The invitation defined the dress code for the office function as “clean casual.” “Clean” I understand: you can’t go to dinner straight from digging in the garden or changing the oil in your cat. (That’s not a typo; you should change the oil in your cat every three months or 1000 hairballs, whichever comes first. I read that on Facebook so it must be true.)
“Clean” means no grass stains, no torn jeans, and you can keep your Daisy Dukes at home, mister.
It’s the “casual” part that confounds me. Let’s right-click that word: “sporty, nonchalant, untailored, unfussy.” That sounds like sweatpants to me.
But no, even I, a rube from Nova Scotia, where a plastic shopping bag is known as a “Cape Breton suitcase,” even I appreciate that “clean casual” means you should wear what your mother would describe as “something decent.” And given that my normal office attire is blazer and tie, I interpreted “clean casual” to be clothes I’d be comfortable wearing to answer the door when the media descend on my lawn to grill me about the whole unfortunate misunderstanding about the cats.
Consequently, I showed up for the function in khaki shorts, a blue button-down short-sleeve and sandals. No socks; I’d just like to make that clear. There was, however, a stain of dubious origin on the shirt that I noticed after the fact, but I don’t think anyone else did. Regardless, I was mocked. References were made to my birthplace.
But here’s the thing. I may have under-dressed for “clean casual” but it was far from clear for the other guests either. There were men in ties, men in suits without ties, men in blazers, men who looked like they were just in from the club, men who looked like they were about to go clubbing. Women were also variably dressed, with my wife hovering with me closer to the “sweatpants” end of the spectrum due to my confident assurance at home of what exactly constituted “clean casual,” the difference being that she is naturally beautiful whereas I am permanently stained.
I realize that fretting over dress codes is a first-world problem, much like how confoundingly easy it is to over-toast your Pop Tart. But it’s also a first-person problem, and since the universe revolves around each of us, that makes this a problem of great significance.
To prevent other people/Nova Scotians from making similar errors, jeopardizing job promotions and creating marital discord, I’ve done some research on the matter. To wit:
Formal: What you wear to balls and stuff. It’s important to note here that your behaviour should reflect your attire, so no giggling when you refer to “balls.”
Semi-Formal: Like “formal” except black tie instead of white tie. In fashion circles this is known as “tuxedo.” In non-fashion circles, this is known as “stupid.”
Informal: Surprisingly, still not sweatpants. Informal wear is also known not very helpfully as “business attire.” Contradicting what I said about behaviour reflecting your attire, informal wear does not mean you can prop your feet on your boss’s desk and refer to him as “Ol’ Bean” or “Boss-a-rooni” or “The Fondle-Meister.” Do that and you will be wearing sweatpants and also unemployed.
Lax Business Attire: The same as regular business attire except you’ve become so jaded in your job you’ve lost the will to iron.
Professorial: The same three outfits over and over and over.
Business Casual: No jeans.
Smart Casual: No ties.
Casual: No service.
Meta-Casual: Clothes that have pictures of clothes on them, like the tuxedo T-shirt. Not to be confused with “meta-causal,” which is an area of philosophy that attempts to answer why anyone would want to wear a tuxedo T-shirt in the first place, not to mention the piano key tie.
Semi-flannel: Business up top, PJs down below.
Semaphormal: Involves the liberal use of flags and loose sleeves for arm-waving. Highly unpopular.
Sandal With Care: Not a dress code but a pretty decent pun, because if they’re going to laugh at you they might as well laugh with you too.