DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I would like to hold a formal ball, with no particular occasion attached. How should the invitation be worded? (It will, of course, be engraved -- or thermographed, but Miss Manners must not look too closely.)
If the ladies are to wear ballgowns, must the gentlemen wear black tie? None of the guests likely own a tuxedo, and renting one is a financial burden we would like to avoid putting on them. Finally, we are providing on-site childcare, but I presume that that should not go on a formal invitation, so how do we tell them?
GENTLE READER: A formal invitation (and when it comes to engraving, Miss Manners always looks closely -- she just never speaks of what she finds) should be worded thus:
Mr. and Mrs. LoveToEntertain
Request the Honor of your Company
The bottom left corner of the invitation should state “RSVP” or “The favor of a reply is requested,” with “Black tie” on the right.
As unfair as it may be, “Black tie” (if not the more rare “White tie” with ball dresses) is the proper term for what you describe, both for male and female. However, this one-sidedness does not seem to be confined to the term. Why, in your scenario, is only the male financial burden being considered? Are the female guests (presumably some of them related to the male ones, and in the same financial situation) more likely to have ballgowns lying around?
For the sake of gender equality (and proper etiquette), you must make a decision. Either formal attire for all, or instead, make it a cocktail party where men wear suits and ladies wear knee-length dresses. In that case, “Business attire” would be the proper wording. (“Cocktail attire” is a made-up term.)
As for the childcare, a slip of paper with the information can be tucked into the invitation for guests who have children -- or any who are planning on acting like them.