Instead of being helpful, they created uncertainty.
It might be the most unwelcome line on a party invitation: "Black Tie Optional."
Those three words -- meant to liberate partygoers from being forced to wear penguin suits -- have unintentionally caused more doubt than clarity. "Black tie optional" (or the equally baffling "black tie invited" or the rather prissy "black tie preferred") hedge the simple question: Must I wear a tux?
Instead of genially providing options or making gentle suggestions, they have opened a Pandora's Box of uncertainty.
Indeed, BTO is being interpreted in a number of different ways including, perhaps, something that the host and hostess never intended to suggest.
"'Black tie optional' is starting to be associated with 'creative black tie,'" London said. "It gives you a little bit of freedom and a little bit of room to be creative. You could do a great colored shirt with a black suit and a great colored tie. There are options for being inventive."
But is that what the party-throwers had in mind? Such is the confusion surrounding BTO. Not especially welcome for any important functions in 2005.
According to the International Formalwear Association and the formal wear guide on www.afterhours.com, there are specific requirements when the invitation makes note of dress. Here are the rules:
UIf the invitation says "white tie" or "full dress": Wear a white wing-collar pique shirt, crisp white pique vest, white tie, classic black trousers with formal satin stripe, black tailcoat and black patent shoes.
UIf the invitation says "black tie": Wear a classic tuxedo with white shirt, dark vest or cummerbund and black tie. And black patent shoes.
UIf the invitation says "black tie preferred": This means the host wants guests in formal evening attire. This means black tuxedo, white dinner jacket (mid-April through Labor Day) or dark tuxedo (no tailcoats). Nonformal dress suits are acceptable but not preferred by the host.
UIf the invitation says "black tie optional": Not as rigid about formal attire as "black tie" or "black tie preferred." Still, formal dress is appropriate and acceptable, including black tuxedo, white dinner jacket and dark contemporary-style tuxedo (no tailcoats).
UIf the invitation says "black tie invited": This means that gentlemen are welcome to dress in formal attire if they would like, but it is not required.
UIf the invitation says "semi-formal": Allows tuxedo or dinner jacket.