Is it better to be over-dressed or under-dressed?

Friday, 26 April 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Last night I attended a fundraising gala and for some reason I thought it was a black tie event. Even in Vancouver, The Most Casual City in the World, anything calling itself a gala should mean a cocktail dress for women and a very nice suit for gentlemen. I also love a tailored women's tux. You get my point.

I obviously got last night’s dress code wrong because when I arrived in my strapless purple silk number with bejeweled belt, the first thing I saw was a man in a crumpled white shirt, untucked, ill-fitting pants, and some sort of running shoes.  

Sigh.  What’s a girl to do?  My solution was to leave my coat on all night.  If it was December this would have been a problem.

It appeared most people came right from the office, so both I and rumpled-shirt man got it wrong.  He didn’t seem to care much, but I hate not dressing properly for the occasion.  And that’s true for all parts of life; whether it’s at work, playing tourist in another city, out for dinner, or at a party.    

I think I get my love of playing dress-up from my grandmother, who always knew just what to wear (and who recently left this world, on the dawn of her 100th spring).  But after last night, I’m wondering why I spend so much money on party dresses.  Rumpled-shirt guy seemed oblivious.

I know I have written about similar subjects before, but last night made me wonder:  If you’re going to go one way or the other, would most people prefer to be over-dressed or under-dressed?  Does one or the other make the people around you more or less comfortable?


Top photo: Michael@NWLens/flickr


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  • http://www.facebook.com/blaize.barnicoat Blaize W. Barnicoat

    Overdressing just makes others feel under dressed–not your problem!

  • Tim Edwards

    I say it’s better to be over-dressed because if you under-dressed you might not be able to enter the venue if they have a dress code. Either way as long as you own it you’ll be fine. I wish you would have posted a picture of your dress I have a hard time figuring out what a woman would wear that would make her over-dressed.

  • Benny Yau

    I say over-dressed as well. At least, with the over-dressed, you can always play the “I’m fancy and sophisticated” card. And judging by your style, Anna, you “over-dress” with class and wouldn’t go the gaudy, look-at-me route to begin with, so it’s not over-the-board. As for being under-dressed, I remember attending a premiere for something and did not get the memo that it was a suit-and-tie event and went with nice jeans and a shirt instead. I wanted to HIDE myself behind the plants at the theatre from embarassment, trying to escape every camera pop. So, over-dressing wins hands down!

  • http://www.facebook.com/noa.peri Noa Peri

    underdressed! b/c that means you’re more comfortable. AND, in the random chance that you’ll need to suddenly go on the lam, you’re not running away in a dress and high heels!

  • Sue

    Is there a not over or under dressed happy medium – for future events? If I hear the words “fundraising gala” I think suits – or at least sports jacket and dress shoes – for men and dress or suits for women. Jeans, running shoes, & rumpled shirts don’t seem appropriate. If people are coming straight from work then business attire (not casual business attire). PS. Can you post a picture of yourself from the event?

  • annaandkristina

    Thanks for your replies everyone! The overwhelming majority on Facebook, Twitter, and here voted for overdressed. Next time I arrive overdressed, I will embrace it and enjoy! -AW

  • Eugen

    As someone in high tech, an industry whose “style” is pretty much anything goes, I’d always opt for over dressed than under. You simply can’t go wrong if you’re dressed well.

    Even though I tend to prefer the t-shirt and shorts look most of the time — weather permitting — I will always over dress if I’m not sure, just to be safe.

    To show you the insanity you can run into here in Ottawa, if you’re meeting someone high up in government or the military a suit and tie is a must. If you’re meeting with some regular bureaucrats then smart-casual is the usual safe bet. If you’re meeting with guys in high tech, golf shirt and jeans or shorts is good — in summer, Hawaiian shirts and shorts. And if you’re meeting with a mix of the above, God help you as it will be driven by whoever is the highest rank. If it’s some CEO from one of the big high tech firms, it’ll be fairly casual. If it’s a minister, it’ll be suit and tie formal. Ugh.

    Thinking about this makes me just want to retire….

    Interestingly enough, my kids always dress up. They love it. My son looks like he came out of Mad Men, as do his friends. Quite trendy. And good on them. I guess they look upon us boomers as having destroyed fashion and as each generation does, they’re rejecting our “fashion sense”, what little we may have.

  • Erin Frew

    I would say it depends… But, generally I would say over-dressed is better. If it’s work, I would rather be over-dressed than under-dressed. That way you know that you look professional, and no matter who you run into you’re doing “the right thing”. If it’s a party it’s a bit more dicey… because sometimes people just don’t know how to dress up, or they don’t have the money or the time to dress up. But again, I would rather be over-dressed. I was recently at a wedding and I HATED what I was wearing!!! Lets just say that I looked “appropriate” by my mother and grandmother’s standards, but compared to my contemporaries, I probably looked like a matron from the 1800’s! I spent the whole evening feeling VERY self-conscious and I did not have much fun as a result. So in that scenario, I would have preferred to have been more done-up than under done. But of course I always wish to look perfect for every occasion (which is probably why I’m usually so stressed)!

  • Calimaria

    Overdressed for sure!