June 20, 2007 Edition

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How casual is casual?

Linda Lou Moore
Guest Writer

You've just received an invitation to a summer party or wedding, and you read that the dress is "casual." You may wonder, "How casual is casual?" With the relaxation of dress codes there is often a great deal of confusion about what to wear to parties and other events.

If an invitation indicates that occasion is black tie, formal or cocktail then dress guidelines are more easily understood. However, if the occasion is casual, that can open up the proverbial Pandora's Box.

What is casual? For some it may be cut offs and flip-flops while others may consider casual dress as simply leaving the white gloves at home. If this is confusing and you've misplaced your crystal ball, here is a brief outline that may help.

Remember the old phrase "consider the source" if you are unsure as to what to wear, check the invitation for the following information:

1. The type of party.

2. The theme of the party.

3. The location of the party.

4. The time of the party.

5. The ages of the host or hostess and, if applicable, the ages of the guest or guests of honor.


6. If all else fails, ask the host or hostess about the dress.

There are different types of casual dressing. The following provides a broad overview of casual dress. Keep in mind that what is appropriate in one area of the country may not be appropriate in another.

Generally speaking the following rules apply. Here are a few tips from some of the experts:

Business casual

This term is often used for "Casual Fridays." Business casual allows more flexibility in dress than the standard business suit. In the corporate culture the following applies:

For Men: Blazer, dress slacks, plaid or colored button-down shirt. No jeans.

For Women: Pants suit or sweater set with slacks, closed-toed shoes. No crop tops or blue jeans.

Church casual

This is a term that is used especially in the South. The dress suggestions are found in many churches. (Excluding blue jean services.)

For Men: Sports jacket, slacks and button down shirt, ties optional. No bill cap.

For Women: Matching jacket and shirt with skirt or slacks. Sun dresses and sandals during the summer.

Dressy casual

This is sometimes called "Smart Casual" or "Country Club Casual." This term is often used for informal cocktail parties. Upscale restaurants also use the phrase.

For Men: Sports jacket, button down shirt with or without tie, or casual sweater, suit pants or nice slacks. No bill cap.

For Women: Attire found in both business and church casual that can be "dressed-up" with accessories such as jewelry and dressy shoes. For summer, a sun dress, strapless or spaghetti strap dress, or silk or satin pants and top with strappy sandals or sling back pumps. This is dressing that is fun, flirty and/or elegant.

Weekend casual

This is a term that is often used to indicate "casual but nice" clothes.

For Men: No coats. Polo shirts, pull over sweaters, button down shirts or sport shirts. Deck shoes. Pants, or nice shorts, and if the event is outside, such as a cook out, nice jeans.

For Women: Sports set such as shorts or pants with matching or coordinated top, sandals or casual shoes and, if the event is outside, nice jeans.

Around the house casual

This is a term that is self explanatory. Very casual or work clothes, but not "grubbies." Clothes worn around the house such as shorts, jeans, T-shirts, tennis shoes, deck shoes or flip-flops.

The crystal ball

There are a number of excellent retail stores in the area. Check with a knowledgeable sales person for their suggestions. Whether your style is trendy or traditional, their advice can be helpful.

After checking the invitation, reviewing the casual dress tips from the experts or talking to your favorite sales person, you may not have to wonder, "How casual is casual?"

The next time you receive an invitation for a "casual" event or party, you may not have found your crystal ball, but at least you'll be able to decipher the confusing code of casual.

Linda Lou Moore is trained and certified by The Protocol School of Washington. She offers customized individual and group etiquette programs for children, teens and adults. She may be reached at Post Office Box 145, Paragould, Arkansas 72451 or at manners@grnco.net.

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