7 stylish smart casual outfit ideas to help you navigate this tricky dress code

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

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Nailing those smart casual outfit ideas can be tricky. One of the hardest dress codes to master, it can send even the most savvy into a sartorial meltdown. Ideal for those in-between occasions, smart casual outfits deliver just the right amount of polish. 

Originally coined in the mid-twenties, smart casual originally referred to men's clothing and evoked the idea of lighter-weight suit fabrics in more unconventional colours that could be worn for more laidback events. In more recent times, the term has been used to cover a host of categories and can be actioned for a host of events both in the day or evening, striking outfit anxiety. Celebrity stylist Natalie Robinson believes the term is too open, so it’s often daunting to dress for 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.

The brief of a smart casual dress code is pretty broad, and is open for interpretation depending on the event, with some events considered more casual than others, so studying and understanding the occasion is really important before selecting your outfit. While your best jeans could work for a smart casual birthday party, they’d be a definite no-go for what to wear to a wedding, but smart casual in the office could render jeans suitable once more, just select a darker wash and add a blazer for a little more polish. When it comes to smart casual outfits it's all about finding the perfect balance between being relaxed, and smartly put together. 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 at your 9 to 5. 

Natalie Robinson
Natalie Robinson

Natalie Robinson is an award winning style expert, luxury personal shopper and livestreamer at Style Icon Ltd. She began her career working in Harrods as a brand specialist for Donna Karan and other top international designers and has since worked for Browns and Selfridges. Launching Style Icon Ltd in 2005,  Natalie aims to inspire, create, innovate and educate through her work as a personal stylist, style writer, and content creator.

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 looks that will help you navigate this tricky dress code with ease. 

1. Smart casual dress outfits

smart casual dress ideas

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A failsafe option is without a doubt a midi or knee-length dress. The best midi dresses for smart casual outfit ideas will have slightly more polished fabric, rather than casual denim iterations. A favourite silhouette of Kate Middleton for smart casual invites, the wrap dress is a great choice for this dress code. How you wear a wrap dress will depend on the occasion, but teaming with a pair of heels, sleek pumps or a smart pair of the best 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.” 

2. Smart Casual Jeans outfits

Smart casual outfits with jeans

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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 stylish top paired with  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 darker denim not only makes the outfit smarter - ideal for channeling the Quiet Luxury look, but it also has amazing leg lengthening properties. If you're wondering how to style flared jeans for smart casual outfit ideas, choose a pair that are slightly longer than normal and team with high heels for legs that will go on for days.

3. Smart Casual Skirt outfits

Smart casual outfits with skirts

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If in doubt, a skirt is always a good choice as it can be dressed up or down depending on how you style it. The only looks to avoid for a smart casual dress code is anything too body con or super short, but aside from that, have fun mixing and matching cuts and colors. If the event is on the more conservative side, 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 dressy flats, such as your best ballet pumps, loafers, mules and brogues all work well with a midi-length skirt - and are very much part of the autumn/winter shoe trends 2023.

4. Smart Casual Blazer outfits

Smart casual outfit ideas with blazers

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If your outfit needs an added dose of smart, a blazer is an ideal example of what to wear over a 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 silky 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. And of course, nailing a jeans and a blazer combo will only help you maximise your wardrobe.

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 colour of your blazer to your accessories for a super chic finishing touch.

5. Smart Casual Blouse outfits

smart casual outfit ideas for blouses

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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 pants. 

Styling tip: Opt for a floatier fit for an easy-to-wear and chic smart casual outfit. A silky blouse tucked into a white midi skirt feels fresh and modern and perfect for a smart casual dress code.

6. Smart Casual Jumpsuit outfits

Smart casual outfit ideas featuring jumpsuits

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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 outfit ideas, 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 colour with some bright heels or bag.