How to Dress for a Ladies' Luncheon in the Afternoon

By Michelle Powell-Smith

What-to-wear lists cover cocktail parties but often leave out formal luncheons. These events can provide key business and personal networking opportunities, so proper dress is essential. Luncheons may take place during the workday or on weekends, and dress may differ slightly depending upon the women attending. Learn what to wear to a ladies' luncheon so you'll be remembered for your contributions -- and your impeccable style.

International Women's Media Foundation  Awards Luncheon - Inside
credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Executive Vice-President for Global Communications for the Estee Lauder Corporations, Inc. Alexandra Trower and a guest attend the International Women’s Media Awards Luncheon on October 22, 2014.

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Business Luncheons

At business luncheons, expect professional dress, often leaning toward more formal business attire. A skirt suit or a shift dress and matching jacket are ideal, but a well-fitting matching pantsuit or pencil skirt, blouse and cardigan is also appropriate. While the styles here should be business like, colors can be a bit softer than what otherwise would be worn in a very formal office. Finish your ensemble with simple gold jewelry and a sturdy leather handbag. Business luncheons offer an ideal opportunity to network, so dress to impress.

Charity Luncheons

Attire for charity luncheons is often less corporate than that worn for a business luncheon. Floral dresses, light cardigans and feminine styles and colors are all suitable, but you can also opt for more business-like outfits. Your attire should still be conservative. Choose modest necklines and knee-length hems, and wear a cardigan or jacket unless the event is during summer. While colorful handbags and jewelry are appropriate, the styles should be suited to day wear.

Social Luncheons

Formal social luncheons have a more liberal dress code, particularly since you're typically spending time with friends and acquaintances. A social luncheon might be a bridal or baby shower or a graduation event. A cute and feminine dress is an ideal choice, worn with low heels and your favorite accessories. While you're limited by a much stricter dress code for charity or business events, your attire can show more of your personality at a social event.

Determining the Dress Code

Sometimes, the invitation doesn't provide much information or you simply don't know what to wear. If you're unsure, it's hard to go wrong in something classic. A black sheath dress, low heels and a cardigan or jacket fits in beautifully at both a charity luncheon and a business luncheon. If you add a colorful scarf and pretty handbag, the look can even go to a more relaxed social lunch.