Ata five-star resort, dressing correctly is part of the daily activities. You can’t wear wet swimming costumes indoors; you can’t wear dry cossies at other times; you ditch the thongs in many areas and sometimes singlets are a no-no; robes may be worn around wet areas but don’t even think of wearing them in eating areas. If in doubt, consult the daily activities guide.
Mostly, guests get the message by observing what other guests are wearing. And by the time you get to the resort and see that everyone has invested in linens, floaty dresses and sequins, it’s too late. Your sensible beachwear has marked you as a three-star sort of person.
While lounging around in a cover-all swimming costume that would be acceptable in Taliban territory, an invitation to meet the director arrived. It promised fruity cocktails, a fire show and an evening of fun. Dress code, smart casual.
Now, smart casual is such a relative term that the invitation may as well say: Take a punt, nobody else is going to get it right. An acceptable look depends on where you are, who you are, what you’re going to do, what your bank balance is, what religion you follow and whether you give a damn about impressing people with whom you share sun lounges for a few days.
For instance, smart casual that is acceptable in a resort wouldn’t impress at a Melbourne lunch where, if you wear anything but black you’re making a political point. Nor would it pass muster at a corporate weekend where if you don’t have a polo shirt, you’re stuffed. So let’s break down the expression and see if we can find a sartorial solution.
First, casual implies that stiff clothing isn’t required. That wipes out coats, ties, waist jackets, starched collars, spats, high heels, ball gowns, military regalia and goth gear. Ladies, you can leave your bustles and bonnets at home. But casual doesn’t mean let it all hang out. For instance, it won’t allow track pants or anything with an elastic waistband. Elastic waistbands are as bad as wet cossies in the buffet area. While we’re on the subject of giving up, singlets (on men) are just as bad. They are only allowed in the camping ground next door, and even there they are rarely a wise choice unless you’re Mark Wahlberg.
Smart brings another twist to the expression smart casual. It suggests you’re meant to think about this. You might even lay an outfit on your bed to see if it works as both. Is it saying, “I’m relaxed but I’ve made an effort?” Is it saying, “I may be ironed but I’m not stitched up?” Has it just burst out laughing?
I got so intrigued (and bored) waiting for a cocktail with the director that I did some research on how such a nebulous concept came to replace the older definitions of dress that left you in no doubt, unless you were a Sydneysider at a formal function. And here’s what I found. In various online style guides, smart casual is called dressy casual, casual dressy business casual, informal, garden attire, beach formal and “dressed up versions of casual looks”. And each guide interprets these expressions differently.
Even Debrett’s, the go-to guide for titled toffs, says “smart casual can be the hardest dress code to interpret” and may even require needlecord trousers or cavalry twill, depending on whether you are in the town or country. Such is the danger of misinterpretation that Debrett’s cautions, “just because an event is informal it is not synonymous with making no effort”.
While I hoped I wouldn’t have to change outfits on my way through the tropical gardens, it seemed that “making an effort” is the key to smart casual. So I ironed my walking shorts and a floaty top and made my way to the event. And what did the other hotel guests wear?
Men arrived in long pants, short pants (ironed), shirts both long and short-sleeved, and T-shirts both collared and uncollared; nobody wore cavalry twill trousers, but one bloke wore Thai fisherman pants.
Women wore long sun dresses, long skirts, sun dresses, trousers, sleeveless tops, shirts (ironed), sequined tops and floaty pants suits — and one wore a pair of nicely ironed walking shorts with a floaty top. All in all, you’d have to say smart casual means whatever you want it to mean, as long as it’s ironed. gmail.com