I don't know how and when it all happened but our "dress code" lingo has changed in the past several years... The seemingly simple (although this caused me angst at times as well) "casual", "cocktail", "informal", "semi-formal", "formal/white tie/black tie"...somehow segued into all of these OTHER possibilities. We now have your "resort casual", "Creative Black Tie" (I had not heard of this until I googled dress code lingo's), living in TX we had something called TX casual/dressy, "Denim and Diamonds" (pretty self-explanatory but I did not care for this as who wants to show up in jeans next to someone in a long sequined gown? I went for the party top and jeans - best of both worlds.) My favorite (sarcasm) is "dressy casual"...I mean WTF? Which is it...dressy or casual? I want to shake the person that came up with this one. What is most annoying is that it seems to be easiest for the guy to figure out what to dress like because his options are less endless than a woman's are I suppose. A guys has basically 4 different "looks" that can fall under any of those headings for dress code....
FORMAL/black tie/etc. - tux or even dressy suit
SEMI-FORMAL - suit
CASUAL - anything goes
With women, not so simple. FORMAL can mean full length gown in some settings or just a "cocktail" little black dress. Or even sparkly pantsuit (although I would never wear this, apparently they are coming back).
SEMI-FORMAL - I would wear a cocktail dress (shorter dress but can have a bit of sparkle or dressy accessories)
INFORMAL - this one is tricky...in my google search I found this explanation
Informal is often interpreted as the same as Casual but it actually calls for the same dress as Semi-Formal -- dark suits for him, short dresses for her -- especially when associated with a wedding or special event.
So basically, it depends on the event. I will also say I think it depends on the location. Last year I went to two different weddings....one on the beach in Florida, the other on the water in Massachusetts. My husband asked why I could not wear the same dress. (Hasn't he learned yet? Is my question, but that is a whole other post!) I felt a beach wedding called for a long silk maxi dress with silver thong sandals and the MA wedding called for the blue JCrew dress (seen pictured in upper right corner of my blog). Although I would have been fine in either one for either wedding, I think I felt comfortable with my choices while I was there and that is what is important.
I also read somewhere that it is "always best to be OVER dressed rather than under dressed". I agree with this to some extent (*Ref. comment about the Denim and Diamonds code above).
Here are my "rules" that I go by:
Wear something classy, not trashy, something that accentuates your positive attributes but does not flaunt them. Something that makes you feel fantastic and special and not self-conscious...no matter what the code words on the invite or the venue.
Now to figure out what to wear for my reunion, which is dubbed "Resort Casual Attire" one night and "dinner attire" the next...oy!