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Cracking the Code on Dress Codes: What is Smart Casual?

“Smart Casual” - it’s the puzzling dress code that leaves us standing mystified before our wardrobe. Is a blazer too smart? Is a T-shirt too casual? How do you craft an outfit that blends these seemingly opposite aesthetics?

Joe Browns is here to rescue you from fashion faux pas with our smart casual outfit advice and inspiration, including tips on nailing the oh-so-tricky smart casual workwear.

What is Smart Casual for Women?

Select Image to Shop Glamorous Off-The-Shoulder Jumper [WK677]
Select Image to Shop Heavenly Heritage Blazer [WJ611]

Smart Casual for women can feel like a minefield. From dress length to heel height to the perfect pair of jeans, one single decision can feel as though it will tip the whole outfit too far in either direction. 

Don’t worry. Whilst a smart casual dress code may be a little stressful initially, our handy guide is here to help!


Select Image to Shop Minnie Jersey Dress [WE869]
Select Image to Shop Oh So Unique Printed Dress [WE822]

The smart casual dress code lies between formal and relaxed, meaning a midi dress is perfect for any smart casual event. A midi dress effortlessly sits between the casual mini dress and the show-stopping floor-length maxi

Try a knee-length or midi tea dress for the perfect smart casual day dress option. This length is sophisticated and elegant without giving the appearance of a gown, but at the same time, it isn't so short that it seems like you’re about to head to a late-night party or club.


Select Image to Shop Geo Print Top [WU016]
Select Image to Shop Tess Vintage Collar Blouse [WA323]

With a smart casual dress code, you can choose between dressing up a more casual top or dressing down one that’s smarter. For example, bring a formal blouse into a casual vibe by pairing it with denim styles or a leather jacket. Or, take a t-shirt up a notch with a blazer and some smart accessories like light jewellery or a chic scarf. 

Smart casual is also a wonderful excuse to break out the blouses which are a little too out there for a fully formal environment, like those with funky prints or slightly more free-spirited, boho styling.

Skirts and Trousers

Select Image to Shop Rock It PU Pencil Skirt [WS387]
Select Image to Shop Ecru Bootcut Jeans [WB452]

If opting for a skirt, avoid anything too floaty or breezy, as this easily floats the outfit into casual territory. A more fitted skirt, around knee length, however, can work perfectly. Choose preppy plaid to lean toward the smarter side of smart casual or leather to bring a more laid-back vibe. 

With trousers, try something tailored, like cords or moleskin trousers, avoiding leggings or sweatpants. Those are a tad too casual and are more suitable for cosy strolls and errand running.

Smart Casual Shoes

Select Image to Shop City Chic Chunky Loafers [KC314]
Select Image to Shop I'm Obsessed Suede Bootees [KA160]

Complete your smart casual look with some fabulously sophisticated footwear. Move away from casual trainers and instead gravitate to pumps, heels, and boots.

Smart casual heels are tricky. Our advice is to stick to three inches or lower, as higher heels can be more extravagant and push the look into occasion wear.

What is Smart Casual for Men?

Select Image to Shop Shore Cardigan [MK317]
Select Image to Shop Premium Knitted Polo [MK312]

As a man, it can sometimes feel as though you don’t have as many options as women for dressing in a smart casual manner. However, that’s simply not true. With our tips, you’ll soon realise that there’s a wide world of smart casual dressing for men to explore.


Select Image to Shop Perfect Polo [CT930]
Select Image to Shop Bright and Blue Floral Shirt [SM620]

Ditch the white button up of formal dressing for a shirt with a pop of colour or a loud pattern. Think Hawaiians and eye-catching seventies-style florals.

Polo shirts are another brilliant option for smart casual styling, with the collar bringing formal flair whilst the short sleeves relax the look. With just a few buttons at the top, they’re a perfect halfway point between a traditional shirt and a laid-back tee. 

You can even pick up a long-sleeved knitted polo from Joe Browns, perfect for elevating your smart causal attire in winter.


Select Image to Shop Straight Joe Jeans [TR844]
Select Image to Shop Right Track Jeans [TR847]

Tailored trousers or chinos work excellently for men’s smart casual clothing. An ideal in-between to casual jeans and joggers and smart suit trousers. 

