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Jan, 10 2024

Dress Code Guide: What Does Dressy Casual Mean?

A man in a suit walking out of a record store

Dress codes have been around forever for a simple reason – they tell you what you should wear to different events. For instance, a wedding with a formal dress code means you’re expected to wear a suit, whereas events with casual dress codes are events where you don’t need to worry too much about what you’re wearing as long as you don’t turn up looking like you just woke up. But then, you come across a term like “dressy casual” and it all gets confusing.

What on earth is dressy casual attire?

The two terms seem to clash. “Dressy” suggests some importance being placed on what you wear, with casual saying the exact opposite. So, let’s clear up the confusion and unravel the mystery behind a dress code that isn’t immediately obvious at first glance.

Understanding Dress Codes

A man in a navy suit fixing his cuff

As GQ discusses in its article “The Complete GQ Guide to Dress Codes,” a dress code seems like a good idea because it’s supposed to give you a good idea of what you should wear to an event. Assuming you follow the code, you won’t clash with the event’s theme or seem out of place when you turn up.

But it’s rarely that simple.

Terms like “dressy casual” throw a spanner into the works because they’re not self-evident. Does that mean you can wear cocktail attire with no tie? Or is that too formal? Perhaps it just means you wear a semi-formal suit instead? That’s the problem with some dress codes – they’re not clear enough.

Still, the idea behind these codes is that they cover the full spectrum of potential formality that an event may require. For instance, a black-tie dress code means that guys need to wear tuxedos to look the part. Semi-formal is pretty clear, too – wear a suit but don’t dress to the nines. Ultimately, you’ll use dress codes to either define what you want people to wear (assuming you’re the person hosting the event) or to inform your outfit choice.

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What Does Dressy Casual Mean?

The brilliant Coco Chanel once said, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance,” and it’s in simplicity that you’ll achieve the dressy casual look. The idea is to wear something that’s formal, without going overboard. So, tuxedos are out of the window. They’re not casual enough. But, so too are jeans because they’re not “dressy” enough.

If you consider it on the scale of semi-formal vs. cocktail attire, dressy casual is closer to the semi-formal side than the cocktail one. Light colors and casual materials, like satin or linen, fit the code well. However, it’s also worth pointing out that the time of day may also affect the code. For instance, dressy casual for an evening may mean a suit, perhaps with an open shirt button to dress it down a bit. But when used for an event taking place earlier in the day, you’ll likely be fine in summer semi-formal wedding attire for males.

In short, dress casual isn’t quite the same as business casual because there’s a little more formality expected. But it also teeters around the semi-formal designation, with the code perhaps suggesting something a touch more casual for an event like a daytime wedding.

Dressy Casual and Weddings

Sticking with the wedding theme, let’s say you’ve received an invite to a wedding that has a dressy casual code.

What wedding guest attire should you wear?

Generally, you can combine the semi-formal approach with the time of day to determine what works best. For instance, a man might wear a semi-formal suit for an evening wedding – ideally one with darker colors – but shift toward an outfit that features airier fabrics and lighter colors for a daytime wedding.

Women have a few more options, with slip dresses, pantsuits, and below-the-knee dresses all being good choices of dressy casual attire for weddings. Again, use the time of day and year to indicate colors and shades. Go darker for an evening wedding and lighter for a daytime event.

Dressy Casual Attire Guide for Men

A man in a navy suit jacket

Let’s dig into dressy casual for men and what does (and doesn’t) work by covering three categories:

  • Top
  • Pants
  • Shoes


Starting with the top half of your body, avoid going too casual. T-shirts with insignias and words on them, for instance, are far too casual to mesh well with the “dressy” part of the code and should be avoided. Generally, you can’t go wrong with a good dress shirt.

For an evening event, combine that dress shirt with a blazer and you’re good to go. A tie is optional as it’s usually okay to leave your top shirt button undone in the dressy casual style. If it’s the height of summer, you can skip the blazer and stick solely with the shirt.


Shorts, three-quarter length trousers, and ripped jeans are all out of the question when trying to figure out what is dressy casual for a man. Again, they’re not dressy enough. In fact, jeans, in general, aren’t a great choice unless they’re a particularly elegant pair that looks more like trousers than they do jeans.

But that statement hints at better choices. Slacks are fine for dressy casual – they’re just about formal enough to be dressy – and khaki trousers can fit the bill if you’re attending an outdoor event in summer.


Here’s where it gets tricky, as the shoes you might wear for a formal event, such as Oxfords, are too formal for dressy casual. But at the same time, you can’t rock up in a pair of Nike sneakers and expect to fit in under this dress code.

