Dawn Mellon Demystifies Your Fall Party Invitation’s Dress Code


Congrats to contributor Dawn Mellon for being named a DFW Style Daily Best Dressed 2013 honoree. The event supports Dallas Can Academies and Suicide Crisis Center of North Texas. You can see more here.

By Dawn Mellon.

We all know everything is bigger in Texas. All you have to do is read the bumper sticker proudly displayed on the car in front of you or read the t-shirt worn by the guy standing next to you at Starbucks to be reminded of how proud we are of our BIG state. It’s not surprising that when it comes to throwing a party, no one knows how to do it bigger or better than our very own Lone Star city.

Typically the party is the coup de grace. The pinnacle. The event that everyone works so tirelessly to either plan or attend. But, not in The Big D. The party–in Dallas terms–is really like a four-part mini-series.

First, there’s a party to plan and generate excitement for the party (typically referred to as the kick-off event) and is often run by a host committee. Then, there’s the party itself. Next, there’s a designated place everyone gathers to ensure the celebration lasts as long as possible and is typically referred to as the after-party. Finally, the host committee gathers one more time to elect their replacements just in time to plan the next kick-off party.

The whole ordeal is really quite extraordinary, and I’m certain when Audrey Hepburn said, “Life is a party, dress like it,” she was living in Hollywood where dressing for the party was simple: go glamorous.

However, we live in Dallas where dressing for the party (or series of parties) isn’t so simple. What exactly does it mean when the invitation reads “party chic?” And, what do you wear when the requested attire is, in my opinion, an oxymoron like “daytime cocktail,” or completely vague, like “festive?” Or, worst of all, on the verge of insulting, like “cute casual” or “smart casual?” Then again, maybe I shouldn’t consider it an insult, but instead be relieved that I can now rule out all my ugly, dumb clothes. Right?

With the Dallas social scene in full party mode, I thought it might be a good time to visit or revisit the meaning behind the attire requested on your most recent invitation.

White Tie: Ball gown or formal floor-length evening gown

Black Tie: Formal floor-length evening gown

Black Tie Optional: Formal floor-length evening gown or your ‘dressiest” cocktail dress*

Formal: Formal floor-length evening gown or ‘dressiest” cocktail dress*

Texas Tuxedo: Denim from head to toe

Semi-Formal: Short cocktail dress or a little black dress

Cocktail: Short cocktail dress; little black dress; jumpsuit

Daytime Cocktail: Short cocktail dress, leaning more toward conservative than all-out-glamorous

Business: Skirt or pant suit;  conservative dress

Smart Casual: Not as formal as business attire and not as informal as business casual

Business Casual: Casual dress or slacks or skirt paired with a blouse (keep in mind, you’ll be with your colleagues, so lean more toward business than casual)

Casual: Sundress; maxi-dress; skirt or long shorts paired with a casual blouse or knit top

Party Chic: Fun or trendy dress; fun or trendy separates; jumpsuit

Urban Chic: Still somewhat of a mystery to me, but I’d choose a short dress or separates that have an edgy twist

Resort: Colorful/floral sun dress or maxi dress; shorts or short skirt paired with a light-weight blouse

Festive: If it’s a holiday season or a specific theme, choose colors associated with that holiday or theme*

Echo Chic: Dress or separates made from natural fibers such as cotton, hemp or wool*

One of the many reasons the way we dress is important (see my first column) is that it shows people how you regard them.  Trying to adhere to your host’s requested attire is one way you can do that. And, don’t ever hesitate to call the person who sent the invitation if you’re unsure about what to wear. They’ll appreciate you taking the time to do so. Most of all, enjoy the party…or series of parties…which is always easier to do when you feel good about the way you look.

*Often times, you’ll  have to base your decision upon your own personal style; the formality of the event; the venue; and/or the host and hostess.
Dawn Mellon is a Dallas-based fashion stylist and mother of two teenagers, Andrew and Erica, known for effortlessly dressing some of our fair city’s loveliest ladies for all manner of tony appearances. Over the next few months, the fashion maestro will be joining us here on D Moms daily to share her expertise on how to build a killer wardrobe and don it with confidence.


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