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Death of the dress code

My friend Michaela just had a significant birthday. To celebrate, she spent a significant amount of money to host a lovely cocktail party at her home. The invitations were special. Printed. With a request that guests ‘Please Dress Up”. She wanted a room full of the Betty and Don Drapers’, Jackie Kennedy in Greece, Carrie in Paris. She wanted sophisticated and pretty. More than jeans and a sparkly top. She wanted effort.

But this is 2012 people and somewhere between Rick Astley and Justin Bieber we stopped paying attention to dress codes. Ignoring them. I wasn’t really shocked that Michaela’s party was full of exactly what she didn't want because these days it’s all about interpreting the code rather than following it.

Somewhere between Rick Astley and Justin Bieber we stopped paying attention to dress codes. 

Exhibit Kristen Stewart: She flew to her friends wedding recently with only jeans and t-shirts packed in her luggage. She somehow forgot to pack a dress. The groom’s sister came to the rescue and lent K-Stew a Zac Posen frock. Which she wore. For a minute. A snap on Twitter showed that she was back in her jeans at reception. It was a wedding lady! Would it have killed you to wear the Posen back to your hotel? Smile? Not to pack jeans and a freaking t-shirt for a wedding? I know she’s young, rich, cool, she’s Bella… but her behaviour puts a highlighter pen through just how diluted dress codes have become.

Kristen Stewart on Twitter.

Black Tie has been the hardest hit. When was the last time you went to an event wearing a floor length gown or a tuxedo? Now hands up if everyone at the event was dressed the same as you? The bow tie has been replaced by a black version of the humble office tie and floor length by anything-goes-length. It’s sad. Black Tie made us all look hot.

Mad Men serves as a great reminder of how it used to be done. What we used to look like. Lipstick, heels, suit – it was sexy. Special. Considered. We’ve forgotten just how much clothes can add to an experience. A fashion designer friend always wears his tuxedo to the opera. He firmly believes that Puccini in a tux sounds better than Puccini in ripped jeans. He’s right. Clothes do set the scene. Imagine if Audrey Hepburn had been looking in the window of Tiffany wearing denim cut-offs and a tank top?

It's the adaptation of dress codes that I really despise (not talking about fancy dress which I love). Beach Chic, Urban Cool, Chilled Formal ... we’ve slowly reduced the classic codes into cheesy bumper sticker slogans. Skirts are shorter, legs barer, jeans lower but surely there’s still a place for dressing up when the host requests it? It isn’t about suppression of individuality - wear what you like, interpret how you must – it’s just a polite request to dress differently to how you might on a walk around the block with your dog.

Life is full of ordinary, pedestrian days and ordinary pedestrian clothes. Clothes that blend and go blah. Dress codes are permission to escape that.

Why is that such a bad thing?

Paula Joye is Editor of or you follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

239 comments so far

  • Sad but true.

    Date and time
    July 12, 2012, 10:21AM
    • Kristen Stewart can wear whatever she likes. I personally would like to see her in her birthday suit, preferrably sitting at the end of my bed.

      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 3:53PM
    • And yet people trash "hipsters" for making an effort with clothes. Hipster girls often look amazing and very old-style dressed up.

      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 4:35PM
    • The problem with 'hipster' girls, is they dress up to go to the supermarket, and dress down for special events. Because they think it is 'hip' to be different and do the opposite of everybody else.

      Date and time
      July 14, 2012, 8:39PM
    • Enoo, that's completely not the case in my experience.

      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 11:49AM
  • Ah yes, the Wedding Dress Code dilemma!
    I just receieved a Wedding Invitation this week and I am a bit perplexed. It actually does not specify a dress code on the invitation. The Wedding & Reception location does not provide any hints either, as the Wedding itself is in a park and the reception just says "join us for drinks/finger food" the local Pub/Hotel!

    What do you wear in a situation like this? Do I have to call the Bride/Groom to find out, or do they think I am psychic?

    Date and time
    July 12, 2012, 10:23AM
    • The decline in standards and the lack of consideration clearly extends to the people sending the invitation.

      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 11:15AM
    • You don't have to dress any particular way if it's not specified, don't stress. I got married recently and also held the reception at a bar, and didn't specify a dress code on the invitations. Trust me, nothing happens by accident in planning a wedding - if they didn't put a dress code, it's not because they forgot, it's because they genuinely don't care. There were people in jeans at my wedding, and while I wouldn't have dressed that way, I didn't lose any sleep over them doing it.

      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 11:44AM
    • Over-dressing is better than under-dressing. I always wear at least a suit and tie to a wedding, cocktail party, etc. It just looks classy. I'd rather be the classiest looking person in the room than the hippest!

      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 11:51AM
    • You can't really be overdressed. Aim high.

      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 11:55AM

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