Dressing for a Business Gala Event

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-28-2005
Dressing for a Business Gala Event
Thu, 04-28-2005 - 7:54pm

I have been invited to go to a Gala for my boyfriends work. I don't know much about it except it is being held at the business location, there will be approx. 500 people (employees, clients, the Governor), the company is a .com company. My boyfriend just started at the company last week. He said they were told to dress 'Chic' (for guys that apparently means no suits or khaki's - slacks and a shirt). He needs to go shopping too as he only owns 1 suit (for weddings) and 2 pair of khaki's for work -- and all short sleeved polo shirts.

OK, I am just shy of 35 and not very fashionable (unless a friend has donated me anything newer than 3 years old). I have some long printed skirts and business slacks and mostly wear sweaters. My boyfriend is (almost :) 29 and says he is the oldest person in his department ... he just went and bought some cargo pants to fit in at work (??? I feel old and out of touch).

He thought a cocktail dress would be too dressy. The only pantsuits I have are a few sizes too big and my dressier dress would be too formal as they are long. I don't know what is in style, 'chic', and I don't want to feel out dated.

Do I wear slacks, skirt or a dress? Should I stick with black (I have auburn hair so I don't usually wear colors except blue or green)? What length and style (shoulders not showing)?

Another debate I have with my boyfriend is hair style when dressing up. I prefer to wear my hair up, usually in a twist, if I am dressing up. He thinks it doesn't matter and I should wear it down (my hair isn't exactly 'chic' either). My hair is reddish -- curly (or slightly frizzy) and a few inches below my shoulders. Any opinions? (Besides cutting it :) I did have it short and stylish 2 years ago but everyone said I looked like my mom and said it didn't look like 'me' (and this boyfriend likes longer hair)).

I'm already self-conscious of our age difference as his friends are in their 20s and mine are mostly in their late 30s/early 40s. Now him working with even younger people has me feeling more paranoid about looking old and out-dated.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! (Sorry this is long - I've never posted or really been to a message board before).


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-28-2004
Fri, 04-29-2005 - 10:01am

Hi Jodi!

I work in a similar environment for a software company so I might be able to provide some assistance. Your boyfriend is right - things are rather relaxed here, as we're normally a business casual shop. That usually translates into a shirt & khakis for men, and a simple top or sweater and pants for women. (Some may call it chic, but I think that's a bit too complimentary a term considering the lack of real effort. LOL) I'm about to turn 35 and I too sometimes feel like the oldie here myself! :)

If you're looking for a nice and simple way to dress it up a bit, I might recommend a basic sweater (with sleeves - either short or long) paired with classic dark slacks. Given your color preferences as stated, a blue top with black pants sounds like it would work very well for you. Black shoes and modest jewelry would round the look out quite nicely. I tend to think that wearing your hair down would be the way to go, since it's easier and likely to be the most common style at the event, so you'll blend right in and probably feel more comfortable as well. (Especially since your boyfriend seems to like it that way!)

Don't be too nervous - you're going to do just fine! And take it from me, you shouldn't feel any major need to change your whole look just to accommodate the present trends...things change too fast anymore for that. Stick with the classic and timeless options and you'll always look great. :)

Have fun and let us know how it goes!

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-19-2003
Fri, 04-29-2005 - 1:27pm

Welcome Jodi!



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iVillage Member
Registered: 02-03-2004
Fri, 04-29-2005 - 5:45pm

First, let me say that telling people to dress "chic" is just putting way too much pressure on people. That's like saying the dress code is "handsome."

Anyway, I agree with the other posters. If you wear flat-front dark pants or a knee-length skirt with a slim-fitting shirt or sweater, you can't go wrong (personally, I think that outfit works whenever you're in doubt). Try it on before you go, and if you think your outfit could use spiffing up, splurge on a new pair of shoes or get a trendy sale-rack handbag. But don't worry about being chic, it's only important that you feel comfortable. And because you have auburn hair, you're probably chic already.

Which brings me to my next point--you said "The only pantsuits I have are a few sizes too big"--I hope you have some clothes that do fit you! If not, get thee to a tailor!

If you and your boyfriend are still confounded, go to your nearest JCrew or Banana Republic, pick out two similar outfits in black, and shell out more money than you think is necessary!

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-10-2005
Tue, 05-10-2005 - 2:09pm
I think you should wear clothing however you will feel most comfortable. Since the gala is being held at their office building and it sounds like the dress code is business casual slacks and a nice dress shirt, or a long or cocktail length skirt and blouse would be appropriate. Don't go buy something that will make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin and that you will only wear that one time, as that would be a waste of money. Also, wear your hear however YOU want. If you are more comfortable with it up, then that's how you should wear it. If you are comfortable with yourself you will exude confidence and beauty and I would bet that some of the younger women that you are worried about will be jealous of the confidence you have as an older woman. Also, remember, there will almost always be someone else who is way more overdressed and/or underdressed than you are and they will be the ones getting the real attention.
iVillage Member
Registered: 05-10-2005
Tue, 05-10-2005 - 3:08pm
I too have been through the "what to wear there" recently. And the people at the party were from 7 to 87 in age.
Since this is business related, go for simple with some fun accessories. The black dress thing sounds severe. Try a short, black skirt with a chiffon over skirt with a silver or gray tank top. You can add a shrug or poncho, a colorful little bag, some strappy sandals.
Put your hair up: Nothing too done. If it needs hair spray, don't do it.
Relax, have a good time.