Q: I’m in the process of planning an event for my nonprofit organization. Last year, we had our usual dinner, but to enhance the mood we changed the dress from business attire to black tie optional. This year, we’ve decided to substitute a cocktail reception for the dinner. Is black tie optional still appropriate, even though it’s a reception?
A: There’s no rule that says a black tie affair must include a meal, so technically it remains appropriate to indicate black tie. Practical reality is another thing, however. A sitdown meal makes the effort and expense of renting or dry-cleaning a tuxedo worthwhile. Requiring black tie for a cocktail reception, on the other hand, may be over the top. Fortunately, the word “optional” saves your bacon. This means tuxedos are voluntary, not mandatory. Those who want to wear a tux can, while those who don’t want to can attend wearing a dark suit and still be perfectly appropriate. The whole point of indicating dress is to give people a clue what they should wear. For an event like yours, giving guests a choice makes sense. If you’re still not sure what to do, ask a few invitees whether they’d like the chance to kick their dress up a notch. If people enjoyed the formality option last year and seem intrigued by it again this year, go for it.