Even if the dress code is "casual," there still are guidelines, and they don't include flip-flops, logo T-shirts or yoga pants. Decoding the "casual attire" dress code depends the event and the location. Dressy casual, business casual, smart casual and country club casual call for similar, but sometimes slightly different, styles. Each venue -- whether it's a workplace, restaurant or resort -- interprets "casual" slightly differently, so it's best to ask what's appropriate when you can.
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Don't confuse casual with sloppy. You can look put together while feeling comfy.
Going to a place of worship or dinner at a nice restaurant calls for casual that shows a bit of effort. Women should avoid tennis shoes and cotton tees. Dress pants or a skirt with a button-down or flowing blouse are appropriate. Patent leather flats or modest heels keep it casual.
Men should avoid jeans, and instead opt for trousers, chinos or khakis. Leather loafers or oxfords and a sport coat complete his look. A man can pull off a dressy casual look in a modern way with a non-logo T-shirt, with stripes or in a bright color, topped off with a blazer. Badly wrinkled clothing or clothes that don't coordinate are a "don't," but a slightly rumpled look, as with linen fabric, can define casual.
Smart casual is for an office casual Friday or for happy hour; interpretations vary. Women won't usually go wrong with a pencil skirt or dressy pants, blouse and heels. Suit pants, without the jacket, and a silk top also work. In some offices, dark, tailored jeans are perfectly acceptable. Smart casual for a man means dressy trousers, a collared shirt and leather shoes.
The definition of casual varies by locale, too. In hot climates such as South Florida, cargo shorts for men and dress shorts for women may be OK when smart or country club casual are indicated.
Country club casual is what you wear to dinner on a cruise or resort or to a local, informal sit-down restaurant. Women should avoid jeans and instead opt for nice slacks or a maxi skirt or dress with minimal accessories. Men can wear an open-neck collared polo or button-down with khakis, accessorized with a leather belt and leather shoes rather than sneakers. Logo tees and flip-flops are always out of place.
Business casual is for offices that don't require suits or ties. The interpretation of what to wear can vary greatly, though. What you wear will influence what co-workers and clients think of you -- so keep that in mind when dressing each morning. Women can wear a skirt or dress pants with a long-sleeve or cap-sleeve top. Avoid bare tanks unless you're wearing them under a jacket or cardigan. Baggy boyfriend or super-tight skinny jeans, spiky heels and capris send the wrong message. A fitted shirt or cap-sleeve dress with flats and minimal jewelry is acceptable. Showing excess cleavage or skin is not professional, even in a casual setting.
Men should wear dress pants or khakis -- not jeans. A collared shirt, sport coat, V-neck sweater or blazer completes his look. Ties are optional. Consider investing in a cotton suit and wearing the pieces separately -- the pants one day with a button-down, and the jacket with khakis on another. No sandals or short-shorts for the office.
In some offices, khakis are considered too informal for business casual. If in doubt, ask a co-worker or skip them altogether.