In the summer months, tailored shorts are a potential choice for smart casual garden parties and other events. Avoid denim or baggy shorts in favour of chino styles, which you can pair with a short sleeved shirt.


Select Image to Shop Club Regent Leather Brogues [FW336]
Select Image to Shop Mix It Up Premium Leather Boots [FW337]

Leather and suede shoes are always a fabulous choice for a smart casual look. Black shoes are often associated with formality, so look at warm brown or beige shoe options for a look that gives a relaxed air. Or, choose a loafer, brogue or boot that offers a pop of colour like blue or green to show off your personality.

Dressing Smart Casual at Work

Select Image to Shop Intriguing Animal Jumper [WK675]
Select Image to Shop Confident and Cool Overshirt [SM610]

A smart casual workplace outfit is a careful balance to strike. Dress too smart and you risk seeming as though you’re trying too hard. Dress too casual and you could seem too laid back and even potentially unprofessional. 

If your workplace operates a smart casual dress code, our tips will help you to create the perfect outfits for that laid back professional vibe.

Smart Casual vs Business Casual

Select Image to Shop Heavenly Heritage Blazer [WJ611]
Select Image to Shop Polly Spot Pleat Dress [WE847]

Smart casual clothing is easy-to-wear and fashion forward, whilst business casual might be a little more conservative. For example, a bardot blouse which might work well at a smart casual party, might be a little too casual for an office or classroom.

If in Doubt, Lean Towards Smartness

Select Image to Shop Long Sleeve Perfect Polo [CT926]
Select Image to Shop Satin Skirt [WS388]

In a work environment, being overdressed is favourable to being underdressed. Accessories such as silk scarves and blazers, which elevate the formality of a work outfit, are easily removed to dress down the look if needed.

Transitional Style

Select Image to Shop Autumn Blooms Jersey Dress [WE896]
Select Image to Shop Classic and Cool Knitted Polo [MK327]

If you’re partial to post-work drinks with coworkers, opt for an outfit that blends as seamlessly with a morning meeting as it does with after work drinks. A knee-length dress for ladies, or a polo with smart trousers and loafers for gents, can fit the smart casual office dress code without looking out of place at the pub, so you can head straight out for a pint or cocktail with work pals without feeling overdressed.

Always Ask if Unsure

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Select Image to Shop Feeling Wild Cardigan [MK320]

Before starting a new role, you can ask your new employer for some more clarity on how to dress for work. Select some safe options for the first few days and take mental notes of your coworker's clothes for inspiration on how best to gauge the workwear dress code.

Other Smart Casual Tips

Select Image to Shop Tremendously Tweed Blazer [WJ610]
Select Image to Shop Sensational and Stylish Coat [JA659]

If you’re still looking for tips on curating an effortless smart casual outfit, here are Joe’s top picks to help you on your way.

Never Underestimate Knitwear

Select Image to Shop Winter Days Roll Neck Jumper [WK687]
Select Image to Shop Keeping It Cool Cardigan [MK328]

A fitted jumper is the perfect winter alternative to a shirt or blouse, looking suave whilst allowing the wearer to feel comfy as can be. Another idea is to replace a blazer with a smart cardigan, relaxing the outfit whilst still creating a sophisticated appearance. It’s a perfect piece of seasonal smart casual attire for women and men.

Consider the Occasion

Select Image to Shop Stunning Button Blouse [WA319]
Select Image to Shop Fiery Fun Floral Shirt [SM631]

Smart casual for one event may be different to another, and for certain events you may want to lean to the smarter side, such as smart-casual coded wedding or networking event, whilst for a dinner or garden party you may lean more casual.

The Jeans Issue… Smart or Casual?

Select Image to Shop Emma Embroidered Jeans [WB471]
Select Image to Shop Stylish Straight Jeans [TR850]

Can jeans be smart casual? We say yes!

Avoid baggy jeans or those with rips, as these lie firmly in the casual category. However, fitted and dark washed jeans can be smartly dressed up with a shirt, blouse, blazer and smart shoes.
For women, wearing your jeans with heels can elevate them - quite literally - into a slicker look.

Discover our New Season Collection to start planning your remarkable smart casual wardrobe today, or shop in person at one of our sensational stores.



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