Understanding the 3 Basic Dress Terms + An Illustrated Guide to Tying
Ann Crossley and Carol A. Keller
Introduction and Editor’s Notes OWN TV | November 21, 2012
Introduction and Editor's Notes
In a constantly evolving and changing society, where colloquialism becomes more and more the norm, there are still places where formalities and decorum remain. One of these remaining bastions of American tradition is the ever-present role of officers, spouses and children alike who live the Army life. To borrow from the foreword of the First Edition of The Army Wife Handbook, as written by Alma Powell:
Our lives are much more relaxed, the moves of society are constantly changing and evolving, but we as military wives face many social and official occasions that are structured by long traditions.
[The Army Wife Handbook] provides a concise, informative guide to help you meet these occasions with grace and elegance.
To celebrate this handy and at times humorous book, we are extending some of the guidelines offered in The Army Wife Handbook, Second Edition, written by Ann Crosley and Carol A. Keller. Check back each week for excerpts right here on the Married to the Army: Alaska website, beginning with this guide on "Dressing for the Occasion," just in time for the holidays. If you’ve ever wondered what the differences between Formal, Informal and Casual attire are, look no further! The following pages contain a guide to dressing for every social occasion as told in The Army Wife Handbook.
If you have ever discovered too late that you wore the wrong clothes to a party, you know the importance of learning the meaning of the dress terms commonly used in Army social circles... The first rule to remember is this: If you receive an invitation and are not certain of the dress requirement, never hesitate to ask the hostess for mores specific information. The second rule is: If you discover that you’ve worn the wrong type of clothes to a function, laugh it off and enjoy the party.
Actually, there are only three basic dress terms: formal, informal and casual. The problems are that informal and casual are often confused for one another, and occasionally a few different dress terms are thrown in which may add to the guests' uncertainty.
This term is the least often seen, but the best understood.
Military formal function — The invitation may say "Formal," "Black Tie," or state a specific uniform or choice of uniforms. Regardless of the uniform worn, the bow tie is standard for formal functions. Officers are expected to wear either the Army Mess uniform or Army Blues... For NCOs and enlisted personnel, Army Blues are preferable, but Army Greens (Class A's) with white shirt and bow tie are acceptable. Civilian guests will wear tuxedos.
Civilian formal function —; The invitation may say "Formal," "Black Tie," "Tuxedo," or "Smoking" (European), but they all mean the same thing. Military men may wear either a tuxedo or an appropriately formal military uniform.
Although formal dress styles vary with the times and from one location to another, a long dress is always appropriate for formal functions. Additionally, a very fancy short dress, cocktail dress, and evening trousers with dressy top are sometimes in fashion. If you're new in an area and wondering what to wear to a formal function, it’s a good idea to ask a friend what is normally worn in that location. It's also important to consider the type of event before deciding what to wear; for example, a full-skirted ball gown would be lovely at a formal ball, but a bit too much for a formal reception. Note: Long dresses and long skirts are not normally worn before five o'clock in the evening, unless you are the hostess and the party is in your own home.
This is the least-understood term of dress. "Informal" really describes a dressy occasion, but the term is often confused with "casual." Think of “informal” as having the same root word as “formal”; it’s just one step removed from that. Sometimes, an invitation will state, “Civilian Informal,” meaning civilian-style informal clothes for the military, not uniforms. Other more descriptive terms often used for informal functions are, "Business Suit" and "Coat and Tie."
Military informal function — The invitation will state the uniform, usually Army Blues with four-in-hand tie (long tie). The four-in-hand tie is always worn with Army Blues and Army Whites at functions held in the afternoon and those that begin before Retreat.
Civilian informal function — When the invitation says "Informal," men are expected to wear a suit — a dark (subdued) business suit with tie. The phrase “Coat and Ties” is a shade less demanding because this implies that men may wear a suit or sports jacket — but always with a tie for informal functions.
An informal function requires a dressy dress; just how dressy depends on: the type of function, time of day, hostess' preference, and local customs. An informal dinner-party invitation usually means that the ladies will wear dressy clothes, jewelry, and heels; whereas at an informal daytime reception, luncheon, or seminar, they will wear more subdued dresses or suits. When in doubt, never hesitate to ask your hostess what she plans to wear.
This dress term has the least dressy meaning, but offers the broadest range of possibilities. For extremely casual events, a more descriptive term than "Casual" may be used. Another option is for the hostess to use "Casual" on her invitations and tell her guests what she will be wearing, as a way of clarifying how they might dress.
Military casual function — The invitation will state the uniform, probably "Class A" (Army Greens) or "Duty Uniform."
Civilian casual function — The important point for men to remember is that a casual function means no tie. They may or may not wear a sports jacket, depending on the casualness of the event. When in doubt, they can wear a jacket and plan to take it off if the host ins't wearing one. Other tems occasionally used for events that are more casual are "Open Collar," "Very Casual." "Sporty." Or "Jeans"; these terms imply that no jacket is expected.
Because casual functions can range from dinner parties to backyard barbecues, the range of dress is extensive. Guests need to consider the type of party and, if still in doubt, ask the hostess what she plans to wear. An invitation to a "casual" function usually means a lady wears a simple skirt, dress or nice slacks, with simple (or no) jewelry and either low-heeled or flat shoes. Unit coffees are usually considered "casual." For even more casual events, very casual slacks, jeans or shorts may be appropriate.
Bonus Tip: Understanding the difference between "informal" and "casual" is the key to understanding dress terms.
Few men ever learn to tie their own bow ties, perhaps because it's easier to tie one on someone else than to tie one on yourself. Besides, there's something magical about standing close to your handsomely dressed husband, tying his tie with loving hands, just before you go out together for a fancy evening.
Tying a Bow Tie in 5 Steps
[Here are 5 steps on how to tie a bow tie on someone. Begin by facing the person with their shirt collar unbuttoned and turned up. Place the tie around their neck, and then have them button their shirt. Then, follow the 5 easy steps below, and refer to the illustrations if you get stuck!]
Start with the left end extending 1 ½ inches below the right.
Cross longer end over shorter end, and pass up through loop. Pull both ends to tighten.
Form front loop of bow by folding over shorter end (hanging) and placing it across collar points.
Hold this front loop with thumb and forefinger of left hand. Drop long end down over the front.
Bring long end around front loop of tie and poke it through knot behind. Adjust ends of bow and tighten in front by pulling on both sides of neck band. Take up slack at slide under collar.