Wednesday, 2 March 2011

In which it's black tie, but not as we know it

May I remind you, the email ran, that the dress code is formal black tie.

It was about 7.30am and I was checking my emails on my way into work. The PA from the NY office of New Agency had sent a note confirming travel plans for my imminent trip out there to meet the US team.

Formal black tie. I'd only skimmed over the mail, but I went back, assuming that I was merely suffering the effects of a morning not yet caffeinated. But no, that's definitely what it said.

Eh? I vented on Twitter. What other kind of black tie could there possibly be?!

Damned Americans, I huffed to myself once I'd got into town, as I walked to the office via a nearby cafe, clutching a croissant and large Earl Grey tea, The Intern having been too busy with schmoozing journos at the Dean Street townhouse and mooning over the new boy she's seeing to pick up more teabags.

For formal occasions in Britain, you know where you stand. Dress codes might not be stuck to as rigidly as once they were, but you still know if you’re off to Ascot, you wear a hat; and that it’s fine to turn up in jeans should an invitation say ‘come as you are’. But the apparently tautological formal black tie isn’t something I’ve encountered before.

Maybe it means white tie? Gin Operated said, logically enough. You could take gloves just in case.

Huh, I thought. That makes sense. Excellent. Another outing for the bargain vintage ballgown it is (it has performed its task admirably at one x grad ball at Edinburgh; 1x hunt, and 1x Christmas ball at Sandhurst. Any excuse to wear it in front of people who’ve not seen it before is jumped on with great relish).

That was a best laid plan, right there. Just a fraction later…

Oh no – it’s very specific, came the invaluable advice from the lovely Liberty London Girl. It means long, but sexy, chiffony long. NOT ballgown. And New York women like to look HAWT – think British grooming x1000%. Go and get a mani-pedi ($20) and a blow dry ($30). Get make up done on counter at SAKS.

Oh hell’s bells.

“Hmm,” said JournoGal over dinner at the excellent and highly-recommended Polpetto. “That’s not very Brit-friendly, is it? I mean, British glamour is more about dusting off the priceless jewels, and then teaming them with shoes that the dog’s chewed a bit.”

That is EXACTLY my approach. I’m not the most well-groomed of people at the best of times. I have my very own brand of what I like to term ‘through a hedge backwards’ chic: I’m generally quite presentable, but the hair never does as it’s told, and it’s more than likely that the large scarf is hiding some sort of spillage.

Expletive, I said in an email to Best Mate, trying to get my point across in a way that would slip through her legal firm’s IT guidelines. I don’t think I want to go.

Her response? Hah.


At least in preparation for my trip, I am now armed: along with the mountain of Cadbury’s chocolate I’ve packed (the US team WILL like me if I have to bribe them with decentish chocolate to do so), I have LLG’s email on exactly where to get myself groomed to US standards. But I might just sneak in a copy of Debrett’s too, just to show them quite what black tie means in the old country – and that blow dries have nothing to do with it.


Dream in Grey said...

surely if you went in your ballgown you would just be British? and a talking point? and gorgeous? and showing them how its done?

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

See, this is the conundrum I had (well, not exactly, but close enough) last week or whenever it was, and I got an invitation to Ascot.

Immediately, I thought "oh yes, dress, shoes, hat, the lot" most of which I have in my wardrobe. But then I remembered it was winter. That summer dresses wouldn't be appropriate. That it wasn't ROYAL ascot, and therefore although you had to be smart to get into the premier admission, you didn't have to be Royal Ascot smart. Plus it was raining.

After much googling, I found photos from a race meet a couple of weeks earlier, showing girls in black tights, winter dresses and big coats and scarves. Et voila, I had my outfit.

But I PANIC like mad if I have to dress for an occasion. Thank god for the internet, eh?

AgirlcalledTom said...

This reminds me of the odd mix of outfits at my brother's wedding in New Jersey last year.

Blonde said...

DiG: It IS tempting, and trust me, I have considered it. I think, were there a whole Brit contingent going, I would have done. But as it is, it's just me and the last thing I want to do is show myself up!

PDEWYMO: It's infuriating, isn't it?! It would so much easier if there were worldwide written guidelines for this kinda stuff.

Tom: Brits just don't do the uber-groomed thing, huh?

Girl Friday said...

And a wax my love, and a wax. I reco

because you never know who you might meet ;)

Blonde said...

Girl F: Hah! Thank you very much. I can assure you, there will be a wax prior to take off... We'll stop here, for the sake of decency.

Zstep said...

Damned Americans indeed... sniff

jman said...

I think that even in America "formal black tie" is a redundancy. There is no informal black tie, just black tie. Now admittedly I am not schooled in the finer points of women's dress and never bothered to know what black tie means to women, which is a long way of saying I am no help at all! I guess one can always err on the side of being overdressed than underdressed as the former would invariably be less embarrassing than the latter. Or you could always do something really daring and write or call the NY office and ask what the term means for women. After all foreigners are always given more leeway in the social niceties than the natives. It was one of the perks for me when I lived in London. and while clothes may make the man, they do not make the Blonde - she is elegant regardless.

Blonde said...

Zstep: Only the ones who send baffling emails, I assure you. I love all you lot, obviously. x

Jman: Huh. That's good to know. I think LLG has me covered, thankfully. I'm hoping that foreigners are given leeway though: I imagine my new colleagues won't have the same approach at drinking their way through these formal dos as we Brits...

Mike said...

I don't beleive it's a normal American thing. At least not outside of New York.

I get invites to a fair number of black tie events and I have NEVER seeen that before.

By the way, I get those invites because people are trying to raise money...not because they particularly want me there.

Gin Operated said...

On the plus side, it sounds like a guilt-free, nay even career-advancing, excuse for a shopping trip... x

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