Sartorial advice
February 13, 2018 7:17 AM   Subscribe

I need help dressing for an event at a fancy New York restaurant.

In March, I'll be going to a private dining event at this place: The Grill.

Currently, the "nicest" clothes I own are a couple of business casual tops from the Ann Taylor in the local mall (in Augusta, GA) and some business casual pants from Old Navy. All my dresses are suitable only for schlepping about small southern towns in the height of summer.

With a budget of about $150, what (if anything!) could I wear to this place so that I don't feel self-conscious and look somewhat like I belong?

I am a late-30s, somewhat thin woman.

Thank you!
posted by frobozz to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
According to their web site, their dress code is "Business Casual". I think one of the tops you already own, with some nice black pants and maybe a dressy-ish cardigan, would be perfect.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 AM on February 13


This is basically what the Little Black Dress was made for (all examples Ann Taylor since that is something available to you). Look for an LBD with some structure, nothing flowy or cotton-y. Wear it with a slim structured shoe, ideally something with a heel. Punch it up with simple accessories, depending on neckline. Don't go overboard with accessories. If you want to wear bold earrings, keep the necklace simple or nonexistent. If you want a bold necklace, keep the earrings simple. Don't take a sloppy slouchy bag or tote, take a nice sleek leather cross-body or clutch.

Agreed that business casual is fine so long as things fit right. Lipstick and mascara go a long way too.
posted by greta simone at 7:34 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]


I would get this dress in black and some kind of fun red shoe like this and then some red costume jewelry to coordinate with the shoes at someplace like Target or Charming Charlie. Those Lands End dresses are affordable but look nice and are very comfortable and versatile.

That said - I go to these things all the time and I doubt anyone would look at you sideways if you wore your Loft top and Old Navy pants, especially if you have a blazer and nice shoes.
posted by something something at 7:36 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I second a dress. Go into a nice department store and start trying on.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:57 AM on February 13


I am a badly dressed New Yorker who goes to nice restaurants sometimes, and really don't worry about it. That is, wear something that you think looks good on you, that doesn't have obvious markers of being super casual (by which I don't mean anything fussier than not-sneakers, not-cargo-pants). Nothing you wear is going to make you look super-expensive-fashionable if you don't already have the budget and skills for it, but that's not a standard you have to meet -- ordinary nice-ish gets by just fine, and will match a solid plurality of the people even in a very nice restaurant.

Tl-dr: Buy something you think is pretty if you want, but like something something said, your Loft top and Old Navy pants would get you by just fine.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:57 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


I think accessorizing what you have is the way to go. A scarf or long necklace with a nice blazer or cardigan and decent shoes will go a long way.
posted by TORunner at 7:57 AM on February 13


More New York-splaining, which might make this feel easier -- a nice New York restaurant might be easier, rather than harder, to fit in at than you'd be expecting someplace else? It's a fashiony city, but a lot of what that means isn't that people are wearing the right fashionable thing for the time and the occasion, there's much more of "I'm wearing exactly what I want because that's what I do and fuck you is why." So if you walk in anyplace in an outfit that makes you happy, no one else is going to notice it as wrong.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:02 AM on February 13 [12 favorites]


To make a broad generalization, default dress in NYC can tend to be less casual than it is elsewhere in the United States. Especially in Manhattan. Especially in an upscale, very expensive steakhouse. "Business casual" doesn't tend to mean a polo shirt and Dockers, for example. The dress code may not require a jacket, but I bet most of the men will be in business suits, or at the very least in quality blazers and slacks. Something like the LBDs greta simone suggests, or the sartorial equivalent, would be just fine, are likely to come in handy on future occasions, and are available at a wide variety of price points including those that are well within your budget. Add a nice pair of shoes you already own and a few of your favorite accessories and you'll look great and fit in with confidence.
posted by slkinsey at 8:08 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


One thing - March can be a tricky time for weather in NYC. As in, we might be experiencing a burst of spring weather where locals abandon their winter outerwear, or we might have another polar vortex blow in with a late snowstorm. Whatever you decide on (and I agree with everyone that as long as you stay away from scruffed up sneakers & jeans you’re fine), having more than one option and layering are key.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:14 AM on February 13


If you really want to have some fun and play dress up, Rent the Runway often has really affordable, designer dresses for in between $50-$75. I have used them for weddings and other occasions where the LBD didn't quite fit the bill. I believe each order comes with a free back-up size, and if you are a first time customer, they often have pretty decent coupon codes online for $25 off/etc.
posted by something_witty at 8:20 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I always liked the advice: "when going to hang out with your most fashionable friends, don't wear your most fashionable outfit - wear black."

