Longstanding social customs allow hosts to recommend appropriate dress for an occasion: casual for garden parties; business attire for cocktail events; black tie for society weddings. Announcing parameters around dress enable the host to establish a tone. If you arrive at an evening wedding in blue jeans you deserve the persnickety frowns and Garth Brooks renegade lyrics that might be tossed in your direction.
A recent article, “Black Tie? How About Black Mouse Ears?”, describes the increasing specificity of social dress guidelines. The article leads with LeslieAnn Dunn’s wedding request for guests to wear “summer black and white with a splash of yellow.” One guest, who showed up in a cherry red dress, felt so out of place that she made a pit stop on the way to the reception and bought a black and white number to fit with the rest of the party. Mrs. Dunn said, “Now, that’s what I call a friend.” Making someone I care about so uncomfortable they feel compelled to do a quick shop and change is not my idea of friendship.
Since when did guests become the props of their host’s fantasies?
I am a big fan of creative dress – on other people. I marvel at the outrageous outfits women, and some men, don at Artist for Humanity’s Greatest Party on Earth. I appreciate the fun these folks have in dressing up and how it lights up the atmosphere, although not so much that I waver from my penchant for jeans and black turtlenecks. When I danced in Le Grand Continental, there was no dress code for the 100+ street dancers. Most went for colorful garb. Actually, everyone did except for me. Several people mentioned how easy I was to find. With so much colorful creativity spinning across Copley Square, basic black became eye catching. At both of these events the term “creative dress” was the full description of the dress code. The results were varied, eclectic, and fun. Each person got to strut their stuff to whatever degree they chose. Their dress was about them.
But there’s a line between suggesting dress to spice the occasion and dictating to your guests. Asking everyone to wear a hat might be fine for some, too much for others. Asking people to dress in “Lord of the Rings” pageantry turns your guests into extras.
I lean on the old adage, “Play is what we chose to do, work is what we have to do.” When a host’s dress requirements become so arduous they become a chore, the line between play and work has been crossed.
The next time I have a party, dress any way you like, Whether an impromptu brunch or elaborate celebration, you can be sure that I invited you because I want to see you, rather than have you bring my personal fantasy to life.