Diplomatic Dress Code

Mar 27, 2009

The Diplomatic Dinner Big Roo and I were attending was approaching.

I had to gather my facts and come up with a plan. As Big Roo likes to point out, I am such a girl and I like to plan my outfits in advance…What he does not understand is that wardrobe choices are an important decision when dealing in diplomacy, case in point Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the First Lady of France. There was huge interest and speculation about her wardrobe choices whilst she accompanied her husband French President Nicolas Sarkozy on a recent trip to Great Britain. As it turns out, she is not only a style icon but a natural diplomat, choosing to wear Christian Dior, which is a French design house designed by John Galliano, a British designer….how very diplomatic. I am sure even Kissinger would be proud!

So far my intelligence told me that it was a Sunday night dinner at the private residence of an Australian diplomat to welcome a visiting Australian Colonel. Invitations and RSVP's were being handled by the hosts Personal Assistant. Must be nice to have your own personal party planner, the last time somebody made party arrangements for me and handled all the RSVP's and catering was probably my 6th birthday party. It was a lavish affair, thrown by my parents and included a trip to Wellington Zoo and lunch at McDonalds. For the record the dress code was girly birthday party chic. No boys allowed!

Attendees included the big wig Australian diplomat host plus wife, the big wig diplomat's staff member plus wife, a US Military Colonel plus wife, the visiting Australian Colonel - no wife, the wife of another big wig Australian diplomat and of course Big Roo and I.

The dress code was specified as casual (no tie or coat). Most Sunday night dinners eaten out are usually casual affairs for me. When I hear the word "casual", it tends to imply jeans but given the demographic and formality of invitation, I was not sure my Rock and Republics would cut it.

So what exactly does casual mean?
According to the "Protocol for the Modern Diplomat" prepared by the Transition Center, Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, casual means :

Male Attire
• Business suit (light or dark) or
• Sports jacket and pants
• Tie or bow tie
• Dress shoes or loafers

Female Attire
• Business suit or daytime dress
• Pumps or flats
• Head coverings may be considered a requirement at some events. Wide-brim hats
may also provide welcome and necessary protection from the sun; check with the host country

On the Emily Post (North America's etiquette guru) website, the word casual is simply not descriptive enough….I couldn't agree more. There are several categories of casual: Dressy Casual, Business Casual, Sport Casual, Beach Casual and Holiday Casual.

Neither of my manuals were particularly helpful, so I chose a "safe" some might say boring ensemble rather akin to what I would wear to a casual work place. Black pants, black top with a grey long knit cardigan and a pair of black heels. Big Roo who is normally in a suit and tie for work, dressed down to a casual pant (translation: slacks) and an open collar shirt. Satisfied we embodied casual (no tie or coat), we made our way out. Not that anybody asked me during the evening but my outfit was a perfect blend of Australian and US acquired clothes and accessories (thank you Carla)!

When we arrived we were greeted by our casual (no tie or coat) hosts, so far so good, we looked the part. Once the other guests trickled in, everyone very much looked like a day in the life of a casual workplace environment.

The most formally dressed person that evening was the server (not sure if that is the correct terminology). She was decked out in what looked like a 3 piece suit and when the chef came out to accept our compliments she was appropriately dressed in her chefs whites.

All in all I would say all major dress code diplomatic incidents were avoided. Diplomatic success was achieved!