NEW YORK -- The invitation to a summer party likely includes the time, place and date, but you might have to look between the lines to get a read on the dress code.
What you wear often depends on where you are -- and the wardrobe of your friends and neighbors. Jeans probably work for a Fourth of July community picnic in Maine, but you might see a crystal-covered kaftan among the outfits at fireworks in Miami.
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You should take cues from the invitation itself (embossed paper invitation versus animated email?), the occasion and the usual style of the host. Don't be afraid to ask, either.
The Associated Press asked designers from three labels what to wear to parties in their summertime playgrounds. Here's what Tommy Hilfiger had to say about what to wear in Nantucket, Mass., Monique Lhuillier on Malibu, Calif., and Mark Badgley and James Mischka, of Badgley Mischka, on Lexington, Ky.
Badgley Mischka on Lexington:
The ladies of Lexington have a busy calendar and they like to dress up for each and every event, according to Mark Badgley and James Mischka, who make their second home there in the summer.
"They like pretty, not edgy," says Badgley. "They like to feel like they look good."
A pool party would be a great time to take out a long, strapless patio dress, perhaps with just a little beading, which will add glamour to the look without pulling out extra costume jewelry. A lot of bling doesn't go over with this crowd for daytime or family events, Badgley observes. Pearls, however, are a must-have, as are a few fine pieces of jewelry.
Other unwritten rules for parties include no jeans when you are a guest to someone's home. Don't wear all black, either. "All black doesn't migrate to Lexington. It's so New York," he says.
But the women there love a good hat, Mischka says.
The Kentucky Derby in May kicks off the social summer season and that's when the most ornate hats come out, but it would be common to wear a floppy straw hat to outdoor, day-lit parties.
Because it's hot in Kentucky, people gravitate toward light fabrics and breezy shapes, not a suit -- for men or women, says Mischka, but even if it's a barbecue with lots of red sauce and the other fixings, the guests will have a respectful, genteel look.
(He works hard to keep that white shirt -- tucked into his khakis, under his navy blazer -- clean.)
The biggest variable is the location of the party. Is it at the hunt club, country club or on the large verandah of a stately home? For someone's home, you'll find some shorter dresses with women showing off tan legs, says Badgley,
The bohemian maxi dresses and skirts that are part of this year's 1970s fashion revival have landed in Lexington, but that's because they're feminine and come in lovely, lively prints, not because they were on the runways, he explains. Buying a dress like that means keeping it for years -- like all investment pieces.
"Trends? Not there. They're almost trend-free," says Mischka. "They have a look all their own."
Tommy Hilfiger on Nantucket
Preppy is as preppy does, and in New England summer hotspots like Nantucket, Newport, R.I., and Greenwich, Conn., people spend their days golfing, sailing, playing tennis and rugby, maybe even cricket and badminton. Their social engagements and subsequent party attire reflect that, says Hilfiger.
"It's a lifestyle and a type of look that never goes out of style. It always was preppy -- and it always will be," he says.
He allows, though, that the style has become a little more relaxed -- "nothing starched," he says.
Standard dress for men for a late afternoon gathering would be a navy blazer, pants in that soft, faded hue known as Nantucket red, a button-down shirt -- probably pink, yellow or light blue -- and boat shoes or loafers. A woman might choose a shift dress, likely a bright color, or a short skirt worn with a pink or green cable-knit sweater tied around the shoulders.
Bermuda shorts, for men and women, would be OK for a daytime beach barbecue or clam bake.
Seersucker, madras plaids and ribbon belts are all part of this landscape, too, Hilfiger says. The nautical look is a big influence here, and you'll see lots of stripes and white pants.
"It's all about traditional fabrics, but the look is modern. Maybe the skirts are shorter than they used to be, pants are tighter. By this time, there are no rules. You can wear pink with red, or stripes with plaid. It's cool to be quirky within the range of what's expected."
The preppy look has been adopted elsewhere, says Hilfiger, even Japan, where's it's all done in the very brightest colors, or in Paris, which has adopted a polished version. But, he says, the roots are wind-blown, sun-bleached beaches of the Atlantic coast.
Monique Lhuillier on Malibu
When Los Angeles is your hometown, weather isn't as big a factor in fashion choices as it would be if you lived in, say, New York, Lhuillier says. The way to differentiate a more summery look is to wear some white, invest in metallic flat sandals and have a sun-kissed look to your skin.
The overall local style is casual and heavily influenced by the beach, she says, but it's definitely not messy or rumpled.
"The same pieces could be worn to a luncheon, or an early evening cocktail, or a barbecue. It's all about how you accessorize," Lhuillier says. "For the parties I go to, I'd pick a matte jersey dress -- something short. I will wear gold flat sandals with it -- pretty flats. Maybe the dress would be in white."
Pre-sunset, Lhuillier would wear her hair pulled back and stud earrings. If the party were later in the evening, the same dress would work, she'd just switch to heels and add chandelier earrings.
Many of her friends, acquaintances and clients have two homes: one closer to the city and one near the beach. They are looking for clothes, even party clothes, that are easy to pack, Lhuillier says. They're also not looking for anything too tight or fitted, she adds.
She sees a lot of airy, draped silhouettes, especially in a light chiffon, which feels good against the skin when it's warm and sunny. She likes to see it in an animal print.
Pants, paired with a soft, feminine top are an option for a dinner party, Lhuillier says, but an above-the-knee dress might be the safest choice.
And you need to have that West Coast relaxed vibe with you, too. "I think you don't want to be too buttoned up or like you came from the runway, and you don't want it to look like it took 2 1/2 hours to get ready for the party, even if it did. ... You want to look like you just threw it on."