What Does “Casual” Really Mean?

 As we enter into the holiday party season one of the hardest decisions I have to make is when I’m going out and my friends say “casual.”  Or if invited to a party and the host says casual, what do I wear? Bottom line, even if it’s casual, dress nicely and keep the sweats at home.  As much as I want to wear my jeans, in many situations like night clubs, dinner at restaurants or parties,jeans are not the appropriate attire.

Particularly overseas I have found that people dress up with coat and tie when you ask them over for dinner or when going out for it.  What an embarrassing situation when, as a southern Californian, I answered the door in my jeans and they were in coat and
tie and party dress.   Your dress tells a lot about who you are and how you feel about the people around you.  So when the invitation is casual here are some tips that will guide you so that you look your best and are comfortably

  • If the invitation says casual and you’re in doubt call the host and ask what they mean.
  • The term “casual” means different things in different parts of the country and in the world. In the eastern part of the US casual is usually sport coat and tie, pant suit or coordinated separates.  In the Midwest things loosen up with cowboy boots, nice jeans and shirt and blazer.  In the western part of the country casual varies from sport coat and tie to jeans.
  • Outside the US“casual” is less often seen in gatherings as Americans know it.  When invited out or to someone’s house, dressing up is the order of  the day.
  • When thinking about options for casual wear, khaki pants or skirt, a blazer or sweater set are great choices.  If your friends say jeans, wear your nice jeans, and if you don’t have a any, perhaps consider buying a pair.
  • Men can choose from trousers in worsted wool, wool flannel or twill with a mock turtleneck and a vest or blazer.  A turtleneck and slacks in the winter are a nice combination and comfortably warm as well.
  • In shoes, avoid your running shoes for something that is comfortable but dressier such as docksiders, loafers and similarstyles.

Come “casual” or “come as you are” are often what people will say when they invite
you, but by dressing up more than the sweats you or I might wear at home says a
lot about how you feel about the person and shows your best side.

Particularly in work situations, when with colleagues for dinner or superiors, they may say casual but it’s definitely a time for a blazer, slacks or skirt.  Often superiors will have a party and say casual but don’t be mistaken, look your best. This may be their opportunity to see how you approach gatherings and deal with others as they are contemplating you for a promotion or partner.

So inasmuch as we want to go out in our sweats and be really comfy at the movies or
dinner, take “casual” more seriously and you will communicate to others that
they mean a lot to you or that being at a gathering is important to you. And as
Loreal says it, “You’re worth it!”


About vseitz

Marketing Professor at California State University, San Bernardino and author of "I Don't Wear A Suit."

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