Smart casual outfit ideas: 7 stylish looks that will navigate this tricky dress code

One of the hardest dress codes to decipher, these smart casual outfit ideas will help you nail this look

Street style images of smart casual outfit ideas
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Compiling smart casual outfit ideas is no easy task and the mere mention of the dress code 'smart casual' is enough to induce a sartorial meltdown for even the savviest of dressers. Not super formal and not casual enough for loungewear, getting the line just right takes some practice. 

Thought to be a term coined in the mid-twenties, smart casual originally referred to men’s clothing, suggesting suits of less heavy fabrics, in more unconventional colors, could be worn to certain events. However, since then, the term has encompassed all categories and is regularly bounded around for events of all kinds, leaving plenty of outfit anxiety. Celebrity stylist Natalie Robinson believes the term is too open and that’s why it’s often daunting to dress for those occasions that call for smart casual.

“Smart casual can be confusing as they are opposites - like chalk and cheese. The term smart casual is not specific, giving us free rein to experiment with contrasting styles. (Making it) challenging to balance casual and smart attire,” she says.

Not only is it a dress code open to interpretation, but it also depends on what the invite is for. While jeans could work for a smart casual birthday party, they’d be a definite fashion no go if it was a wedding invite. And when it comes to smart casual outfits it's all about finding the perfect balance between being relaxed, yet still polished. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style.” But if in doubt, play it safe and wear something that wouldn’t go amiss in an office. 

7 smart casual outfit ideas to solve those sartorial meltdowns

If you're really stuck for inspiration and need some smart casual outfit ideas, we’ve compiled seven smart casual outfit ideas that will help you navigate this tricky dress code with ease. 

Smart casual outfits featuring dresses

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1. Smart casual dress outfits

A failsafe option is without a doubt a midi or knee-length dress. The best midi dresses are those that are made from silk or viscose, rather than more casual cotton or denim fabrications. A favorite of Kate Middleton for smart casual invites, the wrap dress is a great choice for this dress code. How to style a wrap dress will depend on the occasion, but teaming with a pair of heels, sleek pumps or a smart pair of knee-high boots is a good start. Avoid mini-length dresses or anything too flesh-baring. 

Styling tip: “Accessories make or break an outfit as well as enhance smart casual looks,” says Natalie. “My three tips to make a dress casual-smart are to add a belt for a cinched waist, wear a leather jacket and add ankle boots.” 

Smart casual outfits with jeans

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2. Smart Casual Jeans outfits

While jeans are a no go for super formal events such as what to wear to a wedding, denim can be worked into your smart casual outfit ideas under certain conditions.

“A popular way to achieve a smart casual look is to pair items of different formality levels,” advises Natalie, who suggests making jeans smart casual appropriate by pairing them with with more tailored styles such as a blazer or a  fitted shirt.   

Looking polished will always help with the smart casual dress code so if you’re choosing jeans, keep everything else fitted and formal. Think a nice top with a pair of jeans - a crisp white shirt or a pretty chiffon blouse with a Peter Pan collar will help keep this outfit on the smart side of casual. 

It’s also about the fit and the wash of your chosen jeans too. The best jeans for smart casual outfits will be in a darker blue denim or black and a more slim-fitting style – a straight leg or flared jean works well for smart casual. If you're wondering how to style baggy jeans for a more polished finish, go for a slightly slimmer leg style, rather than overly loose and keep the rest of the look tailored. One thing that is non-negotiable, however, is ripped jeans. While these work for informal events, for anything smart casual, leave distressed jeans in your wardrobe.

Styling tip: Choosing a darker denim not only makes the outfit smarter, but it also has amazing leg lengthening properties. If you're wondering how to style flared jeans for smart casual, choose a pair that are slightly longer than normal and team with high heels for legs that will go on for days.

Smart casual outfits with skirts

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3. Smart Casual Skirt outfits

If in doubt, a skirt is always a good choice as it can be dressed up or down depending on what you wear with it. The only styles to avoid for this dress code are anything too body con or super short, but aside from that, have fun mixing and matching styles and colors. If the event is on the more conservative side, however, stick to muted tones such as blacks, whites, navy, creams and beiges.

