When attending a wedding, baptism or bar mitzvah, there is a dress code. Sometimes a dress code is unspoken, but the event itself, such as a funeral or a theater performance, dictates what should be worn. Other times, however, an invitation will specify what the dress should be, such as casual, semi-formal or formal, and may state specific colors. Going to a semi-formal, black-and-white event means that everything worn must be either black or white in color and should conform to the proper length, fit and style.
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While everyone enjoys an individual sense of style, it is not a good idea to deviate far from the semi-formal, black-and-white clothing rules. Doing so spoils the uniform look for the host, other guests and your date. The reason formal wear has been around for over a century is that it works. However, it works best when both members of a couple follow the rules. When a man dresses in black baggy pants and a white, short-sleeved shirt and his date is wearing a tailored knee-length, strapless black dress, the two do not compliment each other. Looking good as a pair at a semi-formal event typically means men are in suits and women are in dresses.
A woman's proper attire for a black-and-white semi-formal event starts with a dress. A semi-formal dress is either cocktail-length, which means to the knee or one inch above. A longer dress is acceptable; just make sure it is not to the floor, which makes it formal. Smart choices include a black-and-white patterned cocktail dress in an A-line style with a fitted bodice and a tulle skirt. Or, a white tea-length (hitting at the calf or shin) skirt paired with a black, beaded corset top. Heeled shoes compliment the outfit, and typically black looks best. If wearing white shoes, never wear black hose. Bare legs and heeled, strappy white or black sandals are acceptable.
Semi-formal dress options for a man include a long-sleeved white shirt, black tie, black trousers, a black jacket and oxford shoes (no patent leather in the daytime). Make sure the shirt has a stiff collar; anything less is considered casual. Today, the fashion world is dictating that ties are not absolutely necessary when dressing semi formally; however, it is strongly recommended, especially because your outfit will coordinate better with what your date is wearing. Hats are not traditionally acceptable at a semi-formal event.
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If traditional is simply not your style and you are going to be uncomfortable with your outfit, suitable variations can be made. Men can opt for a black-and-white polka dot, geometric or striped tie. Or, choose black-and-white cuff links in a certain theme. Women can feel confident taking the lead from actress Ellen DeGeneres by wearing a dressy, fashionable pantsuit. The key here is silk or brocade only. A beautiful, semi-formal black-and-white woman's pantsuit can feature tuxedo or palazzo pants paired with a strapless top or a fitted jacket. A shell underneath makes a nice backdrop for several diamond- or rhinestone-encrusted necklaces.
When achieving the semi-formal look, women should choose black and white fabrics such as velour, taffeta, velvet, satin, chiffon, gossamer and sateen, while staying away from the more casual cotton and jersey materials. Good options for men include polyester, gabardine and wool, depending on the climate. Linen and seersucker suits and dresses are not appropriate.
Based in Los Angeles, Lisa Finn has been writing professionally for 20 years. Her print and online articles appear in magazines and websites such as "Spa Magazine," "L.A. Parent," "Business," the Famous Footwear blog and many others. She also ghostwrites for mompreneurs and business owners who appear regularly on shows such as Ricki Lake, HGTV, Carson Daly and The Today Show.