What to wear!?
September 3, 2011 2:13 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are going to Key West at the end of the month to watch a commissioning ceremony for a new Navy ship. It's outdoors at sunset, the invitation says "Business Dress".

I wear scrubs five days a week, and shorts and t-s the other days. I'm pretty much fashion backwards, although I do a good job dressing my husband.
This is a fashion situation I've never been in, never been to an outdoor wedding or any fancy garden party.
I'm a mid-forties female, 5'1" size 12. Any idea what is appropriate for the ceremony?
posted by Jazz Hands to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total)
Slacks and a jacket or skirt and top would be fine. Here are some examples; this is a pretty wide remit!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:49 AM on September 3, 2011

Outdoors, sunset, Florida? I'd say a knee-length shift dress with a light, tailored jacket you can slip on or off depending on how warm things are. Dress it up with accessories (don't go overboard on it, though). I also wouldn't go too vivid with the colors you're wearing and generally avoid prints. Business formal is basically avoiding calling too much attention to yourself, aside from looking tailored and polished.
posted by asciident at 3:29 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing this is likely to be a one-off, so you don't want to drop a bundle of money on something you're unlikely to wear on a regular basis.

I'm similar height/size to you, and I rarely wear dresses or skirts. If it were me, I'd be wearing:

- well-fitting dressy black pants

- black shoes, smart but comfortable, maybe something like this, unless you're happy in heels. Dressy sandals are fine, but get a pedicure.

- a smart top, maybe something like this, or this, or this. I'm a big fan of Liz Claiborne, and have smart business tops I bought ten years ago that I still wear for work today - they wash beautifully and the petite sizing is perfectly proportioned.

Discreet but classy jewellery - pearl or diamond stud earrings (faux is fine), a dress watch, a simple necklace (maybe a pearl or a solitaire diamond on a gold chain).

A smart black shoulder bag (or to match your shoes if they're not black) to finish off the outfit. All the accessories can be picked up relatively cheaply - check out Claire's for jewellery, and the department and chain stores for a handbag.

I'd also recommend getting your hair blown out on the day. I can never get mine to look as good as it does straight from the salon, and for an occasion, you'll feel great if your hair is all smooth and bouncy.
posted by essexjan at 3:58 AM on September 3, 2011

I will also warn you that end of September in Key West can be real wet, hot, stormy and pretty buggy too. (Um, the last of which is very, very mildly and slightly a concern, NOT TO FREAK YOU OUT, since the recent re-arrival of dengue fever. Fortunately, you are an intelligent medical professional, so you will not be unduly freaked out about this!)

You (unlike your husband) can get away with a fairly wide-range of clothing, I feel like; a lot of women (particularly because it's Key West) will be wearing the evening and more-businessy version of "fancy garden party," which means you can get away with a nice dress and nice shoes—even if you're not a dress person, it's something to consider, as this makes things a little easier on you if you're going to have to go out and buy something. I would say this sort of thing might err a little on the side of too casual but this or even this or this (ooh!) would pass muster. (No pun intended. Also I would imagine there may be a lot of folks there in military dress, which sort of inflects the evening's attire.)

Seconding the finding a salon to get blown out that day. There's a ton of hair places in Key West (try on Simonton probably), though they will likely not be so close to where you're staying or to where the commissioning is taking place.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:15 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Business dress means a white shirt or blouse, skirt or pants in a neutral colour, and low-heeled leather shoes in a dark neutral colour with a closed toe. Little or no jewelry.

I recommend pants instead of a skirt because with pants you can avoid the issue of hosiery.

It will be hot, so the fabric composition should be at least partially natural. When choosing a blouse, hold up the fabric close to your face to see what shade of white suits you best (I don't get along well with brilliant white, but light cream is great on me). The sleeves of the blouse should be full-length.

As to the shape of the blouse and pants, that depends on the particulars of your figure. The reason why I recommend against skirts is that they chop your leg length horizontally unless you pick exactly the right hem level, and as you are 5ft1in you don't want to accidentally make yourself look shorter than you are. If you wanted to really elongate yourself you could choose pants in the same colour as the blouse, but there are risks to wearing white pants, in that if it rains, you will get muddy splashes on the pants when you walk; and oftentimes street mud contains stuff like motor oil that permanently stains. So, probably not white pants.
posted by tel3path at 6:49 AM on September 3, 2011

No one expects you to look like the Secy of State. Of course you can wear jewelry! And of course you don't have to wear a white blouse!

Wear something you're comfortable in--pants or skirt and an appropriate top. Don't wear flip-flops but nice sandals will be fine.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:33 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's photos from a similar ceremony in Hawaii in 2009. If you're on deck, you're going to want flat shoes.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:36 AM on September 3, 2011

Neutral-colored sleeveless shift, cardigan or light blazer to cover your arms. Espadrilles or nice sandals that do not have pointy heels.

And while you're there, you must eat at Seven Fish. Have fun!
posted by cyndigo at 10:50 AM on September 3, 2011

I've been a few ceremonies like this, mostly change of commands which are not quite a big, but same idea. First, I've never been to Key West, but the ones further north can be chilly on the waterfront, so pack a sweater (I am a BIG fan of J Crew's jackie cardigan, but Target sells very similar cardigans). Next, Ann Taylor or Ann Taylor Loft dress or shirt and top. Make sure the skirt is more of an a-line or pencil, waterfronts can be windy and blow up full skirts.

If there's any chance you will be touring the ship, wear shoes that stay on your feet and have a low heel - the things they call "stairs" inside more commonly resemble what I'd call "a ladder". ;)
posted by lyra4 at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2011

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