Dear Mr. Smith: My husband and I have been invited to a polo game, followed by a barbecue at a country house. I inquired about the dress code and they replied, "Very, very casual." What should we wear?
Finally, a crystal-clear dress code. I loathe the vague ones. Recently, someone queried me about an invitation that specified "garden party attire," as if that were a well-known code for something specific, like white or hats or green gardenias in the buttonhole. I said I thought it meant the host wanted you to look festive and probably slightly archaic, as if you were performing in Shaw or Chekhov. But if that's what he wanted, that's what he should have said. You can't try to colour co-ordinate your guests like a costume designer unless you have the confidence to confess to this controlling urge.
In this case, the hosts seem to want you to know that they really don't care what you wear. That's great. But it doesn't mean that you have to deliberately set out to look like a slob. If they are generous people - and it sounds as if they are - they want you to wear whatever makes you the most comfortable, so you may be as elegant as you desire (short of a tie). If you wear a linen suit and a bow tie - much as you have been waiting for this one opportunity - you are going to make the guests in polo shirts feel as if you are trying to show them up.
To most Canadians, "very, very casual" will mean those baggy shorts with all the pockets and flip-flops and a T-shirt that says something. But if your hosts play polo, then I am guessing they are not like most Canadians and so I would make some effort to look more attractive than that or you will find yourself standing out. Shorts and T-shirts are fine, but ensure that the shorts are crisp and plain (not camouflage or surfer-gnarly) and the shirt bears no advertising.
Personally, I could no more be "very, very casual" in the Canadian sense than play the oboe, so I would wear some linen trousers and a short-sleeved linen shirt with a sports jacket in the car for evening.
And by the way, the traditional drink at a polo game is a mixture of the British gin-based liqueur Pimm's No. 1 Cup and lemonade, garnished with a cucumber. A bottle of the spirit might make an appropriate gift for your hosts.
Russell Smith's new novel, Girl Crazy, was recently released.