Showing Respect

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Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something.
– James Laver

Dress codes don’t exist to force everyone to look alike. They aren’t around to remove all creativity from your wardrobe. They are there to help people dress properly for situations. One dresses appropriately for a situation not to squelch his own sartorial voice, but to show respect for an event and the organizers and hosts of said event.

Clothes can suggest, persuade, connote, insinuate, or indeed lie, and apply subtle pressure while their wearer is speaking frankly and straightforwardly of other matters.
– Anne Hollander

When you choose to go against a dress code, you are saying that you don’t care about the event, the situation, the guest of honor, the person who went to the trouble to organize the event. You only care for yourself.

We act the way we dress. Neglected and untidy clothes reflect a neglected and untidy mind.
– Anonymous

When you are invited to a wedding, attending the funeral of a loved one, seeing your cousin graduate from college or participate in the showering of love (and gifts) for a friend who is pregnant, what you wear is an outward statement to the rest of the participants about how you feel, what you think, your opinion on the event and the people associated with it.

This doesn’t mean that you have to blend into the woodwork, it just means you need to think of others when dressing for certain events.

The couple (and/or their parents) spent a lot of time and thought and money on this event. They chose a location, music, food to represent them, their love, and their love for you – their guest. A couple wants their guests to be comfortable and have fun; in turn a guest should always remember that at any wedding, the focus should be on the couple, not the guest.

Weddings that start at or after 5:00pm are more formal affairs, weddings during the day can be a bit more casual. Always look to the invitation for the tone of the affair – usually a formal invitation means a more formal event, a casual invitation means the attire can be more relaxed. A safe bet is a simple sheath or cocktail dress – it can easily dress up or down and be versatile. One shouldn’t wear anything too revealing or flashy – remember the bride is the center of attention and you could very well be in many of the photographs from the event. Regarding what color to wear – red, white and black used to be off limits, but these days it seems as though most anything is acceptable. Most still frown on a guest wearing a predominately white dress – that color (and ivory, and winter white) should be left to the bride (even if the bride doesn’t choose to wear that color). Black and red are becoming far more appropriate, though bright red is still often frowned upon, especially by older generations.

If you are unsure, do not hesitate to contact a family member or attendant in the wedding – they will know the details of the wedding and can assist you in finding the most appropriate thing to wear.

As for the bride, these days one can get married in most anything (or nothing at all!). That doesn’t mean one should show up in sweats. Whether your Big Day is in your backyard or a ballroom, dress for respect of the seriousness of the event. It doesn’t matter whether you have just met a week ago, or have been living together for a decade – a wedding is more than a piece of paper and a tax break. Wear clothes that you love, that love you, and show you put thought and care into this life decision.

Gone are the days where a woman should wear a black dress, hose and veil. However it is still important to show respect to the deceased and his loved ones. You should dress in a manner that you would if attending a house of worship – nice trousers, a dress or skirt. No need to adorn yourself in all black, but leave the chartreuse and fuchsia for another time. My go-to outfit is a simple matte jersey wrap dress in a dark color and simple black leather pumps. Again, this event is not about you, but the deceased. Unless the deceased wanted a costume party or celebration for his funeral, show respect and wear nice clothes in good condition and in a more subtle hue.

Dinners and Holidays
Thanksgiving at the inlaws, your uncle’s 50th birthday dinner, Passover Seder at your neighbor’s house. These events come up several times over the year. The host spent a lot of time creating the menu, cleaning her house, choosing the guest list. What you wear shows that you appreciate the effort made, and are honored to be invited.

No need for ballgowns, but it is nice to wear trousers or a simple skirt in place of jeans, boots or loafers in place of sneakers, sweaters and blouses in place of sweats. Your host will inform you if there is a more specific or formal dress code. If it is a family member or friend you know well and are sure the dress code is very casual, by all means dress in that form – you don’t want to upstage your host. However if you are unsure, you can’t go wrong with a simple pair of pants, sweater and boots, or a more casual dress and sandals or tall boots.

If you are the host, consider taking the time to change from your tee and jeans from cleaning and cooking to a bit nicer of clothing for when guests arrive. This shows your respect for them, and your thanks for their attendance. If you’re worried about getting food or dishwater on your clothes, well that is what aprons are for!

Baby Showers, Bridal Showers, and Birthdays
Attire is pretty similar to that of dinners and holidays – no need for ballgowns and elbow-length gloves, but you do want to wear nicer clothing that shows respect for the guest and care for yourself.

These sorts of events are more festive, and a great opportunity to wear your fun floral-print cotton sundress, your candy-colored twinset, your new Pucci-print mules. It’s a happy occasion, a time for candles, flowers, and bows. Take this cheer into thought when choosing your wardrobe and it will show how happy you are for the guest of honor.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. My Dad died recently. I’d gone out to be with him in a rush and hadn’t really been thinking about taking something to wear to his funeral. Then once he died I didn’t feel like buying something to wear — it’s not exactly a “new clothes” event.

    So I wore a print dress and jacket to the wake, and brown pants/same jacket to the funeral. I stood up for hours shaking hands and greeting people.

    I think wearing what you’d wear to church, and some churches encourage people to be casual because they don’t want excuses about why they can’t come, is appropriate. But you should keep in mind that church attire is highly regional.

  2. I agree that this should be mandatory reading. I never really thought of what you wear to a dinner or holiday event in terms of respect for the host. But it’s so true. Now I know why I get annoyed at my inlaws when they show up for a nice dinner wearing sweatpants.

  3. It’s too bad that this post can’t be required reading for everyone. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been completely appalled by someone’s attire at a funeral in recent years. I’ve been at two in the last 10 years where someone showed up in a track suit. Seriously? A track suit? And, no, neither of the deceased was part of a running club or a track coach. I was at another funeral where a child (about age 10) was allowed to wear cargo shorts and a polo – again, seriously? It wasn’t even warm out that day (not that the weather is the point), but it made the outfit especially ridiculous. Obviously, it isn’t the kid’s fault – it’s the parents’, but I was just flabbergasted.

  4. LOVE this post – I think a lot more people should read this post. I always hate when I go to something like a wedding or a funeral and someone’s wearing raggedy jeans or a mini-skirt barely covering anything. It just seems so disrespectful. Of course, I agree with you – the host/hostess really set the tone for how casual/formal the party should be but you should look nice when going to a party out of respect.

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