Impromptu state dinner invitation? Here's what to wear.

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 11:00 PM

Imagine, for a moment, that your BlackBerry buzzes. The subject line of a new e-mail reads "state dinner." A friend has a connection at the White House, and he wants you to join him at Wednesday's soiree for China and President Hu Jintao.

What do you do?

You say yes.

What do you wear?

That's another story. We asked a hodgepodge of Washingtonians how they'd dress themselves at the last minute for the opulent affair.

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THE NEW FORMAL: A T-shirt and long skirt, presented by designer Jil Sander designer Raf Simons in the spring/summer ready-to-wear collection for 2011. (Jil Sander)

Owner of Georgetown clothier Relish

"I think I would wear something from Italy, just to make a statement. I appreciate the fact that Italian clothing has more of an artisan, sartorial approach as opposed to the fast fashion being produced out of China now. I would probably wear a Jil Sander. For this particular spring season she did some beautiful long skirts that were in very bright colorations. I'd add some kind of very casual T-shirt kind of top, or a short blazer."

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RED CARPET CHIC: For Gray, a tux by Tom Ford, above at the 82nd Academy Awards, would be the ticket. (Greg Powers)

Managing partner for H Street NE bistro Smith Commons

"A Tom Ford tuxedo, because I like his work at Gucci as creative director. A simple white shirt, probably from Hugh & Crye. Otherwise I definitely like to be creative and forward-thinking, simple palette like black with bursts of color - through a pocket square or the socks. When you see somebody's socks, it tells you a lot about them. I'd wear something fun. I actually have a pair of red and white Dr. Seuss-type socks. Give them a burst of red to say, 'Hey China, thanks for carrying our debt.'"

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ELEGANT CHOICE: A Haider Ackermann gown. (Karl Prouse/Catwalking/Getty)

Senior writer at Keybridge Communications and former writer for Elle magazine

"At an event like this, it's important to remember it's not a party; it's a formal diplomatic event with party aspects. I would pick something that projected a powerful but understated image. There are a couple designers who immediately come to mind: Haider Ackermann is one I really love. His last collection was exactly that - elegant and statuesque and formal but also very modern and elegant. Lanvin is another one. . . . Everything in my closet is black. I like to get the drama from the texture and cut and silhouette and makeup."

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Derek McGinty.

Weekday anchor for WUSA9

"I'm kind of a stickler for protocol for this sort of thing. If it's formal, that means white tie. Old school. Otherwise I own a couple tuxedos, so I'd go with a two-button one. . . . I like the idea of doing a personal flourish and trying to figure out what you can get away with, but maybe you don't want to go to the White House with a flourish. Then the question is: Straight tie or bow tie? I'd love to call and see what the president is doing. If the president is going bow tie, I might go bow tie."

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WASHINGTON INSIDER: De Paris, dresser of U.S. presidents, would wear a black suit if a tuxedo didn't materialize. (AFP/Getty)

Tailor to every president since Lyndon B. Johnson

"I'd wear my black suit. Two buttons. Black suit, nice gray tie. You could also wear a blue tie, or yellow. Those three ties would go very nice. At the last minute, if you can't prepare a tuxedo, you wear a black suit. It's very classy, very classic. The president is going to wear one of my suits - a black suit, two buttons, see? - at the State of the Union."

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SINO-STYLE: Vora's theme. (Kyle Gustafson)

Founder and chief executive of shirtmaker Hugh & Crye

"I'd wear a Mandarin collar shirt, with cuffs that have silk frog buttons, under a black two-button suit with narrow lapels. We have just the shirt, a sample that we're working on to introduce later this year. . . . It was designed for a restaurant here that serves pan-Asian food, so it's kind of got a mix between Silk Road-inspired detail - like the Chinese frog buttons on the cuffs and the mandarin collar - and some components that are a little more Western, like a box placket, a single yoke and darts in the back."

Chan Heng Chee

Singapore's ambassador to the United States

I have not been invited because I'm from Singapore, but if I were, it's very easy. I have a standard national costume: the qipao, which is a long Chinese dress. I have a few of them in my wardrobe. It's always good for a formal occasion. Mine are made of silk, but some are French lace.

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A MUST: The One City pin.

Lawyer and partner at BuckleySandler (and daughter of Mayor Vincent C. Gray)

"I'm sure I would wear a floor-length dress, black or burgundy, very simple, very elegant [perhaps from Tadashi or Badgley Mischka]. I would pair that with more eclectic, funky shoes, something with a little bit of punch and color - Stuart Weitzman is a favorite of mine. I probably would wear a "One City" pin - my father ran on a platform of bridging gaps, and that impacts more than the nation's capital."

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