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Dress Code Guide: What Does Dressy Casual Mean?

Man wearing dressy casual clothing
Aaron Amat/Shutterstock.com

Your invitation says “dressy casual,” which, like “business casual,” presents something of an oxymoron. But it’s not the same thing as business casual; otherwise the invitation would say that—so what should you wear?

While it might seem like dress codes in the casual range (casual, dressy casual, and business casual) would be the easiest to navigate, they’re often actually the hardest. Most formal dress codes, like black tie, have fairly specific rules. But when it comes to the casual side of the spectrum, you’re on your own with minimal guidelines.

That’s why we’ve devoted a separate post to each of these “casual” styles of dress. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how to navigate a “dressy casual” event.

Dressy Casual: A Definition

Dressy casual means that you don’t have to look like you’re going to work, but that true casual isn’t appropriate for the occasion.

For example, you might see “dressy casual” on invitations to work-adjacent events, like a company awards ceremony. These events don’t call for dressing like you’re actually going to work, but showing up in a t-shirt might not be appropriate, either.

Dressy casual is also a surprisingly common dress code at weddings. This dress code suggests that the couple wants everyone to feel comfortable and express themselves, but still look nice in the photos.

Clearly, there’s some overlap between dressy casual and business casual. But a dressy casual invitation lets you have a little more fun with your look: bold patterns and fun silhouettes will be more acceptable here.

When to Dress Dressy Casual

Guests gathered at a casual wedding
Halfpoint/Shutterstock.com

No dress code on the invitation? Here are a few occasions where dressy casual might be a good choice:

  • Casual weddings
  • Networking events
  • Fundraisers
  • Church
  • Dinner at a nice (but not fine dining) restaurant

Dressy casual is often a safe choice when you don’t know what to wear. It strikes a nice balance: not too laidback, but not too overdressed. For everything from parties to dates, dressy casual wear makes an excellent go-to.

However, if you’re dressing for a traditionally formal event like a wedding, you should check with the people who invited you before deciding on dressy casual. If there’s no dress code on an invitation, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Dressy Casual Ideas for Women

Women can easily look dressy casual in these pieces:

  • Blouses
  • Slacks
  • Jumpsuits
  • Dresses and skirts
  • Button-down shirts

Jeans can sometimes work for dressy casual events, but since they lean more casual, slacks are safer. Avoid sneakers and flip-flops, but most other shoes will work, including boots, loafers, heels, and dressy sandals.

You can have fun and express yourself with your jewelry and makeup choices if you want. Hats, scarves, bright lipstick, and many other trendy options are ideally suited for most dressy casual occasions. Just consider erring on the conservative side if the event involves your job.

Dressy Casual Ideas for Men

Men can look dressy casual in clothes like these:

  • Slacks
  • Dress shirts
  • Blazers
  • Sweaters
  • Khakis

Loafers, oxfords, and other semi-professional shoes are a good choice, and you don’t need to wear a tie. T-shirts don’t usually fit well with dressy casual attire, but a high-quality, dark-colored t-shirt styled nicely under a blazer makes an exception.

In addition to dressy casual, you might find other variants of casual dress codes on an invitation, like “country club casual,” “golf casual,” or “smart casual.” You can find specific guidelines for places like country clubs, but if “casual” is in the dress code, dressy casual is usually a good, safe choice. It’s a happy medium that can get you through a wide range of events.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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