A new black dress that fits well with a necklace or pair of simple earrings will never fail you. It's all about making sure it fits well that's the key!

And while buying a new piece of clothing may not be 100% necessary, buying something new to wear when I have had a work event or big meeting I was nervous about always helped me. When I feel good, I'm more confident.

If your budget allows a blowout at dry bar , highly recommend!
posted by kmr at 8:22 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Snoop....

The Grill on Instagram.

Apparently women taking bathroom selfies is a thing. Lucky for you!
posted by slipthought at 8:33 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


The idea of spending $150 just to fit in at The Grill appalls me. This is not a place to be intimidated by. You don't mention the type of event; I think that would affect what you need to wear considerably more than the location. (I mean, holding it at The Grill means it's not going to be super-casual, but that's just a floor.) But Old Navy pants may be pushing it. Get a simple dress from Ann Taylor and wear a cardigan or preferably jacket over it, and you should be covered unless the invitation says black-tie. Bonus: the dress will come in handy at other times.
posted by praemunire at 8:34 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


March is, in fact, an unpredictable time of year for weather in New York. It could literally be snowing here then. And yet, this week we have at least one day where the forecast is above 50 degrees. So for dinner, I suggest something long. Nice black pants, a sweater that looks good with or without layers under it.

Figure out what your ‘look’ is, and then go a step nicer within that. So if your generally into bright colors, maybe pick a bright color in a nicer fabric like wool or silk (sure, i was at a dinner party with 15 people and to a one we were all wearing black or grey or cream, but we’re not actually allergic to color). Or if you’re into prints, choose something subtle rather than bright. If you like drapes cozy things, go with a snuggly sweater.

I have actually been to this restaurant on a date. The chains are stunning. I probably wore black cigarette pants or a pencil skirt. I definitely wore black pumps. I don’t remember much about the guy except he was coming from work and wearing a suit (why am I not keeping a diary of all this! my internal narrator is hollering), and less of what I wore. We had fantastic steaks, champagne, red wine, ostentatious appetizers, and I did feel a bit like I did not belong in that space. I’d bet a pile of cash that there were some folks in jeans and blazers (there are always some in NYC restaurants, but it’s hard to pull off unless you really don’t care), several women in black dresses that were varying degrees of comfortable, and lots of men in suits.

Anyway, if you’re a size 2/4, you’d be welcome to borrow clothes to try for this if what you end up buying turns out not to work with the weather. For colors I mostly have teal and pink shirts, and for patterns I go with black and white tops. I’ve also got a couple of dresses that would be great, and a pile of pencil skirts and wool slacks. I’d advise you to start with whatever shoes you already have and build your outfit(s) from their. Pants that look ok with snow boots might be your best place to start. If you’re a size 9 shoe I have a spare pair of snow boots, you’re welcome to borrow them if the weather requires it. Nothing looks great with snowboots, but when it’s dismal out, there’s a lot of leeway.
posted by bilabial at 8:47 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


I would check out Rent The Runway's selection and budget $50 on a fun dress.
posted by like_neon at 9:00 AM on February 13


Really - its not that fancy a place.
posted by JPD at 9:17 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


New Yorker chiming in to concur with the New Yorkers saying not to worry too much about it. I haven't been here yet but I am always happy to see a restaurant comment from JPD because he knows what he's talking about, so if he says it's really not that fancy then it's not.

Get a dress if it's something that will get some wear beyond this event. Dresses are my general default but I would not feel at all uncomfortable showing up here in a dark-wash skinny jean with a heel or flat. I generally won't wear jeans to a place where jackets are required but that's not the case here.

