Clothes call

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.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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65 Responses to Clothes call

  1. paromitaharsha says:

    Reblogged this on PATCHES AND POTTS and commented:
    Epic. Gotta read this.

  2. pieterk515 says:

    Thank you so much, it just so damn confusing. Being a guy, I just wear a dress shirt, dark blue jeans and polished shoes to ANY event. Then I throw a tie and jacket in the boot, just in case.
    But it seems to be slightly more difficult for woman, as a jacket and a tie wouldn’t make a pair of jeans look like a ball gown on a girl, now would it.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I never thought of it that way. But an over-dressed woman just looks beautiful (unless it’s a ballgown, but let’s not be ridiculous) whereas an overdressed guy looks… clueless.

  3. Semaphormal! Ha! I live in a sailing town that was preppy before preppy was cool, while preppy was cool, and after preppy was cool. We have “Annapolis Formal,” which for men is khaki pants, navy blazer, tie, and boat shoes. I believe socks are optional, depending on time of year, but don’t quote me on that.

  4. Mick Theebs says:

    It’s usually better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.

    Really funny post.

    I need to step up my meta-casual wardrobe.

  5. ” sandals. No socks; I’d just like to make that clear.”
    Hm. You say that like it’s a bad thing, socks and sandals.

    I hosted “Tacky Tourist Tuesday” when I worked at Bell. It was a morale boosting thing. We started the day with a parade of participants. One gal was impeccably dressed, as usual. Fresh pressed cotton blouse, straight linen skirt, perfectly coiffed – not a tacky thing about her.

    “Um?” I asked.

    She nearly fainted from indignity. She was wearing [shudder] socks AND sandals.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Here’s the thing, though: on us older folks, it looks dumb. But my son, the athlete, regularly wears gym socks with those rubber Nike sandals. Apparently this is okay. But I couldn’t get away with it.

  6. fashizronia says:

    It is a hilarious Post! 🙂 Please check my blog

  7. Twindaddy says:

    Seems to me there should be one dubbed “laundry day” as well.

  8. Paul says:

    Being a good Maritimer (and I appreciate the mention of Nova Scotia) my question to you , the most knowlegeable fashion consultant I know, is where do kilts fit in there? Nothing is more invigorating than a well dressed man in a kilt. A little caber catching, some good ale, a few hearty lasses and you have a party to remember (if you can remember , which may not be a easy as it sounds).

  9. Ned's Blog says:

    Thanks for the advice on proper attire. It will come in handy should I venture out of Oregon where, do to the amount of rain we receive (think of Daniel-san in”Karate Kid” dressed as a shower, except with the water running), the only dress code we have is Wash n Wear.

  10. It is best to just be ridiculously good-looking and then you can get away with wearing anything.

  11. candidkay says:

    3 words of advice: Ask a woman. Allow me to add a 4th. Always:). We know. We’ve angsted this way for years.

  12. Jennie Saia says:

    When you’re this funny, it doesn’t matter what you write about. David Barry told me so.

    “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…” <– Case in point.

  13. franhunne4u says:

    shh . do not spill the beans over the dress CODE – you know, the keyword is CODE – something that is coded should not be open to the public – it is meant to be a secret – you know, like in TOP SECRET …

  14. nobsj says:

    If anything this made my life more complicated- how does my morph suit fit into this scheme?!?!

  15. goldfish says:

    Semaphormal sounds like a joke I would make that no one would get. It’s nice to know someone else makes obscure references to signal flags.

  16. You could have really shaken things up and arrived wearing some eye shadow. Maybe a little lip gloss. Then you’d have heard some jokes.

    Rube from Nova Scotia could be the companion piece to Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee. Imagine if they had a child.

  17. I wish to note a quick correction to the “Semaphormal” section.
    “Highly unpopular, except if you happen to be Anakin Skywalker and you’re trying to get Obi-Wan’s attention after embarrassing him and he is standing across the room, studiously denying your existence. Even so, still more unpopular with the people around you.” X-P
    (Star Wars snarkism. It was bound to happen.)

  18. breezyk says:

    Meta casual! Awesome. Also I love the idea of a cape Breton suitcase. I feel this stress all the time when we have Friday “jeans days” at work… After several missteps I finally learned that means suit on top, jeans on bottom. Who knew??

  19. cat9984 says:

    Khakis – here in the Midwest, men wear them to any occasion that is not formal or semi-formal (suits and short dresses)

  20. benzeknees says:

    Thank goodness I’m housebound now so I don’t have to worry about all these rules. Although I recently had to undergo a “scary test” for my heart where I was instructed to wear a bra (never wear one anymore so this was difficult) & a shirt that buttons up the front. I don’t own a shirt that buttons up the front. I am a large woman with large breasts & shirts that button up the front are always gaping between the buttons, so I gave up on this style of blouse a long, long time ago. I did manage to find one shirt in my closet which had snaps down the front which wasn’t suitable to them because of the metal anyway & they had to supply me with a gown anyway.
    Housedresses & muu muu’s are my clothing of choice!

  21. Don’t forget the hot new trend for men to wear shorts suits. (I know this is a hot new trend because I saw it online!) Would that be Camper Casual? Perhaps worn with a nice leather sandal, socks optional.

  22. Beverly Dame says:

    For men, loafers no socks after Memorial Day. (I’m An American.) Don’t even think of wearing tie shoes without socks. Sandals with socks only if you have a Ph.D. in nuclear physics or really bad nail fungus.

  23. Nic says:

    “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.”


    Also: those last four categories are everything. Semi-flannel just made me almost miss the wintertime.

  24. markbialczak says:

    This is a pressing issue, Ross. Dry cleaning, too.

    I would not have worn shorts, or sandals without socks, but I would have been flummoxed about the meaning of clean casual. I would have worn my usual khakis, (with frayed bottom cuffs because they’re more comfortable than the two new pair my dear wife Karen just had me buy on our last trip to the Hagar super store but please don’t tell her I said that) with a clean golf shirt and my brown Jimmy Buffett Margaritaviille loafers, beige socks.

    By the way, my two visits to beautiful Nova Scotia, people all looked cleanly and casually dressed, no pajamas in public.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      A casual but always proper people, folks in the Maritimes.
      How to cuffs get so frayed, anyway? Wouldn’t loafers (no laces) mean less friction, less fraying?

      • markbialczak says:

        More proof that I either buy my pants one size or wear them three years too long, Ross. My inseam has settled into odd-inch length, and here in the States, they are sold even-inches only. The shorter size always feels like I’m waiting for the river to rise some more.

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