"Evening attire required," says the dress code on your party invite -- whatever that means! An ambiguous term like "evening attire" is potentially a minefield, but it may also release you from the restrictions of traditional formal dress codes. After all, if the host wanted to go high society, they'd have printed White Tie instead. As this party is clearly no royal affair, put away that ballgown -- but don't go reaching for clubbing dresses just yet.
The Ballroom Gala
Evening attire ranges anywhere from traditional black tie styling to semi-formal or cocktail wear. Some invitations may specify "not Black Tie," which puts you more in the formal and semi-formal arena. Keep the venue in mind -- for a ballroom gala, dress as fancy as possible in black tie or formal wear. Opt for either an evening gown, like a glamorous floor-length column dress, or a silk tea-length frock. Go rich and dark in color or opt for feminine pastels, but avoid wild prints that may make you look less elegant.
The Dinner Party
At the less-fancy end of evening-event spectrum is the realm of semi-formal fashion. A private dinner gathering hosted at a friend's home likely won't require an evening gown -- unless your friends are into murder-mystery parties. To make an impression without going overboard, pick out dressy separates like a floaty skirt and blouse or fancy trouser combination. Or drum up a knee-length cocktail or party dress in a classic fabric like lace or chiffon, but steer clear of clingy Lycra. Opt for ever-flattering black, stunning jewel tones or creamy neutrals.
Evening attire typically means heels, unless you've got a good reason not to wear them. Your accessory options open up, however, with jewelry -- pick a single statement piece, like a chunky necklace or big earrings, and pair them with your smaller faves for a classy look. Transfer your essentials from your day bag to a much smaller, daintier evening bag like a clutch. Pack only what you need most -- your mobile phone, your wallet, a bit of makeup for touch-ups and any other toiletry must-haves.
You can't throw any old jacket on over a formal dress, no matter how warm -- if your event falls during a cold-weather month, you'll need appropriate outerwear. For terrific cold, a dress coat in wool or any luxurious fabric fits the bill. Make sure no more than a few inches of the dress skirt shows beneath the coat, however. In milder weather, throw on a fur jacket, wrap or stole for a refined, glamorous look.