What should one wear to dinner in Manhattan? Especially when coming straight from the office? Ah. This is a moment with potential for communication or miscommunication, riddled by cultural and emotional signs. As it turns out, you can wear the same basic work uniform over and over, each time intimating something completely different.
Take dinner with clients. What’s the goal here? What is your sub-text? Let me put some words in your mouth, if you don’t mind.
“Hello dear clients. You are so valuable to us. Please give us more business. In order to facilitate the transfer of your money to my firm, I’d like to add social scaffolding to our business relationship. However, I have no intention of stepping even one centimeter over the professional line. “
So you wear a suit, comfortable but elegant shoes, corporate issue gold knot earrings, and an orange blouse with a bow. Orange says, “Look, I’m happy! I’m acting in a slightly non-uniform way! We are verging on personal expression!” all the while whispering to the other diners, “I may be here on business but I can drop my gloves on the fashion ice if I choose.” The bow says, “I’m female! That stuff you like about your mother and your sister and your wife, I’ve got! Trust me!” Everything else mutters only, “Business.”
No vivid fingernail polish. I’m sorry. High WASPs just don’t. As we evolve we will learn not to judge others if they do.
Wearing this outfit, you can greet your clients, standing, in full business regalia. Sit, and the orange speaks up. Remove the suit jacket and you’re almost to Carnival. Business dinners require you to titrate the impact of what you wear. Carefully.
Whereas, for dinner with friends, what might you want to say, in a non-saying kind of way, of course?
I confess, I like my friends and family to know how hard I work. High WASPs worship at the temple of a Doing A Very Good Job. Wear the same navy suit. But here a pale blue button-front shirt says,
“I’m faded from overwork. I have sold my soul to the corporate gods. I’m involved in Something Serious.”
But let’s say you feel the need for an underlying, different message. Even a seductive one. That’s what shoes are for. Chocolate suede Louboutins! Swipe some red lipstick on as you leave the office and then let it fade. Your mouth is careworn, limned with past desire. Wear your usual pearl studs, but hang a necklace inside your shirt. Even a skull charm. What? Pearls go great with skulls. Ask Shakespeare.
As the night goes by, take the necklace out, if the occasion warrants. Or unbutton. That’s what buttons are for.
And still no colored fingernails. I was serious.
The standard advice for dinner out with friends after work is to wear a camisole under your suit. This is not something a High WASP is ever going to do. We aren’t fans of underwear that pretends to be clothing. And we prefer, in general, that some messages be read only by those with a sensibility tuned to the subtle.