What To Wear When You Don’t Know The Dress Code

Last night, I had one of those full-on fashion emergencies. We’re talking closet vomit all over my bedroom and an exhausting try-it-on-again workout. The dilemma: I was attending a party for the release of a fashion-art book and had no idea what people would be wearing. My guess was that it could be anywhere in between cocktail-fancy, boho-chic, and skinny-jean-hipster-style. I decided I needed an outfit that could shift its style level with a few minor changes—that way, I could wait until I got to the party to see the vibe, and then adjust accordingly. So here’s my answer for going blindly into the fashion battlefield. Share your own tips in the comments below!

  1. The skirt is the perfect compromise between a dress and pants. Go with something simple and black that’s neither a pencil shape nor something more voluminous. A great detail to have in a situation like this is pockets, which can be imperceptible when dressed up, but a casual touch when dressed down. [$158, Fremont, Revolve Clothing]
  2. Tuck into your skirt either a black silk blouse (classic) or a slightly embellished top. [$128, J. Crew]
  3. Layer with a slouchy cashmere sweater. If the party is fancy, of course take it off. But if the event is more relaxed, a non-fitted sweater will just say “winter fashion” and remain neutral. [$260, Vince, Shopbop]
  4. Add focus to the tights. If it’s a more formal soirée, some jazzed-up tights will add even more fancy to your outfit. On the other side of the spectrum, they become the focus of your look. [$68, Wolford, Bloomingdale’s]
  5. Multitask with a purse that can be held two ways, like this Vivier messenger tote. Sling it over your shoulder and it becomes a bohemian accent; held in the crook of your elbow, with the strap hanging down, it becomes way more fashion-forward. Another trick: swap your wallet that day for a dressed-up evening clutch. If your event is really fancy, stash your main bag in a corner, and use a flashy handheld to brighten your outfit. [$240, Vivier messenger bag, Clarevivier; $49.50, glitter clutch, J. Crew]
  6. For shoes, rely on something black that has a Mary Jane vibe—it’s a classic that can go dressy or casual. [$24.80, Forever 21]