formality called for a morning suit and a lounge or business suit was worn at everyday social functions and by those engaged in commerce.
With few exceptions, the traditional norms governing dress codes have either fallen out of use or become muddled by those unfamiliar with what should and shouldn't be worn.
As a result, there can be a great deal of dress code uncertainty these days, even amongst those who should know better.
Helen Kirwan-Taylor wrote about the sartorial dilemma many face when figuring out what to wear.
Excerpts of her article from the May 9 edition of The Wall Street Journal follow:
Before a recent dinner party in London, I called to check the dress code. As an American, I took the Italian hostess's simple reply of "Jackets, no tie" to mean the evening would be a casual affair, akin to a barbecue at the local country club, perhaps. "Oh, you are very wrong," my British husband replied. "When Europeans say 'Jackets, No Tie,' it means you really have to dress up." Sure enough, the women wore vertiginous Louboutins and diaphanous chiffon dresses (despite the cold) and the men, impeccably cut blue blazers with velvet slippers that bore their family crests.
Men, in particular, can have a tough time. "Men hate having to break from the norm," says Emma Willis, who started her eponymous bespoke shirt label in 1987 and has spent the past 26 years holding many a client's hand as they navigate the Dos and Don'ts of parties. "There was even an incident of a man being thrown out of a club because he wore a tie. No wonder everyone is nervous."