Elegant Casual - another type of dress code I need to figure out.
December 3, 2012 11:57 AM   Subscribe

What the hell is an "elegant casual" dress code?

I'll be attending my boyfriend's holiday work party this week. On the invitation, it states the dress code is "elegant casual" and the event is to be held at a local event facility.

What does "elegant casual" actually mean? Specific examples or photos would be great.

My boyfriend asked one of his female coworkers (she is in her 50s) for advice on what I should wear. She suggested a "nice pantsuit."

I don't own any dress pants or pantsuits. I have quite a few "casual" dresses (knee length and most are black). My hair is kind of short - so I guess I can't put it up. I don't own heels but own flat shoes.

How do I add "formal" to casual" ?
posted by KogeLiz to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A nice knee-length black dress with dressy flats and dressy jewelry/sweater would be perfect. Or dressy slacks and a pretty blouse.

I would probably wear heels, but I don't think you should go shopping for your boyfriend's holiday party if you wouldn't ever wear them.

I think they mean: "This is not a cocktail party, and men don't need to wear ties, but please try to look nice."
posted by amaire at 12:02 PM on December 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

Elegant casual for a holiday party makes me think of something like this or this (minus the hat) - pieces that are casual in nature with enough sparkle/bling/sleekness to be "elegant".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:02 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of your black dresses will probably be fine. Just add a splash of sparkle or color with your accessories.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:04 PM on December 3, 2012

Probably something you could wear to a wedding or church will do: a nice (non-sexy!) dress would work well, or dress pants & a blazer.
posted by easily confused at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2012

I believe Elegant Casual is just code for Don't Wear That Big Dogs T-Shirt Like You're Buying An Egg Roll in 7-11 at 4 AM
posted by Greg Nog at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2012 [33 favorites]

How do I add "formal" to casual" ?

Accessories, to some degree: scarf, cardigan, jewellery, etc. In that context, "elegant casual" is basically going to mean "less business-y than business casual": dress for a night out, not for something you'd wear to work then go out in.
posted by holgate at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing that "elegant"= evening and that the way to add that feel to a casual dress is with accessories. For a nighttime event, you can go a little bigger, brighter or bling-ier than for daytime wear-- something like black dress + chunky sparkly necklace+ small bracelet + nice (i.e. not beat-up or utilitarian) black flats should be enough to read "party" vs. "office". If you need to kick things up another notch, you could consider a nice accessory for your hair, like a headband or a little jeweled barrette.

If you wear it, makeup is obviously another way to anchor the formality level of your look-- not necessarily anything raccoony, but just a level more dramatic than what you'd normally do for the day.
posted by Bardolph at 12:14 PM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Elegant casual" doesn't mean anything to me, personally. It sounds like someone wants you to not show up in your work clothes, because those aren't "festive party" enough for them, but they don't want you showing up in an evening gown because they don't want to put that much effort into it.

I think this outfit (a sequined skirt and button down) fits the "festive" but "not too dressed up" idea. Or this sequined tank and skinny pants. Or a velvet jacket over a basic day to night dress.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:17 PM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Does he work in a high-glam industry? If not, you'll have a wide range of appropriateness, and you can basically tailor this to the amount of effort you want to put in. No one will side-eye you if you turn up in a simple black dress and nice flats with brushed hair and some eye makeup. Anything else depends on your interest and comfort level.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:19 PM on December 3, 2012

Is this something some people will head to directly from work? To me it sounds like you should start with office casual, then dress it up a bit. I'd probably wear a nice skirt and top, opaque tights, flats or boots, and a little makeup. A black dress with a belt (if appropriate), necklace and/or bracelet, nice makeup, and dressy or professional shoes (flats are fine) should do the trick.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2012

Good work party attire is approximately on the same level as business casual in terms of materials, colors, and coverage (i.e. knee-length skirts, no cleavage or bare backs), but a little more sparkly and fun. If you have a dress or top and skirt combo that's appropriate for work and makes you feel glam, wear that, and pay just a little more attention to your makeup and jewelry. One "statement" piece of jewelry is enough - a chunky bangle or a multi-strand necklace.