While a smart shirt or blouse tucked in always looks great, the same goes for a sweater, especially, when it’s worn with a French tuck, where you just tuck the front in. So chic and laidback - and definitely smart casual. For a smart casual outfit you can also inject a denim skirt here in a dark wash, similarly to jeans you'll want a non distressed version that's a slim A-line design.

Styling tip: Heels aren’t always necessary for a smart casual skirt outfit and in fact, this could be the perfect time to dig out your comfortable flats as ballet slippers, loafers, mules and brogues all work well with a midi-length skirt.

Smart casual outfit ideas with blazers

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4. Smart Casual Blazer outfits

If your outfit needs an added dose of smart, throw a blazer over your dress - it literally puts the smart into smart casual! When it comes to how to style a blazer for this dress code, think of teaming less formal items with one, such as a pair of your best skinny jeans, a pleated midi skirt or even some tracksuit bottoms - yes, really. Blazers are also great for throwing on over a dress, especially if you’re not sure how smart your outfit should be - it can always be removed if everyone else is dressed a lot more casually.

In fact, if you have a relatively casual dress code at work, keeping a tailored blazer on the back of your chair means you're ready for last minute meetings in a jiffy. 

Styling tip: Match the color of your blazer to your accessories for a super chic finishing touch.

Smart casual outfit ideas with blouses

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5. Smart Casual Blouse outfits

A pretty blouse has a more laidback feel than a tailored shirt, so works perfectly in most smart casual outfit ideas.

Choose the blouse first and then create the outfit around it. If your blouse is patterned, embellished or contains ruffles, make sure the bottom half is sleeker - such as a dark pair of jeans or color block culottes. A more minimal blouse can take more volume on the bottom half and would suit a full circle skirt or a wide legged pair of trousers. 

Styling tip: Choose a monochrome palette for an easy-to-wear and chic smart casual outfit. A black chiffon blouse tucked into a white midi skirt feels fresh and modern and perfect for a smart casual dress code.

Smart casual outfit ideas featuring jumpsuits

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6. Smart Casual Jumpsuit outfits

Jumpsuits were made for this dress code - they’re smart, yet laidback, and come in various styles to suit any occasion. When it comes to finding the most flattering jumpsuit for smart casual events, avoid anything too dressy or too casual - capes, boilersuits, those that bare too much flesh or tuxedo-style jumpsuits are out. While you can never go wrong with black or navy, a subtle pattern or bright color is a good choice and with the right accessories, such as a simple handbag or necklace, you’re good to go.

Styling tip: Choosing a plain jumpsuit? Inject a touch of color with some bright heels or bag.

Smart casual outfit ideas featuring co-ords

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7. Smart casual Co-ord outfits

While a full-on suit may be too formal for a smart casual dress code, a co-ord set just the right tone. As one of the many trends 2022 isn’t giving up on, there are plenty of different styles to choose from, however, a co-ord skirt or trouser outfit is probably the safest option here. Look for subtle patterns and silky fabrics to give it a smarter edge.

And if you really do want to wear a suit, team with box white trainers and a fitted tee to dress it down a bit. Alternatively choose a sleeveless blazer to team with your trousers to make it feel less like business attire. 

Styling tip: Natalie says this look can be elevated by a clever choice of accessories.

“Classic white trainers would add a casual element to a smart co-ord outfit,” she explains. “If the latter is casual, on the other hand, you could incorporate a pair of open-back loafers, earrings and a clutch bag to create a smart-casual look.”

Are jeans out for smart casual?

According to Debretts (opens in new tab), the world-leading guide on etiquette, jeans can be smart casual, but only when the event or place you’re heading to is seen as more laid back one. For example, jeans would be a real no-no at a smart casual wedding.

For stylist Natalie, it’s all about the style.

“Dark wash boot-cut jeans look smart, whereas light wash cuffed boyfriend jeans are more relaxed,” she says.

If in doubt, she advises, to ditch the jeans and choose trousers or a skirt instead!