The Weekend Australian - Review - - Con­tents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

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.

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