Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Why I hate 'smart casual'

Wearing smart casual at a dinner party is a no-brainer.Photo / Thinkstock
Wearing smart casual at a dinner party is a no-brainer.Photo / Thinkstock

My heart sinks when I see a function's dress code is Smart Casual. It signifies nothing more than that the occasion is likely to be dull and the organisers have no faith in their guests' abilities to dress appropriately. Smart Casual - along with its close (and even drearier) relation Business Casual - is really just code for: "Normal clothes but nothing low-rent". It's actually faintly insulting when you think about it, as well as unimaginative.
You couldn't accuse me of lack of creativity when I concocted the dress code for a recent function. I decided the appropriate garb was Alpine Party - which, to my knowledge, is not an official dress code and has possibly never been specified previously in the history of dress codes.

There was method to my madness. It was a cocktail function being held at La Rumbla, Arrowtown's hot new tapas restaurant, but classic cocktail wear seemed too formal and too urban for a midwinter gathering for 90 people in a ski village. So, imagining nice frocks paired with woolly tights and maybe a chunky scarf, I came up with Alpine Party.

I assumed it wouldn't pass muster and that it would be switched to something more mainstream or at least to something that was actually a thing. "Oh, I thought that would have been vetoed," I said to my co-organiser when he started fielding questions about precisely what one should wear to an Alpine Party occasion. "Nothing you say is ever vetoed," he replied (which is good to know for future reference).

Meanwhile I had fun emailing through my descriptions of this pioneering dress code: "party clothes with a warm layer", "think Will and Kate in Klosters", "snuggly cocktail wear", "glamorous winter warmth", "cool cosy clothes" and "knitted knickerbockers". But not as much fun as one of the guests who emailed me the question: "Is this a full-on theme, bucking reindeer dress-up complete with Heidi and lederhosen, or not??"

An article in The Telegraph, which was inspired by Rod Stewart's suggestion that restaurants ought to have dress codes, pointed out how casual some people's "going out" wear has become: "Now, there is a sort of party where the bouncers in chic black are better dressed than the guests in ripped jeans, low-rise Converse and plaid workshirts. It is chauffeurs who wear the neatly pressed suits while the internet billionaires in the back are dressed like refugees."

The writer continued: "I find 'dress code' on invitations patronising and impertinent. You might as well put 'Behaviour code: no wife-strangling or spitting'."

So, in a similar vein: next time you feel tempted to specify Smart Casual for a function, why don't you just say what you really mean: "No jandals, no hoodies, no singlets, no gang patches" - and be done with it?

What's your view on dress codes? Are they helpful or a hindrance? Would you like to see them abolished?

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

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