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Dressing appropriately with dress codes

December 4, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH , The Leader Herald

In last week's column, I addressed the issue of dressing "appropriately" when dining in a restaurant. My recommendation was one should be neat and presentable when dining in a soft restaurant and one should dress up when going to a fine-dining restaurant. One should always be clean and decent whenever in public.

Oh busboy, what does that mean -"appropriate," "dress up," "presentable," and "decent?" What should I really wear? I don't want to be too dressed up so I look out of place, but I don't want to be so causal I am inappropriate. I don't want to be all jeweled while everyone else is in jeans, but I don't want to be in jeans while everyone is jeweled. I don't want to be messy, but I want to be stylish. I don't want to look like a nerd, but I don't want to look like Fancy Nancy.

To find what is appropriate, we might look at recommended dress codes, important to know with the holiday party season under way. Restaurants might have a dress code requiring a jacket or tie. More casual restaurants might have a minimum dress code, such as "no shorts, no flip flops." Even fast-food restaurants might have a code that requires the customer to be "presentable" such as "shirts and shoes" required. A dress code helps a restaurant maintain a particular image or, it requires a look that keeps the other customers from feeling uncomfortable.

According to, dress codes can be organized into categories: casual, business casual, casual elegant and formal. I added informal for all those restaurants we visit every day.

Informal: Here we have the fast-food and family-dining restaurants. "Come as you are" might be the dress code here, but there are limits to this. To informal, I add presentable. This means, the hair is combed, the hands and face are clean. One is wearing shoes, not slippers. Flip-flops are OK. Bathing suits are out unless it's the beach. Pajamas, bathrobes and curlers are definitely out. T-shirts with inappropriate sayings should never be worn in public. Clothes that reveal too much is never fitting in any restaurant. Baseball caps should be removed when inside and always when eating. (I'll serve more on that another time.)

Casual: Keep in mind when a fine-dining restaurant mentions casual, their "casual" expectations are much higher than those of your typical Saturday afternoon on the couch. Your sweats and stained T-shirt are not recommended - you do not want the entre's appearance to out-do your own. A casual dress code means comfortable yet polished. You may want to reference Gap stores, with simple T-shirts or comfy Polo shirts atop fitted jeans.

Business casual: To grasp the business casual closet, apply the polished-yet-comfortable look to items you would wear in the workplace. The job search engine,, offers a definition, stating, "In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed yet neat and pulled together." The key word in that definition is professional.

For men, a combination of a collared shirt, dress pants or trousers, such as khakis, for women a skirt, dress slacks or dress is appropriate. Sneakers should be excommunicated in all fine dining.

Casual elegant: This is a new word for the "what to wear " set. Casual elegant is basically a dressed-up version of casual attire. It is not ball gowns. This can vary. For him, it could be a dark suit or a button down with trousers, with a sport coat. For her, a formal pants outfit, or a snazzy black dress complemented by an evening wrap or clutch bag would be perfect. Both women and men will find turtlenecks and darker colors to be universally accepted as supplements to casual elegant outfits.

Formal: This category is rare, but when it is suggested it is imperative it be followed. The formal standard demands patrons wear their best, with women in dressy dresses and men in suits. Jackets only might be formal wear, but I think it could be more casual and used as a minimum standard. Cheek our the restaurant to make the judgment. Black tie invitations call for men to wear tuxedos and women to wear cocktail or long dresses. A white-tie invitation is considered the most formal and requires men to wear full dress, with white tie, vest and shirt, and women to wear long gowns.

The essence of fine dining wants to take patrons out of their ordinary lives and to have an extraordinary experience. To truly be a part of such a supreme culinary happening, one must look the part and one must dress to dine.

Although these categories can be helpful when preparing for a restaurant visit, they cannot choose the perfect outfit from your closet. And now I will survey my closet to see what codes I have covered. My too full closet looks awfully empty.

My codes here go more like, "makes me look fat", "not comfortable" "Needs mending" "Frumpy" etc. T.J. Maxx here I come.

Restaurant Watch: Check out the dress code for your favorite restaurant.



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