Loafers are often the best choice for these events, though you could get away with the types of sneakers that combine formality with casual. For instance, Oxford dress shoes may not work, but Oxford sneakers might. They’re more subtle than regular sneakers and seem to have been designed with a semi-formal or dressy casual dress code in mind.

Dressy Casual Attire Guide for Women

People drinking and laughing in formal clothes

Women have a few more choices than men when it comes to dressy casual attire based on the following three categories:

  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Accessories


Again, you’re trying to strike a balance between formality and casualness here, so let’s start with what doesn’t work. On the casual side of the spectrum, t-shirts, crop tops, and low-cut tops are all out of the window because they’re too casual for the dressy casual look. Flip to the other side of the coin and you should also avoid cocktail dresses – they may look beautiful but they’re designed for more formal events.

Using that information as your guide on what not to wear, your options become clearer. Jumpsuits are an interesting choice for women who want to avoid wearing a skirt. You can also look toward some common workwear, such as blouses and dark skirts, especially when going dressy casual for an evening event. For the summer, sundresses and similar day dresses can also work, though try to avoid going too heavy with patterns in case you veer too far into the “casual” side. Cosmopolitan also recommends trendy suits, though points out that going for a starchy tux or typical work suit may be a touch too formal. Colors and patterns save the day here.


As was the case with the guys, sneakers are far too casual for the dressy casual look. But you also don’t want to go overly “classy” with your footwear. An elegant pair of high heels with straps may look stunning when paired with a cocktail dress, but the footwear will look out of place when you’re trying to strike a balance between formal and informal.

Flats are usually a good choice, as are subtle heels. Neither stands out too much in terms of their design. Dressy sandals can also work, especially in a summer or beach wedding setting.


Subtlety is the goal when you’re accessorizing, as going too garish or elegant clashes with your dressy casual attire. For instance, earrings are fine, as long as they’re not overly dangly or large hoops. Necklaces are also good, and you can’t go a little bigger with this accessory. A long-beaded necklace can look nice when set against a blouse. A scarf also works, especially when combined with a nice dress.

As a general rule, if an accessory feels like it’s “too much,” then it probably is.

When Is Dressy Casual a Good Dress Code Choice?

Now you have the answer to what is dressy casual for a man and a woman, the next question is what are the events for which this dress code is appropriate? Weddings have already been discussed – dressy casual can work really well for summer weddings, with the term taking on a slightly more formal slant for evening weddings.

But on more general terms, the following are events for which dressy casual works:

  • Networking events and fundraisers that aren’t specifically stated to be black-tie events.
  • Going to dinner at a nice restaurant, though perhaps not for a fine dining establishment.
  • Work parties may have a dressy casual code so you don’t feel like you’re turning up in business formal clothes.

Again, it’s all about striking a balance. If the event is a little too casual for cocktail attire, but not quite so casual that you could get away with overly casual or festive attire, it’s a good candidate for the dressy formal dress code.

Common Mistakes to Avoid With Dressy Casual

A denim button up, shoes, and a hat

Let’s wrap things up with a selection of mistakes to avoid when you’re trying to achieve the dressy casual look.

Not Erring on the Side of Formal

The use of “casual” can give you the mistaken idea that you’ll be fine turning up to the event in clothes that you might wear when you’re lounging around the home. That isn’t the case. Dressy casual still has a level of formality attached to it, so sneakers, jeans, and t-shirts are off the table. Remember – you can usually scale back and lose a jacket button (figuratively) if you’ve overdressed whereas it’s harder to “build up” if you’ve gone too casual.

Wearing Poor-Fitting Clothes

While this is usually a mistake for most events, poor-fitting clothes really stand out in a dressy casual environment because they show you’ve placed little care into your appearance. The “dressy” part of the code matters. Just because you have the license to be a touch more casual, that doesn’t mean you should be wearing billowing shirts or baggy pants.

Confusing Dressy Casual With Smart Casual

The two dress codes are very similar, but there are differences. For instance, you can get away with jeans with the smart casual look – especially when pairing them with a shirt – but jeans are almost always a no-no in dressy casual.

Are You Prepared for the Dressy Casual Look?

A man in a black suit

With this attire guide, you hopefully have a better idea of where dressy casual lives on the formality spectrum. Men won’t be fully suited and booted, and women aren’t expected to wear cocktail dresses, but the code still comes with a small expectation of formality.

Generation Tux can help you reach that expectation. Beyond its more formal wear, such as the tuxes that give the company its name, we offer suits for rent that fit into the dressy casual code. Check them out and you will find over 25 options to save money compared to buying a brand-new outfit.

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the dress casual dress code, you can move on to other topics:

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