Ashley MacInnis: The Frenzied Fashionista


Decoding Dress Codes: Your Outfit For Every Occasion

Casual, Smart Casual, Business, Semi-Formal... Oh My!

Have you ever been invited to a fancy event or accepted a new job, only to question what that dress code really means? Casual, smart casual, business, business casual, business formal… the list goes on. But what does all of that even mean? After being asked by a number of friends and even a few of my students what the difference between Business Casual and Smart Casual is, I decided to get to decoding all those dress codes. I hope this helps! 

Beach Casual:

Don’t mistake beach to mean bathing suits! “Beach Casual” means summertime comfort — think shorts, tanks and sandals. Both guys and gals can safely choose shorts and a tee-shirt. In short: picnic attire.


Casual does not mean frumpy. This is your opportunity to pull out your favourite jeans! You can opt for a simple, comfortable tee-shirt or dress things up with a fancier top, funky jewelry or even a blazer if you wish! Guys can wear jeans, tees and sneakers or step it up a notch with cargos, a polo shirt or a Henley. Depending on the event, you can choose sneakers, flats, heels or boots.

Head to shops like American Eagle  TargetWal-MartGapand H&M to get casual picks for both the gals and the guys.

Business Casual:

Business Casual is the typical office-wear of the times. Both men and women can wear slacks, dark denim ,and dressy tops (collared shirts for men and blouses for women). Patterned shirts and dress shoes are a fun way for men to dress up their look, while the ladies might like to dress it up with heels and jewelry for a put together look. 

Both guys and gals can head to stores like Gap, H&M, Old Navy or Banana Republic.

Smart Casual:

If Business Casual and informal dress codes had a love child it would be Smart Casual. A blazer or sport coat with dark denim or slacks, the look as a whole is sharp, stylish and neatly put together. Ties, vests or sweater vests with dress shoes for men; ladies may also choose chic, clean dresses and heels or dressy boots or flats. 

Stores like Banana Republic and  RW & Cohave stylish, work-appropriate styles for men and women, while Smart Set has loads of great picks for the gals! 

Business or Informal:

Informal here is a bit of a misnomer as “business” dress codes call for some formality. Both men and women will want to wear business suits or separates (ladies might choose a business style dress instead) and smart shoes. 

I like stores like RW & Co. and Banana Republic for my work wear — plus they cater to men and women! 


More dressy than Smart Casual since jeans are off limits, but not as dressy as Formal Black Tie (Optional), the Semi-Formal dress code calls for a classy, sophisticated look. Guys will want to pick dress pants in neutral shades and button down shirts, with or without tie, and sport coats. For ladies, this is the perfect opportunity to wear your little black dress or other elegant cocktail dress. 

Formal/ Black Tie (Or Black tie Optional)

Formal/ Black Tie (Optional) is the time to bust out your fancy pants, dresses and shoes! Think of “penguin” if you’re a man — a tuxedo with all the frills or a black suit, white shirt and conservative tie. Shiny black dress shoes encouraged, and men can wear a coloured tie to match their date if so desired. Ladies are safest in floor-length evening dresses, though a very fancy knee-length dress may also be appropriate. 

Need to shop? Men and women alike can shop at stores like Le Chateau for Semi-Formal and Formal styles! 

Thanks for stopping by! Did you know that a Canadian fashion designer is working to make fashion more accessible to everyone? You can read it here. Another designer made this character look beautiful on the big screen, and it was awesome. See you next time!