Your next corporate event may not include a walk down the runway, but the look that you and your employees are bringing to the table can make the evening one that stands out. From cocktail dresses to black tie apparel, there is no shortage of options when it comes to choosing the fashion for your company’s big night.
Codifying fashion for your event
Deciding what to wear can be tricky as an attendee, but even more difficult when you’re creating the dress code. There are plenty of terms that will do the trick on paper — semi-formal, black tie-optional and business casual, to name a few — but what do the labels mean?
More importantly, how can you use them to your advantage when you are planning an event?
There are a number of factors to take into consideration before you label your event’s look, but the central questions focus on you, your business and the purpose of the event you’re holding.
Ensuring you pick the right dress code for your event is crucial to setting the tone for the evening, so make sure you give your gathering (and your company) a thorough review beforehand.
If you aren’t sure of what your expectations look like, take a moment to answer the following questions:
1. What kind of business are you?
Compare what your employees wear every day versus what you expect them to wear to your event.
2. Is this a company party or an awards ceremony?
If there’s a stage, consider asking for a higher standard of dress, such as black tie or black tie-optional.
3. How diverse do you want your attendees’ wardrobes to be?
For an event that’s open to more individualism and originality, take on flexible labels, such as business casual or cocktail, over stricter ones, such as formal.
Defining the dress code
Once you know the feeling you’re trying to achieve with the dress at your event, deciding what to call it should be a breeze. Unfortunately, the vague nature of dress codes can make the task seem impossible.
For men, the titles are simple. Business casual is a suit, cocktail adds a tie and formal or black tie brings a tuxedo to the table. Women’s fashion, however, doesn’t allow for such simple decisions.
1. Business casual
Take into consideration what you would wear in the office, and add some statement accessories to dress up the look. It shouldn’t be your everyday work wear, but recognizably professional with a twist.
Take staple pieces, like black dresses, and add daring accessories and exciting shoes to complete the look. You don’t want to feel underdressed, but it isn’t worth going over the top, either.
3. Black tie
Choose a dress that meets your knees or lower. Tea length and floor length are both valid options for black tie events; keep accessorization subtle, but your dress doesn’t need to be black.
Stick to the staples onstage
Unlike the television screen, orange is not the new black when it comes to corporate gatherings. In fact, Paula McCurry, owner of the Auto Ranch Group, believes that black may just be the perfect color for professional events, even considering it a staple.
“You’re always super safe with that simple, black dress,” McCurry says. “If you had to have one thing in your closet, that’s what it would be. Because you can accessorize it up or down to be more dressy or casual, (or) you can put a blazer over the top of it to make it look even more businesslike.”
If you’re onstage, accessorizing can be the key to making you stand out without distracting from your words, especially if you’re a keynote speaker or an award recipient.
Good shoes take you good places
Going back to basics on the outfit you’re wearing to an event is a simple task, but choosing the right shoes can be a challenge when you haven’t yet determined the location of your event. For men, standard dress shoes will do, but women have a unique obstacle to overcome when it comes to shoes based on location.
If you’re attending an event and you want to be prepared, consider the following:
1. Is your event indoors or outdoors?
Varying outdoor conditions can determine which shoes are best, particularly for women, at your event. Check the weather forecast ahead of time; will your event go on, rain or shine? A downpour can make the difference between a pair of pumps and simple, black flats.
2. If it’s indoors, is there carpet?
Stilettos and pumps are not friends with carpet. Knowing whether you’ll be stepping into hard flooring or carpet can make or break your evening (and potentially your shoes).
3. For outdoor events: are you on grass, concrete, etc.?
The wedges versus pumps debate, if there is one, can be decided solely in the type of outside ground your attendees are walking on. No one likes a heel stuck in grass, and being prepared means that wedges will be on the radar for the event.
Dressing for success is even more successful when walking is full of ease, not difficulty. You can keep yourself and your attendees prepared by thinking ahead of your event and playing your shoe game accordingly.
“Black tie optional” is a phrase that has appeared on many corporate event invitations, but the definition isn’t the same for every person arriving to your event. In fact, self-expression can be one of the most exciting assets to your event for men and women alike, as it diversifies your company’s “style.”
This isn’t to say that you can’t have a dress code, but expect flexibility in how the phrase is translated by each of your attendees. Rather than creating high and strict expectations, it may be beneficial to embrace the differences.
“I think that the most important thing about fashion, regardless of the setting, is to be yourself,” says Jesse McKinney, owner of Red Aspen. “Are you the type of person that loves to dress to the nines? Go for it! Or, perhaps you’re more comfortable with a more subdued look. Rock on!”
Don’t be afraid to get down to the minute details of your event planning, but be willing to compromise, as well. It’s easy to lock down your venue, but you’ll have happier attendees if you give your corporate event’s dress code some expressive leeway.
“I firmly believe that it’s not the dress that makes the (wo)man, but fashion is a great way to let your personality shine through if that is your chosen mode of expression,” McKinney says.