Archive for September 7th, 2009

Define “Casual”

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Over this past Labor Day weekend, I played for a post-wedding brunch held the morning after the big event. Guests had been told that dress for the affair was casual. But never have I seen “casual” cover so much territory.

Part of this was due to the fact that many of the invitees were from out of town, and had only brought a limited selection of clothes from which to choose. But a lot of the least dressed-up were young locals, which leads me to conclude that the word “casual” itself has now become a subject of considerable generational confusion.

Older guests tend to define the word as meaning blazer but no tie for the guys and informal dresses or slacks for the ladies. But a growing number of younger guests apparently regard it as a license to wear the shirt they slept in, and it is this trend which has prompted some pre-party pre-emptive action by those hosting the events.

At similar gathering recently, the hostess actually called me personally to clarify the parameters of appropriate wear. To her, “casual” meant Tommy Bahama-style shirts and khakis. Apparently, every other guy got the same phone call, because we all showed up dressed for a Carnival Cruise.

Other hosts narrow the variety by designating their dress code as “Business Casual,” “Dressy Casual,” or even “Party Casual.” These terms seem to communicate well to both men and women. And so it is only the generic term itself that has become seriously degraded.

Knowing this, we may soon see the day when an invitation arrives, asking us to wear Clean Casual, or Ironed Casual. Because just as styles change, so do word usages. And it appears that “casual” is a word which now carries a completely different meaning to one generation than another.

The war is over, and the old definition lost. So hostesses, you’ve now got 3 options: Plan to call each guest individually to discuss wardrobe, use modifying terms (like maybe “Country Club Casual?”) in your invitations that make explicit your dress code, or… learn to be okay with greeting a guest at the door who has come “Ultra” Casual.