What does a man wear when he is invited out for an evening meal? Do I wear my white dinner jacket and a colourful bow tie? Or do I turn up in ‘chinos’ and an open-necked shirt? Increasingly ‘smart casual’ is the order of the day. But what is ‘smart casual’? According to Debrett’s style guide, a dress code of smart casual requires that we look smart but not overly formal.
For men, ‘formal’ smart casual requires a jacket or blazer, flannels, needlecord trousers, or chinos (not jeans), a shirt with a collar, not a t-shirt, and smart shoes, not necessarily lace-ups, but not trainers or sandals. A shirt and tie can be worn but an open collar is also acceptable.
If it is winter then opt for an overcoat rather than an anorak or parka. A tweed sports jacket may take the place of a blazer and may be worn with cords or old-fashioned cavalry twill.
For ‘formal’ smart casual events women should aim to be smart in a dress or skirt and top with a jacket or smart cover-up. Avoid wearing denim, unless it is immaculate and balanced with a tailored jacket and smart accessories. Also avoid high heels and wearing suits, as they look like business clothes.
‘Informal’ smart casual for men can usually be interpreted as jeans for men but smart, clean, dark-coloured jeans. Other than in high summer or on the beach, trousers are better than shorts and polo shirts better than collarless t-shirts.
Women wearing ‘informal smart casual’ should dress for the time of day and the season. Denim should be immaculate and sports or beach clothes avoided unless the occasion demands. However, too much tailoring and heels can also look wrong.
What do we wear to go to church? As a Baptist minister I never ‘robed’. However, even although most of my people ‘dressed down’ on a Sunday, I always wore a suit and tie, on the ground that I had a job to do, and that even wearing ‘smart casual’ could imply that church was a leisure activity. But as far as most of my Baptist minister colleagues were concerned, I was stuck in a time-warp – ‘smart casual’, and more often than not, ‘casual’ has become the new dress code.
Ultimately, of course, what we wear to church is immaterial. It is the attitude of heart and mind which counts. It is at this point, however, that the new code of ‘casualness’ causes me difficulties. We sing casually, we read the Scriptures casually, we pray casually, we preach casually – and, of course, people listen casually. According to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘casual’ is defined as “occurring or brought about without design or pre-meditation; having no specific plan, method, motivation or interest; performed or entered into casually”. In some circles at least, it is not ‘cool’ to put effort into preparation – instead people just ‘leave it to the Spirit’.
Times have changed – inevitably. Life has become much more informal, and so too has church. However, I wonder whether people in the church have confused ‘smart casualness’ (with its degree of ‘informality’) with ‘casualness’. Hospital consultants, for the most part, no longer wear bow-ties – indeed, many of them no longer wear ties; hospital consultants tend no longer to be distant, but instead are people-friendly; but when it comes to their approach to their work, they are not ‘laid back’ or ‘relaxed’, but are as serious and determined as ever to bring healing of mind and body to those in their care.
Dress codes and styles of worship and preaching may have changed, but care and effort, study and preparation, still need to be the order of the day. Giving to God our very best is surely part of our ‘spiritual worship’ (see Rom 12.1). Or perhaps to put it another way, ‘smart casualness’ is what is required?