Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours walking and walking and stopping and gazing and contemplating and walking and walking and walking. Halfway through those hours we had to pause the art patronage and go feed ourselves.
Plan A for lunch had been Terzo Piano, a fine-dining restaurant conveniently within the Art Institute itself. The cuisine sounded fascinating and the prices were well within what we’d budgeted. But we hit a snag. After I made online reservations through OpenTable, the confirmation notice came back with fine print I’d overlooked on their site and hadn’t thought to seek out: Terzo Piano enforces a “smart casual” dress code. Neither of us had heard that phrase before.
I wager it’s common parlance among the upper class. Some quick, increasingly distressing Googling confirmed my “business casual” comfort level is a few rungs below “smart casual” and isn’t haughty enough to qualify. At the same time, “smart casual” doesn’t have to mean tuxedos or prom dresses. Several sites provided long lists of clothing articles within the “smart casual” scope. Neither of us owned any of them. I got the general impression it’s ambiguous velvet-rope code for anything worn by fashion bloggers, doctorate holders, chic magazine designers, and other citizens in loftier American castes than ours. The snazzy couture of trendsetters who can afford to shop at Magnificent Mile clothiers, sleek tastemakers who don’t feel right leaving the house until their mirror confirms they’re fit to be extras on The CW, or wannabe social media influencers who run up five-digit credit-card debt to emulate all of the above.
If we wanted into their restaurant, we’d have to spend more on new wardrobes than on lunch itself.
This is not who we are, as dozens of our past jazz-hands convention photo-ops have testified. “Business casual” comes easily to me. “Yacht owner in repose” is not among my character skins.
I canceled the reservation and found us a Plan B. If nothing else, our pre-rejection gave us an excuse to see more of downtown Chicago. Yet again.