I'd be interested in what level of dress code the other attendees are adhering too because that's way more likely to make you uncomfortable than the actual crowd at this place.
posted by lalex at 9:44 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Dresses are my general default but I would not feel at all uncomfortable showing up here in a dark-wash skinny jean with a heel or flat. I generally won't wear jeans to a place where jackets are required but that's not the case here.

W/o asking my wife, I would say this place is somewhere between "fancy jeans, fancy heels, fancy top" and "dress" - like its not intentionally fancy, but its stylish in a 1% kinda way. I.e. - casual, but expensively casual, and not in a "tech bro" kinda way - more hedge fund manager. Maybe an odd jacket for men, maybe an expensive sweater, but almost certainly no tie. But if you are coming from the office in a jacket and tie, you'll blend right in. IDK if that helps at all. For me, I instantly grok what the dress code is, but its hard to describe.

All of the major food group places are basically riffs on some kind of nostalgia - this one is "midtown power dining" - not "temple of gastronomy."

I'm actually looking at the restaurant right now.

And praemunire hits the nail on the head - you should never be intimidated by a restaurant. But especially these guys.
posted by JPD at 9:55 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


No advice, but I'm in Augusta, too. *waves hello* Feel free to me-mail if you need a shopping buddy. I think you've gotten some great advice here already, though.
posted by jhope71 at 9:59 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


For me, I instantly grok what the dress code is, but its hard to describe.

Wow, is this ever true.

I think my practical advice here will change to get a dress you will get some wear out of, a dress in a stylish print or stylish solid color, but if that's too much to navigate there is a very good reason that little black dresses occupy such a versatile place in wardrobes.
posted by lalex at 10:05 AM on February 13


I get the feeling you'd enjoy having a reason to get something very snazzy. A pair of pants that fit very well, pretty shoes, a beautiful top. Maybe a brightly-colored pair of jeans, black top, necklace. I would worry far less about New Yorkers and take the opportunity to put together an outfit you love that you will wear again for an evening out at home. When I visit NYC, or when NYCers visit me, the most important thing they wear is confidence. Ratty faded jeans, bright emerald sleeveless velvet top, metallic threaded paisley shawl, gladiator sandals, and a big metallic gold bag and "feeling unstoppable" was how a friend put it. If you don't feel confident, a black dress, pretty necklace, pashmina, and nice shoes will take you anywhere.
posted by theora55 at 10:58 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


W/o asking my wife, I would say this place is somewhere between "fancy jeans, fancy heels, fancy top" and "dress" - like its not intentionally fancy, but its stylish in a 1% kinda way. I.e. - casual, but expensively casual, and not in a "tech bro" kinda way - more hedge fund manager. Maybe an odd jacket for men, maybe an expensive sweater, but almost certainly no tie. But if you are coming from the office in a jacket and tie, you'll blend right in. IDK if that helps at all. For me, I instantly grok what the dress code is, but its hard to describe.

Yeah, this pretty much nails it. I will only add that what the typical NYCer thinks of as "casual" (e.g. for a man, jeans that fit and are in good shape, good shoes, button-down shirt and a blazer) might seem fairly "dressed up" in other parts of the country. It can sometimes be challenging to do the "expensive fancy hedge fund casual" thing if that's not already your wheelhouse, which is why I'd suggest some kind of versatile dress that could be useful later on.
posted by slkinsey at 11:59 AM on February 13


The Grill is such a fun experience. When I went I wore a short sleeve black fit-and-flare knee-length dress, a statement necklace (floral rhinestones), bare legs and nude heels.

People were dressed nicely, lots of business attire (jackets for men, silk tops and dress pants for women). There were also some more casually dressed people in t-shirts. There were some jeans but I would have felt extremely underdressed if I wore them.

It's as dressy as you want it to be. When I went to the adjoining restaurant, The Pool, there was a young lady in black cutoff jean shorts, black tights, and heeled black boots. Anything goes really.

The service is friendly and no one should be intimidating or make you feel uncomfortable. I tend towards black because it is harder to tell if something is on the cheaper end, and add a fun necklace and a bold lip.

Definitely go to the first floor ladies lounge - it has amazing lighting, flowers and is great for selfies :)

Enjoy!
posted by elvissa at 8:27 AM on February 14


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