The Meaning of Black and White Attire isn’t Black and White

The Meaning of Black and White Attire isn’t Black and White

Q. I just got an invitation to a small New Year’s Eve party. It asks us to come in Black and White Attire. Does it necessarily mean formal or just a color combination? Thanks.

A. It does not necessarily mean formal, although you could interpret it that way if you’d  like to give your tuxedo a night out on the town. But, in truth, what the host probably means is that you can get as creative and festive as you like while combining the two (non)colors, black and white.

You may be interested in a bit of background. One of the most famous parties in history was “The Black and White Ball” that the writer Truman Capote hosted 50 or so years ago at The  Plaza Hotel. Widely referred to as “The Party of the Century,” the huge guest list of socialites, celebrities, and royalty included Frank Sinatra, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Harry Belafonte, and Gloria Vanderbilt. People have been copying the idea ever since. Because that original event was a masquerade ball, everyone was dressed in formalwear, and most wore masks . . . that covered their eyes.

At the party you will be attending, you can expect that some people will be dressed in elegant formal attire and some will choose more casual combinations. Besides traditional black-tie wear, you might also see such casual contrasting  mixtures as black jeans with white tops or white jeans with black tops. In between will be black blazers and black suits. At the extreme opposite end could be something as casual as a T-shirt with a design that looks like a tuxedo.

Your combination does not necessarily need to include both black and white; it could be all black or all white, but it should not include even a small amount of any color. Honor your host by following the dress code. Keep in mind that it’s always better (and more respectful to one’s host) to be a bit too dressed up than to be too dressed down. You can also interpret the invitation more subtly if you only apply it to the accessories. For instance, if you just add a pair of black braces (suspenders), a black bow tie, a white silk scarf, a polka-dotted pocket square, a white boutonniere, black-and-white patterned socks, or, if you are lucky enough to own them, perhaps a pair of eye-catching black-and-white spectator shoes. Any of these would qualify; you are free to take your pick.   

The great thing about such whimsical parties is that you have a great deal of leeway. You can be tasteful and correct, if that is your comfort zone and also given that this is a New Year’s Eve party, which introduces a somewhat dressy element. On the other hand, you can add to the fun and be as playful and quirky as your personality permits; if you enjoy being the one who is noticed, why not go all out and have fun with the idea? 

Still, you do need to consider the hosts. Here is where your understanding of the people who will be attending – and your relationship to them – comes into play. With a very light-hearted crowd, perhaps the goofy tuxedo T-shirt approach and black-and-white Chuck Taylors will be perfect. However, good judgement tells you that, if the invitation came from your boss and the crowd is likely to include top-notch executives (even without a Duke or Duchess), it might be wise to consider something more upscale, and you need a dressier mixture.

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