A casually elegant dress code presents a bit of a dilemma to guests. Everybody knows the definition of casual, just as everybody knows what elegance refers to. To put the two together creates an oxymoron because the two seem contradictory. So what could a casually elegant dress code possibly be? Interpretation of this term is highly subjective. For the most part, this term refers to a dressed-up form of casual attire or a played-down form of dressy attire. Certain clues can help you decide exactly what is meant by "casually elegant."
The time of day can help you determine what side of casual elegance to err towards. Events held in the evening hours are more formal, whereas events held in the morning hours tend to be more casual. There are likely to be candles lit at an evening event, which calls for more dressy attire. A midmorning brunch, on the other hand, is more likely to be outdoors in sunlight. For women a snazzy black dress would be ideal for an evening event, and a shirtwaist dress would be ideal for a morning event. For men slacks and a button-up shirt would be fine either time, with perhaps a sports coat in the evening.
Events held in a formal location probably require a more elegant attire, whereas events held in a more casual location probably call for a more casual attire. For instance, casually elegant for a backyard fete could simply mean a cotton dress for women or trousers and a button-up shirt for men rather than shorts or trousers. However, an event held at an art museum serving champagne probably requires a silk pantsuit. Moreover, the East Coast tends to err more on the elegant side than the West Coast, which errs more on the casual end. Casually elegant in New York is more elegant than casually elegant in Los Angeles, which is more casual.
The type of event you are attending is another key factor. A ball that is mandated as casually elegant probably refers to a floor-length dress for women, but not necessarily a full-skirted ball gown. For men a dressy black suit, but not necessarily a tuxedo would suffice. However, lunch at a nice restaurant would probably just exclude jeans, shorts and other super casual attire.
The style of the invitation is one of the best indicators to the nature of the event. If the invitation comes in two envelopes and has raised, embossed lettering on heavy, high-quality paper, then chances are you should stay more to the elegant side. Invitations such as these generally call for a step up from church clothes. However, simple invitations printed at home on computer paper indicate a more lenient host. Slacks or a simple dress will be fine, just no shorts, jeans, flip-flops or sleeveless attire.
Fabric can often be the determinant for whether an outfit is casual or dressy. Silk, charmeuse and chiffon are safer bets for casual elegance than cotton, rayon and linen fabrics. Casual elegance dictates more flare than business dressy without being as laid-back as casual or as extravagant as formal. Turtlenecks are almost always a safe bet.
Sometimes simple accessories such as wraps, fine jewellery and bolder make-up meet a casually elegant dress code for women. Cuff links and ties can often pass a casually elegant dress code for men. Accessories such as these added to a simple pair of slacks and a button-up shirt often perform fine for both genders.