Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Turn Probing Comments Into a Teaching Moment

DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the past few years, I have received invitations to various events stating the dress should be "California casual," "European casual" or my personal favorite, "smart casual"!

Judging from the wide variations in the way that people have dressed at these events, I am guessing that I am not alone in my confusion. Would you be so kind as to define these terms?

GENTLE READER: Your hosts would likely say the word or words added to a more-or-less well-understood term are there to inspire your imagination. What they likely mean is that there should be a conversation starter to justify your choice.

Miss Manners thinks they are a waste of time and ink. Casual is casual. Consider yourself fortunate that none of your hosts' additions are contradictory, as in "business casual." Although she would not recommend issuing it as an instruction, she has seen ensembles that can only be described -- and not in a complimentary way -- as “casual formal.”