Vague dress codes, begone!


I wore a uniform for most of my high school career. On "casual days," it was a gray, pleated polyester skirt with a crest-emblazoned Polo; for "dress days," it was purple-and-white plaid with an Oxford button-down shirt and a boxy, unflattering blazer. Rarely do I miss that worn-too-many-times-between-dry-cleanings wool skirt, but nearly every morning, I find myself missing the ease of the ensemble, as I stare into the dark recess of my closet and cobble together a look that's seasonally appropriate, no-fuss, and also befitting a style editor, whatever that means. (I rarely succeed.)

At any rate, uniforms—and dress codes—exist to make our lives easier. Whether it's a holiday party that demands "cocktail attire" or a luncheon that requires "business casual," dress codes take the guesswork out of getting dressed. We know exactly what's expected of us and can thereby outfit ourselves accordingly.

But then there's the class of vague dress codes that, in their attempts to be easygoing, flexible, or clever, are actually no help at all. "Dressy casual" is the worst offender. Dressy, I understand. Casual, too. But put those adjectives side-by-side, and I have no idea what you want from me. Am I supposed to look like I tried, but didn't try too hard? Are jeans too casual? Is a dress too dressy? I end up blindly throwing together an outfit—like one of those improvised add-on drawings I crafted with my friends in elementary school art classes—and hope for the best. I roll up to the party feeling a little self-conscious and unprepared: What if everybody else skewed more casual? Or worse, what if everybody else leaned into the dressy thing?

So hosts, it's on you: Kick "dressy casual" to the curb, and give your guests a dress code that means something. If you want white tie, say so. If you're going for rodeo clown vibes, make your request loud and clear. Save your guests the guesswork, and let them do the getting-dressed-work.