Another emergency mail: The five year grad school reunion!

What to Wear to Your 5-Year Reunion | CorporetteWhat should you wear to your five-year grad school reunion? Here’s an emergency email from Reader L, who wonders:

I am going to my 5-year law school reunion this weekend (dinner, dancing, etc). First, what should my fella wear–he has a tux, but I think that it’s too much, generally for functions he rocks a professor vibe (corduroy sportcoat and coordinating trousers)–is this appropriate, or should we go out and get him a new suit? Second, in real life I refer to him as my partner when I introduce him, as in “This is my partner, Henry.” Should I just say something like “This is Henry.” when introducing him? I admit that as a 30-something woman who has been in committed relationship for over a decade, the word boyfriend literally gives me hives, but I worry that partner might be a bit risque for this crowd, as it will include all of the reunion classes. The issue is that people just assume that we are married when we are out, and for those that we will never meet again, that assumption is fine, but the legal community is small enough here that I will see a lot of these people again, do I just explain later when people ask about my charming husband–any advice would be appreciated!

Wow. Ok. Lots of questions. First: Are you the kind of person who can get away with saying “This is my fella, Henry.”? If not, just stick with “This is Henry” and bypass the question altogether. Or perhaps: “Do you remember Henry?” if it’s someone who might remember Henry from back in the day.  Depending how strongly you agree with Meg Ryan’s character’s rant in “You’ve Got Mail” about how people should have last names, you may want to include that:  “This is Henry Smith.”  (Why yes, we are huge dorks.  Thanks for asking!)  People will assume that you’re in a committed-enough relationship to bring him to an event, but will know that whatever that relationship is, it’s modern enough that you and he still have different last names.  (On the “partner” point — we don’t see anything risque about it.  But, given that it’s a crowd of lawyers, people might not read a romantic relationship and instead think you’ve brought a colleague from the firm.  So we’d avoid.)

As for the clothes… we’re very curious here what the readers think. We had so much fun at our 10-year high school reunion and our 5-year college reunion that we’ve avoided every reunion since.  (For those, jeans and a blazer was more than appropriate.)  Is this an event for which you’ve paid money — bought a plate, or a table?  Is it being held at a fancy venue?  Will you be wearing a plastic/adhesive name tag?  There are a lot of factors here, and our advice is similar to our advice on Tuesday:  call the venue and ask them what people should wear, and then also check with other friends who are attending.

Some rules of thumb that come to mind:

– If you’re being forced to wear a name badge, no one should be in tuxedos or a long dress.  A suit is more than appropriate for “Henry.”   (Given the crowd — lawyers — we would advise him to blend in with whatever he thinks the other men will be wearing, and that will probably be suits.)

– If the evening promises dancing, it’s probably expected that women should not wear suits.  Some women will buck this trend and wear them anyway, we’re guessing, and that’s fine.  Whatever outfit you choose, remember that this is a networking event, and dress appropriately.  For our $.02, we would probably shoot for the realm of wedding guest attire — sequins aren’t necessarily a good thing, and short dresses are acceptable.

Readers, what are your thoughts?

Vaguely related:


  1. I agree on the clothing recommendation but you can’t introduce your date as “my fella” if you are planning/hoping/trying to make a positive professional impression. My first recommendation would be to go with “partner” because that’s what you’re comfortable with and that’s what you usually do. I really don’t think it would be THAT troubling to conservative older alums. If you are behaving like more of a relationship couple than a business partnership, people will probably equate “partner” with “boyfriend” anyway.

    My second thought would be to introduce him as a “boyfriend” – sure, maybe you’re more serious than that, but that’s a pretty clear “together-but-not-married” word and you really only need the professional community to have a basic grasp on the bold outlines of your relationship status – for that purpose, “boyfriend” and “partner” are probably close enough.

    My third thought would be to just introduce him with his name and let people assume what they may. If somebody cares enough to follow up with a “is Henry your husband” you can say, “no, but we’ve been together for 15 years.”

    Relationships these days come in all shapes and sizes… Really, there will probably be enough people and goings-on there that nobody will pay enough attention to this small detail that it might hurt you later.

    • Fella, my man, honey, sweetheart, or boyfriend are all better than friend or partner.

      • I can’t imagine what’s wrong with boyfriend either. But friend is too noncommittal (can’t find anyone to sleep with at your age, so bringing a near-stranger off the street so you don’t seem alone?) and partner is way too ambiguous, especially in a legal context. I’m using ‘companion’ these days, the current French term and I think nicely descriptive of a domestic relationship, without ambiguity.

  2. IMO, “I’d like you to meet my partner” is the same-sex relationship equivalent of “I’d like you to meet my husband / my wife” — a way to indicate the commitment of marriage even though the legality may not be there. Because I’m used to it in a same-sex context, it sounds odd to my ear in an opposite-sex context. I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with “boyfriend,” but if it makes you uncomfortable, I would suggest “I’d like you to meet my friend, Henry Jones.” Everyone will figure out that you’re friendly enough to have invited him, but you won’t have misled that he’s your spouse.

    • Agreed. Partner sounds odd to me outside of a same-sex relationship or the context of a law firm partner. I’d go with boyfriend unless you find it really objectionable. As a side note, I have a partner (at the firm) who refers to his longtime girlfriend as “she with whom I have cast my lot” so I suppose you could always go with that!

  3. My law school has an alumni weekend around this time of year – I have never been but when i was in law school, i noticed that people attending that event seemed to wear a wide variety or outfits {I have no idea why that would even register when I saw them since I was at the law school to study}.

