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What to wear, when

Invisible cloaks, blingy 'sherwanis', trendy tieshow to understand the unstated dress codes at work

Dress codes for corporate events can be confusing. To be fair, some codes, such as “Business suit" and “Black tie", are fairly clear in what they require of us. But do we really know what to wear when we receive an invite that specifies “Urban chic" or “Semi-formal" or “Bollywood style" as the dress code?

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a “Smart casual" party in Mumbai. I went there dressed in well-ironed khakis and my smart navy-blue jacket, which I thought conformed to this global ensemble requirement—even though, I must admit, the jacket did not feel quite right for the city’s sweltering summer. At the party, I found people walking around in jeans, light T-shirts; there were even a couple of youngsters in hip yoga pants. I felt terribly overdressed, very hot, and walked around awkwardly with a glass of lemonade. Now I know I will never know where to start dressing for a “Bollywood style" event.

There is a real need to develop communication around corporate dress codes which is practical and crystal clear. We can help matters along by mentioning these codes in invitations or emails that we send out, for our office meetings, conferences, get-togethers and similar events. Though by no means comprehensive, here are some illustrations of how to define dress codes.

Arctic chill

Shabby chic

Jacket and tie

‘Desi’ festive

Totally casual

Invisible cloak

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group and is the author of the best-seller business book Tatalog: Eight Modern Stories From A Timeless Institution. His all-time favourite dress code for summer is colourful shorts and a loose cotton shirt, on a beachside in Goa.

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