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Dear Mr. Smith: An invitation to a New Year's Eve party reads "Dress: elegant." What do I wear?

Well, for a start, you know it's not black tie. (Too bad: If we don't have an excuse to wear our dinner jackets on New Year's Eve, when may we?) But it does mean dress up, so it's the next step down: suit and tie. It means the ladies can wear sexy backless or shoulderless cocktail dresses (not long gowns) and the guys should at least not wear hoodies and running shoes.

If you are confident about your taste and fashionability, you may experiment with a mod suit and no tie - say a black suit with black slip-on boots and a plain white shirt with cufflinks (or try a colourful neckerchief instead of a tie).

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But if you are the kind of guy who is made nervous by injunctions to get creative - and let's admit, most of us are - you will always look elegant in a dark suit and tie. That's the safest. As for colour, I am normally not in favour of black suits for business wear, because they can look cheap, but this is one evening - a fancy party that's verging on formal - on which a black suit is appropriate.

One thing that you should avoid wearing at all costs is your new Christmas sweater. Keep your sweaters for your own fireside.

Ask Mr. Smith a question, or view the complete archive, at Russell Smith's online advisory service, XYCanada.com .

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