I’m writing today on a wardrobe issue that has caused me some amount of pause during the past few years: cocktail business attire. This may not keep others up at night, but when I receive an invitation for a great evening event downtown (DC) and it says business attire, I have to think twice before I dress. Why is that, you ask? Because in my growing up years, there was just business during the day and then cocktail during the evening. Cocktail meant cocktail — fitted feminine suits and dresses with a kick. Materials were silk, chiffon, satin and maybe velvet. Colors were encouraged. Shoes may have even matched. But then the game changed when everyone was at the office all day and events started right at EOB (end of business day). In Washington, women work in offices, work from home, at home and consult here, there and everywhere. Somedays we are in dresses, suits and somewhere in between and other days we may be drafting the motion to dismiss in our yoga clothes. And then — OH MY GOODNESS — it’s forty five minutes before the reception starts at the downtown club — and it’s come-to-closet time.
For women who work from home, dressing for a cocktail reception is often easier than business attire. Their daywear is casual and evening attire is much dressier. The reverse is true for those women in an office all day: business clothes and some casual weekend-wear are the mainstays of their wardrobe. The cocktail crowd may throw on their sleeveless LBD with a plunging neckline and lace detail. The office bound are covered from head to toe in all that is appropriate. Mix these two groups together at a business attire event and everyone there steps into the reception feeling over and under dressed. What to do?
For business attire, walk the middle line. Cover more than less. Although sleeveless dresses abound in our wardrobes, I’d walk into the reception with a jacket or wrap. Keep your dress or skirt line to closer to the knee. The neckline should be higher than lower — minimize cleavage. I can’t speak to stockings because — except for black tights in winter — I still don’t wear them. You can still venture out into more luxurius materials, but I would suggest leaving anything too sparkly, shiny and lacy at home.
And for the woman coming straight from the office, bring a statement necklace and your much higher heels to spice up the daytime dress. If your office is business casual — skip the pants and sweater for that day and pull out a covered sheath for the office that can move into evening with enhanced accessories.
Events request business attire because of the format (a lecture), the place (one with a dress code) or a dignitary in attendance (requiring respect). It’s a time when you want to hit it just right to make the very best of the occasion. (The dress above by Amy Matto is a great DC business attire dress. It is 3/4 sleeves, hits the knee and is a great fit. It comes in blueberry, charcoal, vanilla and shades of red. $308 at Julia Farr)