As people adopt less formal styles of dress on a daily basis, it also has a habit of carrying over into special occasions such as weddings. While I have covered most other dress codes in previous posts, ‘Casual Attire’ can actually be the most confusing when you see it on an invitation but is also one of the easiest to figure out. Since everyone has a different interpretation of what is considered casual, it is very easy to make a misstep and embarrass yourself or your host, but with a few easy to remember guidelines you can always be dressed to impress at your next ‘casual’ wedding or get-together.
Dressing appropriately for an occasion, particularly one as important as a wedding, is first and foremost about respect. Not just respect for the person(s) hosting the event, but also for yourself. Every social event is an opportunity. You could be introduced to someone that will become your new best friend, future spouse, or business associate and it is important to make the right first impression.
The first thing to keep in mind when you get an invitation to an event with a casual dress code is that you received an invitation. If your host took the time to send an actual invitation, be it through the mail or electronically, you should take care not to show up looking like you just came from having a picnic. Jeans, t-shirts, and anything with rips, holes, or distressing are never appropriate. With very few exceptions, you should also avoid wearing shorts.
As a starting point, you will always want to wear a shirt with a collar, chinos or trousers, and dress shoes. Everything else depends on where the occasion falls on the casual spectrum. While a dress shirt and tie may not be necessary, perhaps a jacket over a polo shirt is the more suitable option. Layering is also a great way to make sure you are not only comfortable but also appropriately dressed. Wear a jacket with a sweater and you can always lose the jacket if things get too hot or are more casual than you expected. Arrive in a tie and if no one else is wearing one and you feel uncomfortable, you can roll it up and put it in your jacket pocket. Having options you can add or remove is a great way to always feel appropriate, no matter what you walk into, and this goes for life as well as wedding etiquette.
Just like with formal attire, you can take your cues from the details. An evening event is inherently dressier than one held in the afternoon. Take things into account like type of event, location, and type/style of food being served to help you put together an appropriate look. Buffet service is always more casual than sit-down waiter service, so if you are being asked to choose your entrée, you know it is going to be more casual than a buffet. One last tip – unless you are very comfortable with your personal style (and/or you know the marrying couple well), it is usually a good idea to stick to a more neutral color palette with maybe a small pop of color. Like I’ve said before, at a wedding you never want to overshadow the bride and groom, so make your color choices accordingly. You may love your magenta Marc Jacobs suit, (and I probably would too) but a wedding may not be the right occasion for it.
Remember, when in doubt, err on the side of being overdressed. If you show up in a suit and everyone else is in chinos, for all anyone knows you came from or are going to somewhere fancier. There is no shame in being well-dressed (provided everything fits properly).