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Cracking Festive Dress Codes

Dear Didi,

It used to be when you looked at the dress code on an invitation you had clear instructions. Wear a tuxedo (Black Tie) or a jacket and tie (Cocktail Attire).

Now I’m getting invitations with dress codes such as Smart Attire, Festive Attire, Cocktail Glamour, Party Chic, Country Club, Festive Fete. What’s a guy to do?

-clueless about dress codes, Boston

Dear clueless about dress codes,

Or no instructions. Which means wear what you like. The first principle of etiquette is to make guests comfortable Nevertheless, you want guests to dress in a certain way and they may not understand your vision without guidelines. You don't want to embarrass an over-dressed or under-dressed guest, but you hope your friends will still flaunt their own style. The time of year, starting time, and location of the party are your first clues. In warmer weather, the codes are rather fun because they are generally more relaxed with guests wearing sandals, boat shoes, open-collar shirts, shorts and no socks. For instance: Casual Hawaiian, Country Western, Casual Fun Attire, Costal Cocktail, Newport Chic, Smart Casual, Dressy Casual, Yachting Attire, Indoor-Outdoor, and No Socks -- my personal favorite. During the holiday season dressing becomes more celebratory with festive dress codes: Black Subversive Glamour, Cocktail Glamour, Party Chic, Festive Fête, Gold & Silver, and Festive Attire -- not necessarily black-tie but season appropriate. When we see the words 'Formal Attire,' we think black-tie or tuxedo, and yet for some guests 'Formal' may mean a tie with a tweed jacket or blazer. Upmarket restaurants and private clubs require a Jacket & Tie, and you won't be allowed in without both. Actually -- because we're bored with the same-old 'Black Tie' and 'Cocktail Attire' -- we're seeing more helpful dress codes specific to cracking codes: Suits & Dresses, Business Suits, Black Tie Formal, Black or White Tie, White Tie (can be with or without tails), Black Tie Optional, and 'Dress: Uniform, Morning Coat or Lounge Suit.' What to wear where? Out of respect for the host, dress up. At the very least, wear a tie and jacket. To fit in, when the party timeframe spans between 5:00 PM and 9:00 PM, you can count on 'Suits & Dresses,' meaning a knee-length or midi cocktail dress and pantsuit. Or wear what you want to wear.

~Didi

What Not to Say at The Dinner Table

Dear Didi,

In trying to make a good impression on my new boyfriend’s extensive family, what shouldn’t I talk about at Thanksgiving? Obviously I really want them to like me and I want to get to know them, but sometimes people think I talk too much and ask too many questions.

-chatty cathy, Providence

Dear chatty cathy,

Usually people want to know what to talk about. By the look of your Display Name, Chatty Cathy, being talkative might be a double-edged sword. Meaning people like people who are easy to talk to, but they also don't want to be bombarded with questions, too much information, or gossip that might make them uncomfortable. The topics to stay away from are anything to do with other people's personal business that may not be common knowledge. Such as cousin Sue's pregnancy, which may or may not be her current state of grace. Sue may have previously miscarried and is still being tested.  She may have had an abortion. It is not your job to spill the beans. This isn't your family yet, until it is steer clear of speculating on health issues such as depression or sobriety, recently diagnosed illness, bankruptcies, lawsuits, and uncoupling separations. The fact that young Henry got suspended from school is not fodder to dine out on either. Even though you've been invited for Thanksgiving, at this point you are still an outsider. If you don't want to become the consummate outsider, respect the privacy of all the family members and their partners. You wouldn't ask anyone their gender preference any more than you would ask them their salary, the cost of their new house or car, what they pay in rent, and how much they are worth -- for better or for worse. Stay away from body image discussions. Heck, it is Thanksgiving, hold back on teasing his Uncle Bill, with a ballooning potbelly, for taking seconds on apple pie. In that same vein, if you're vegan, gluten free, salt free, or dairy free, eat before you leave the house and pick at your dinner. Unless family members initiate a dietary discussion, don't be the spoiler. Keep your dietary restrictions to yourself. Except, of course, when it comes to nut tree allergies. Drink a glass of water for each glass of wine so Chatty Cathy doesn't disturb the other guests watching the game.  

~Didi

Every Day Woman’s Winter Coat

Dear Didi,

I saw the Belstaff coat you recommend, but it is a little too expensive. Although, I really like it. What I need is a basic black coat to wear on the frigid subway to the very stuffy law offices where I work.  A just above the knee coat that I can also wear to nice restaurants and holiday parties.

-chilly milly, Manhattan

Dear chilly milly,

Stylish and socially conscious, we love the eco-chic fitted Patagonia Women's Fiona Down Parka. It not only accentuates feminine curves, but is made from 100% recycled water proof polyester and filled with 600-fill Traceable duck down insulation. The feathers are ethically sourced from ducks that were neither force-fed nor live-plucked. This really is the it-coat for a smooth, flattering look for going to work in a snow storm and partying until dawn. Guaranteed to keep you cozy and dry -- as well as environmentally savvy.

~Didi

Life in The Cube

Dear Didi,

For the most part I keep my head down working eight hours a day and eat lunch in my cube. One of  520 6-by-7 foot cookie-cutter cubicles. No window or door. Four neighbors, to the north, east, south and west. I know more about my coworkers than they would want anyone to know.

I know too many secrets that are private information about medical problems. For instance, medical information the company would consider serious in terms of health insurance and promotions. There are affairs between married coworkers. One has a guy crush on our scruff-chic boss. My question is this, how do I let them know that their secrets are not safe? If I know their secrets, others must, too.

-keeping my head down, Chicago

Dear keeping my head down,

These sound like serious secrets that would jeopardize a career.  It also sounds as though you want to be nice. Go ahead on an individual basis and tell each neighbor to your north, east, south, and west that if you know their secrets, others must have heard them too. Warn them to watch what they say on the phone and in person.  You better not put anything in writing or say anything while in a cubicle or corridor. Look for a silent conference room and say, "Can I have a word with you in private?" Or simply walk out with them at the end of the day to tell them. To show your sincerity show your open palms so they get the sense that you have no alterer motive or ax to grind and trust you. What you're saying is what it is and they need to listen.

~Didi

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