It's happened to all of us. A pretty invitation arrives in the mail requesting our presence at a sure-to-be-fun event. We should be delighted, but all too soon the dreaded question enters our minds: What will I wear? As well meaning as invitees usually are, sometimes their dress code guidance leaves something to be desired. (Patio chic, anyone?) Here we decipher some of the most baffling hostess directives. (Yes, even patio chic.)

Black Tie Optional

What to Wear: Let it be known, black tie is only optional for men. Anytime the words "black tie", appear on an invite, women should enlist a floor-length gown in a dark hue. We've found that emerald green proves versatile year-round. Top off the look by accessorizing simply with a small clutch, strappy heels, and drop diamond earrings.

Cocktail Attire (Also Applies to: Festive Attire)

What to Wear: Try a flirty above-the-knee number with on-trend details (this season that means lace or pleating). Since "cocktail attire" can also mean "you'll be standing for a while," opt for managaeable kitten heels. There's also no better time for a flashy cocktail ring.

Business Casual (Also Applies to: Dressy Casual, Ater-Five, Informal)

What to Wear: Look professional but not too corporate in a knee-length wrap dress. If you want to look extra polished, throw a drapey blazer over top. As for accessories, carry a structured tote (just big enough for your laptop) and sport demure peep-toes plus a watch for a "would-ya-look-at-the-time" exit strategy from a blah work event.

Garden Party (Also Applies To: Patio Chic, Resort/River Attire)

What To Wear: Appear ladylike without sweltering in an outdoor setting with an A-line, tea-length dress in a lightweight pastel or floral cotton. Learn from our mistakes and wear wedges to avoid sinking into the grass. Then finish with demure pearls or gold studs. And remember, Memorial Day to Labor Day seersucker is fitting attire for any outdoor Southern gathering.

Nothing. Nada. (Also Applies To: Come as You Are, Smart Casual)

What To Wear: Try a little black dress in ponté, a flattering structured but not stiff material. Then dress the look up or down with a few key accessories, such as leopard print pumps or a turquoise statement necklace. (Full disclosure: We've been known to do this last-minute styling in the car after assessing other guests' attire.)