In a world where people go to the store in their sweatpants and even pyjamas, deciphering what is considered proper attire for a "casual dress" dinner party may be difficult. We tend to think casual is what we wear at home, but since some wear nothing but the suit they were born with when relaxing at home--guidance should be in order. Basically there is a three-tier system of attire for parties and other entertainment; Formal, Semi-Formal and Casual, although you can get even more detailed with Cocktail, Business Formal and Casual. Casual Dress is the one we can often find ourselves confused by, but if you think in terms of "casual attire" versus "casual dress," you will recognise the difference.
Leave the Jogging Suit at Home
By separating casual attire from casual dress, certain items fall into each category. Sweat pants and jogging suits are exactly what their name implies: Something to wear when sweating and exercising. No matter how good you think your favourite sweat pants make your butt look, they are never acceptable at a dinner party. Sweat shirts, jogging shoes, T-shirts with logos, running shorts; all are taboo for a casual dress occasion. They are casual attire for daily activities.
The idea of casual dress is to look comfortable and relaxed while still appearing to have cared enough to dress specifically for the party. You don't want to look as if you just left work in your office clothing or merely took off your robe at home. Yet, you don't want to show up looking like you got lost on your way to the prom or the Oscars. Over-dressing is as big a mistake as underdressing.
Ladies' Casual Dress
A simple dress with heeled sandals or pumps, paired with a little sweater or jacket can be the simple way to make sure you are dressed appropriately. Dresses should be soft and flowing or simple and straight at lengths from just above the knee to the ankle. Skirts with a silky top, or even nice designer style jeans paired with a classy blouse or sweater and a pair of heels or strapped sandals also work well. Accessories are often used to dress up an outfit or dress down. Basic office skirts and dresses can be dressed up by adding a pair of high heels, long beaded necklace and earrings, and removing a jacket. For a quick fix to the basic office skirt and blouse, leave your blouse out and add a bright belt with matching shoes.
Stay away from shiny fabrics, slinky, sexy dresses, miniskirts, or sequinned clothing and accessories. These are more appropriate for a night on the town than a dinner party. Spaghetti strap and tank tops are only acceptable when paired with a classy skirt and sandals or heels.
Men's Casual Dress
Fashion for men has definitely changed through the years to be more comfortable. At one time men would have to dress to the nines for any dinner affair. Now, even a well-made pair of jeans paired with a nice button-up shirt or a soft sweater can be acceptable. For dinner parties, though men should try to wear more of a casual pant or slack, with a comfortable polo shirt, free-flowing button up, or any collared, non-work shirt. T-shirts should only be worn if solid coloured and worn under an open jacket or open button-up. Tie and dress shirt is acceptable minus a suit jacket. The jacket would make you appear too formal or businesslike. Soft sweaters and loose slacks are always a good choice if the weather is cooler.
Try to stay away from sneakers or any form of work boot or shoe. A nice pair of comfortable loafers is preferable.
Respecting Your Host
Dressing up either casually or formally for a dinner party is done out of not only pride, but also out of respect for your host. When people plan a dinner party, they have normally put a lot of time, thought and effort into making sure everything is perfect for guests. By making the affair something worth dressing for, you show your host that you appreciate their effort and help to make the evening special. Ambience is created not only by the atmosphere but also by those inside the atmosphere.
Of course, we all know our own friends best and know if they say "casual dress" how casual they mean. If not, ask. If the dinner party is not at a close friends house, a good rule of thumb is to always opt for a little dressier rather than too casual. It never hurts to look your best.