You Look Fab has some good general guidelines; I'd consider the black dress too low-cut, but you get the idea.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:41 PM on December 3, 2012

For this sort of thing, in your situation I would wear very nice dark jeans, a pretty sweater, my cutest flats and lots of jewelry.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 12:45 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It can mean anything from a beautiful velvet top with fashionable jeans and cute flats to your LBD with tights, flats and statement earrings. If go full-on dress & heels, I'd minimize the jewelry. Basically, a notch below "out on the town." I have a black velvet top to wear with a short-ish black skirt, turquoise tights, and boots for holiday parties.
posted by theora55 at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in pretty much the same situation for my husband's work party. I'll probably be wearing a fitted, knee-length, black ponte sheath dress with 3/4 sleeves, a pair of cute low heels to punch it up, and a pretty pair of earrings or necklace. (And yes, dressy flats are fine too.) The cliche about a simple black dress being neither over- nor under- dressed really does ring true. I think you can't go wrong with some variation of this outfit, particularly when you aren't sure what everyone else will be wearing. Think the "work-to-evening" look here; since it's a work party, guests of employees should also probably look sort of professional/polished.
posted by anonnymoose at 12:52 PM on December 3, 2012

Gotta say, unlike some folks here, I would never wear jeans to any event that involved the word "elegant," no matter how expensive or high-end the denim. When "casual" is modified, as in "office casual," I read that as code for "don't wear jeans." Elegant seems to transmit the same message.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:54 PM on December 3, 2012 [12 favorites]

Whomever came up with this nonsense should be hit in the face with a pie. "Casual-Elegant" BAH! My ass.

That said, you can't be wrong. Whatever you have can be fine. If someone ran that crap past me, I'd wear my Pilazzo pants and a fancy top. With flats.

Wear your most comfy, nicest dress with a snazzy necklace. You will still see one of everything at this fete.

Someone will wear a ballgown, someone will look like a hoochie ready for the pole. That's what happens when make up a dress code.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:02 PM on December 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

They mean festive and sparkly and classy, but not necessarily dresses. So, cocktail dress would be fine, ball gown would be too much. Black slacks and a pretty blouse, great, jeans and a button down, too little. Tend towards more luxe fabrics and darker colors, rather than light/bright.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:36 PM on December 3, 2012

Wow, the answers range. I think some details would help too: Boston vs. Cleveland, waste management vs. software development, is the office usually business or business casual or casual because the party-wear will be closer to that. Without more details I would dress close to how the women dress in the office plus something elegant that I wouldn't normally wear at work like some of the following: shiny or dangly earrings, shiny or high shoes, much more eyeliner, red lipstick, fluffier or fancier hair.
posted by kimmae at 1:39 PM on December 3, 2012

It means don't dress for the beach or the club.

Nice jeans maybe, shorts probably not. Probably no T-shirts, definitely no muscle shirts / spaghetti straps.

If you think slightly more relaxed than business casual, you'll probably get it right - You can't go wrong with Dockers and a polo-shirt (for a guy), don't really know the equivalent in Women's fashion.
posted by pla at 1:41 PM on December 3, 2012

Thanks for the answers!

FYI, my boyfriend works for a (woman-owned) IT consulting firm. Most of the subs do business for the government. The day-to-day wear at his particular office is business casual. Not sure about their other consultants and offices in the area.
I live in a rather small city in Tennessee - I highly doubt anyone attending will be all glam in designer dresses.
I guess I just wanted to make sure a regular knee-length black dress with flats would be enough. I'll pick up a scarf or a red/green necklaces or something this week.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

my boyfriend works for a (woman-owned) IT consulting firm.

It sounds like what they are aiming for is one step above office wear and are trying to differentiate it from that. For me, when I worked in IT, holiday party usually meant a variety of non-office things including sparkly jewelry, fancy pants, more than usual makeup on the women, maybe something shimmery or sparkly, and maybe some sort of fancier-than-usual hair.
posted by jessamyn at 3:10 PM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

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