    Most people seemed to attend the day program of the reunion and go straight to the evening portion, and that’s where I saw the widest variety – ie anything from men in suits to blazer and khakis, and for women, anything from a basic wrap dress to casual slacks and a sweater.

    The evening event usually began with a cocktail party in the law school before the group would go elsewhere for dinner {no idea if dancing was involved – again, no idea why I have a recollection for all this} – that group usually had a few more women in LBDs/cocktail attire, but also people who had clearly come for the day program and were in wrap dress or slacks.

    If the reader’s law school event is anything like the ones my law school hosted, the event was at a fancy restaurant where and LBD or a simpler black wrap dress with wrap were fine.

  4. Ps – as for introductions – I do not think the reader owes all these people to explain the relationship to people – ie “This is Henry Smith” is just fine. Partner just might make things confusing just because most people will think you are in legal practice together.

  5. Yeah, “This is Henry,” indicating the man whose arm you are holding probably gets the point across. You presumably don’t dance with/take the arm of your law partners when you go out, so that should be a clear indicator that you are socially involved, rather than professionally.

    Or maybe I’m old-fashioned. Alternatively, you can explain the situation to one of your friends in attendance, and usually the details will spread well enough on their own behind your back.

  6. I’d call the alumni office at the law school as soon as they open on Friday morning and ask about customary dress for the reunion event(s). I just don’t think you can trust the person who answers the phone at the venue. That person probably has no earthly idea.

  7. Anne Vohl :

    I don’t like the term “partner”, especially for lawyers. People may wonder whether he is your law partner. The word “friend” is wonderful. You don’t have to say “boyfriend”. People can see that he is a boy – or better yet – a Man!

  8. Am I right with assuming you were with Henry in law school? If people knew him then, introducing him as “This is Henry” should be more than adequate. I think in this crowd, people will probably just look at your hands to see if either of you are wearing a ring and then conclude from there that you aren’t married.

  9. operaghost :

    I didn’t even know people HAD law school reunions. Mine would be like “Hey, remember that time we were all really stressed out from trying to figure out race-notice statutes and hadn’t eaten/slept/showered in three days? Yeah, that was awesome. Wheeeee….”

  10. My 5-year law school reunion was last year. I wore pants and a sweater to the hosted happy hour, but some people were in jeans, and some people were in suits.

    I did not attend the dinner, because I didn’t want to shell out anymore money to the school, but based on Facebook photos of the event, Henry would be fine in a shirt and tie. Women seemed to be wearing dresses or nice pants, pretty much what you’d wear to a company holiday party. Nothing over the top.

    I use the term “partner” for my uh, partner also. I don’t think anyone has ever mistaken the relationship for a professional one

  11. I’m in a similar relationship – very serious, but not married at this point. I’ve used the phrase “significant other” (with a bit of a smile) when introducing him in a professional context. I’ve also just introduced him by name when we look obviously together (e.g., we’ve been touching) or when I’m about to mention something that will make it clear that we’re together (e.g., “we live on 23rd Street”).

  12. I would skip the title all together, just introduce him as Henry Smith. I agree using the term boyfriend or partner would just be too awkward. For his outfit, I think you can’t go wrong with matching dark-colored suits with nice shirt and a tie. If you find out that the event is less formal than you had anticipated, you can then loose the tie. For your outfit, I’d say wear a dress that is a little bit more fun than than your office-attire (just in case there is dancing) and I would recommend dark colored dress with a short-heeled knee hight boots and dark tights, but also still conservative enough for “professional networking” — throw in a jacket.

  13. Personally, I don’t like the term “friend” when referring to your romantic partner. I’m in a similar situation – 30+ with longtime boyfriend. If said boyfriend referred to me as his “friend” at a business school reunion, I would be taken aback. For me, I think “this is Henry” says it all – this is the person in my life significant enough to bring to this event.

  14. Law school reunions are not a place to which you drag a random friend or a casual dating acquaintance. If I met a woman at an event like that, I would assume the man accompanying her was, at a minimum ,a fairly serious boyfriend. I might be curious enough to look at their hands for wedding/engagement rings, but I also might not bother. I really don’t think other peeople you’ve never met before are going to spend the entire reunion wondering about the details of your relationship, no matter how you introduce him.

    Just say whatever you feel most comfortable saying; otherwise, you are going to sound forced and awkward introducing Henry, and that might make people wonder what the “real story” is.

  15. As a side note, I strongly agree that last names should be used in introductions. To me, it’s one of the things that separates adults from teenagers and college students; adults use their full names to introduce themselves.

  16. My 10 year law school reunion is this weekend. If someone came up to me and introduced someone as their partner, my immediate knee jerk thought would be law partner. Then, I’d probably say something stupid like what firm are you with. So, I’d just stick with his name.

  17. I agree with the others. Just introduce him by name and if anyone is curious, they will ask. I wouldn’t worry about it. As for dress, the men at my 5-year reunion wore suits. If he doesn’t have a good suit, he might as well get one. Every man needs a suit in his wardrobe anyway. You never know when you’ll need it.

  18. What about “significant other?”

  19. more advice on what to wear please! I’m going to my 5 year college reunion soon. It’s a day-long thing… starting in the afternoon w/ activities, but there’s also a cocktail party in the early evening. I’m totally at a loss? jeans? something more dressy? cocktail dress seems too dressy? help!

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