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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rising to the occasion

A black-tie gathering carries with it a certain standard of dress. A black-tie gathering that includes an award ceremony is even more so. Not only do the attendees get to mingle with a lot of other attendees, but some of them get to be the center of attention. And while the formal dress code technically should be observed by everyone, the award recipients should be particularly careful how they present themselves - both in dress and manner.

If the award ceremony is a part of a larger event and is preceded by a day of business meetings or training, there is usually a time interval that allows participants to clean up and rest. Use this time wisely. Grab a shower and brush your teeth. Gentlemen, if only own one suit and you have worn it for the business part of the event, change your undershirt, shirt and tie. A crisp white shirt with a conservative tie can easily formalize a basic dark suit. Well-shined shoes couldn't hurt either.

Ladies, if you absolutely cannot splurge on a separate dress for the event and are getting the most out of your basic little black dress, glam it up with fishnet hose, more formal shoes and some jewelry. It need not be pearls or diamonds, but even inexpensive jewelry can make a difference. A lovely evening wrap is another affordable way to add a degree of formality to a basic dress. If you wear makeup, consider reapplying it anew. If you have long hair and normally wear it down, spend a few minutes with the curling iron and put it up for a more formal look.

All of the above is advisable to all event participants, regardless of whether they are going to get some stage time or not. And for the n-th time, folks, NO JEANS! Denim is a wonderful and versatile invention, but it does not belong at a black tie event. ...Nor do sweaters, nor do boots (even dress boots), nor do t-shirts...

In the recent years, cocktail dresses became more commonplace at black tie events, but if you really want to pull all the stops, ladies, consider something full length. A couple tips if the budget is limited: 1)Satin is more versatile than velvet, taffeta and chiffon, because it can be worn in any season. 2) Consider a sleeveless or short-sleeve dress that comes with a matching jacket - that way, it can be easily adapted for summer or winter. 3) Princess shape (nipped-in waist, wider skirt) flatters most figures. 4) Black does not flatter everyone, but other dark colors can be just as slimming. A word on the style of the dress. I know it is hard to find something that is not strapless. However, if you have never worn strapless before or have worn it and spent the entire time "tugging", do your darndest to find something with wide straps or sleeves. When trying the dress on, consider factors beyond the appearance or the latest trend: does it suit you, are you comfortable, does it make you smile when you look in the mirror, will you be able to spend several hours in it and not go nuts, because something is pinching or squeezing.

Gentlemen, of course a tuxedo is the epitome of black tie attire. If you can - invest into one. If not - a tuxedo shirt and bow tie cost less than the entire outfit but can be worn with a dark suit. When shopping for a shirt, find out at the store if you can try it on - even though men's clothes are sized in inches, for some reason the collar fit still varies between brands. For example, a 16" collar by Van Heusen is not the same as the 16" collar by Geoffrey Beene. Those stores that won't let you unpack and try a shirt on, sometimes have one just like it on a hanger or have collar strips (the ones that keep the collar in shape while the shirt is packed) from different brands. If you tell them you are not certain about your neck size and sleeve length, they'll measure you and help you find the right size. If you are not big on ties and your significant other cannot advise you, find a friend or a co-worker who can help you out in that area - both with picking the right tie and with tying it.

If you have an event coming up and you know you'll be on stage, if at all humanly possible, ladies and gentlemen, consider investing in some formal wear. As a presenter or an award recipient, you will be an embodiment of success to people in the audience, so you have to be dressed accordingly. Consider, how much you would buy into a message of success and prosperity, if it were communicated by someone in a rumpled suit or in a white shirt/black pants combination obviously worn to the office on a daily basis. You have earned stage time - so show your audience that the privilege was not lost on you!

Below is a list of sources to scour before your next black tie event. I challenge you to be classy!

Gentlemen - shirts and ties

Little guilt:

- Ross
- TJ Maxx
- Marshall's

Moderate guilt:

- JC Penney
- Dillards
- Bedazzled Bridal (reasonably good men's formal selection)

Guilt for days:

- Paul Fredrick
- Charles Tyrwhitt

Gentlemen - suits

Little guilt:

- Local Outlets: Haggar and Geoffrey Beene stores
- Overstock
- Kohl's
- Belk

Moderate guilt:

- Dillards
- Bedazzled Bridal (very good men's formal selection)

Guilt for days:

- Men's Wearhouse
- Paul Fredrick
- Charles Tyrwhitt

Ladies - formal wear

Little guilt:

- Newport News
- Target

Moderate guilt:

- Chadwick's of Boston
- Spiegel
- Coldwater Creek
- Red House Vintage

Guilt for days:

- eDressme
- Nordstrom
- Victorian Trading

Ladies - jewelry

Little guilt:

- Chilean Dreamer
- Target

Moderate guilt:

- Victorian Trading
- Old Durham Road

Guilt for days:

- Beautiful Silver Jewelry
- Metropolitan Museum of Arts store

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