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?
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!
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The Jeans Issue… Smart or Casual?
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.
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