In Any Event 

‘What do I wear?’

RSVP? Check. Time of event? Check. Location? Check. Attire? Help.

An event invitation that includes attire is always beneficial for attendees, but what is the difference between cocktail and dressy? Business casual and dressy casual? Even the most seasoned partygoers can get tripped up by dress codes.

With a little help from some style mavens on the Blue Streak, let’s clear up any confusion with descriptions and photos. (And each photo links to the specific event in the caption credit if you want to see more attire examples.)

Black tie means very formal. For men, that means a tuxedo. For women, floor-length gowns are preferable. Cocktail dresses are acceptable, but a long gown elevates the look. Black tie on the invitation is like prom for adults.

Brooks and Karen Clark with Jeff Pappas, right. (Blue Streak photo)

Black tie optional elicits a sigh of relief, especially for men, because it means tuxedos are fine, but so is a dark suit and tie. Women can choose an evening gown or cocktail attire without any worries about not being suitably dressed.

Gay Lyons with, from left, John Winemiller, Ralph Cianelli, Rick Fox and R.J. Hinde. (Blue Streak photo)

One other note about black tie/black tie optional: For women, dressy black slacks or palazzo pants paired with a sequined top – or something similarly sparkly – work fine at all except the most formal of occasions.

Cocktail attire is appropriate for a celebratory, party-like event where everyone still needs to get dressed up. Men should choose a suit and tie with dress shoes. A pocket square and cufflinks add style to the outfit. Women’s dresses can be festive and fun. Other great options for women are a little black dress with bold accessories or a blouse with skirt or slacks. Cocktail dresses and skirts are usually knee length or shorter.

Cheri Elliott, left, and Jennifer Hill. (Blue Streak photo)

Themed events also can use cocktail attire, such as the Tennessee Theatre‘s 90th anniversary celebration in 2018 with a “Roaring Twenties” Prohibition-style party. That is a great time to be creative and have fun.

Finbarr Saunders, left, with Casey Fox and Jesse Fox Mayshark. (Blue Streak photo)

Dressy attire often is used interchangeably with cocktail attire. For women, it means dress pants and blouses also are suitable. For men, it basically matches the cocktail category. When deciding between dressy and cocktail, ask yourself this: Would I wear it to church? For cocktail, the answer is no. For dressy, the answer is yes.

Anna and Dr. Frank Gray, left, and Natalie and Jim Haslam. (Blue Streak photo)

Business attire may be the most common dress code because it works for luncheons and evening events. Select solid colors and limit accessories. Suits and blazers are appropriate for men and women. Pantsuits and calf-length dresses also work well for women. Business attire is not about standing out; it’s about fitting in. But a splash of color and an accessory or two is a good touch.

Bruce and Monique Anderson. (Blue Streak photo)

Business casual is common for events with a relaxed vibe. Attire includes slacks, khakis, shirts with collars, sweaters, cardigans and blouses. It does not mean denim, T-shirts or tennis shoes.

Michael Higdon, left, and Scott Bird. (Blue Streak photo)

Another attire designation popping up on invitations is dressy casual. For women, dress slacks or a skirt paired with a silk or linen blouse is a nice combination. Leave the really high heels in the closet and dress comfortably but not too casually. For men, choose trousers, dress shirt and blazer or sport coat with loafers or oxfords. A tie is not necessary.

Former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown and his wife, Cathy (Blue Streak photo)

Casual attire is the least formal – and also the easiest way to look out of place. It does not mean cargo shorts and a polo shirt. Your outfit needs to be clean, unwrinkled and appropriate for the event. For example, if it’s outdoors and hot, sandals are OK but leave the flip flops at home. Some invitations refer to it as smart casual, which includes slacks and khakis. It’s a nice way of saying that jeans may be OK, but not frayed and with holes. Jeans paired with a white button-down shirt looks stylish on men and women. Those same jeans and a T-shirt look like you walked into the wrong event.

From left, Joey Creswell, Janet Testerman, Alan Carmichael, Mitchell Moseley and Dino Cartwright. (Blue Streak photo)

Casual also can be the attire at themed events such as Zoo Knoxville’s annual Zoofari – always held the first Saturday in June so it can be quite warm – with outfits ranging from shorts to animal prints. It’s another chance to let loose.

From left, Bruce and Sharon Bosse, Ruth and Joe Fielden, Sharon Pryse and Patrick Roddy. (Blue Streak photo)

Still not sure what to wear? The best rule of thumb is it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. You can always remove a tie, roll up sleeves or slip on flats (keep a spare pair handy).

A final word of advice: There is a good chance the event has been covered on Cynthia Moxley’s Blue Streak. Use the search function to look for an event and scroll through the photos to see what people wore. That will remove all of the guesswork.

Maria Cornelius, a writer/editor for Moxley Carmichael, populates the EventCheck Knox calendar. It’s her favorite time of year right now when playoff baseball and college football overlap, neither of which has a dress code.

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