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 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
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.”
RRP: £49.99 | A shoulder bag always feels grown-up, adding a little extra level of chic to those more casual outfits. The quilted black fabric, paired with gold hardware and a chain handle reference some of the most iconic designer bags on the market.
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 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.
RRP: £215 | Victoria Beckham knows the power of the best wide-leg jeans. Super stylish when worn long over a heel, they also help create an elongated silhouette, regardless of height. Not sure how to style wide leg jeans? Keep the top half simple and tucked in for a clean and well balanced ensemble.
RRP: £179 | Boucle jackets are a classic, making them perfect for any smart casual outfit idea. Being cropped, this one will work particularly well with high waisted jeans or trousers as it nips you in at your narrowest point, highlighting your waist, and if you’re on the petite side, it won't swamp your figure either.
RRP: £40 | A camisole-style top is a layering essential. While they look great on their own in warmer climes, in the winter months they offer added elegance under oversized shirts or blazers, especially when they have interesting and directional details such as a scalloped neckline, or a stitched edge.
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 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.
RRP: £85 | A pretty tulle skirt is always good for any occasion and this midi length design delivers Carrie Bradshaw vibes. Whether you’ve run out of brunch outfit ideas or need something cute for what to wear on a first date. This navy blue design is a chic alternative to denim, add extra polish with heels or keep is casual in trainers.
RRP: £85 | This boxy knit is ideal for smart casual outfit ideas. The antique pink hue feels feminine but not overly girly, while the relaxed shape makes it a great option for pairing with high waisted items. Try half tucking it into a waistband to show off your curves.
RRP: £150 | The best white trainers will work with any of your smart casual outfit ideas and this Veja pair mix sporty with smart. These sneakers are made from responsibly sourced leather and will go with everything in your wardrobe.
4. Smart Casual Blazer outfits
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.
RRP: £59.99 | A black blazer is a perennial style favorite; however, a khaki blazer offers a gentler, slightly less formal choice. This one in a soft twill is oversized, making it the perfect accompaniment for more fluid bottom halves, such as a floaty midi skirt or wide-legged cream pants.
RRP: £168 | Cream pants always feel luxe and are a great when it comes to smart casual outfit ideas. The pleat fronted, ankle hem cut of these Reiss pants mean they’re also ideal for showing off shoes - from ankle boots to the best loafers. Slip some stain remover wipes into your bag for emergencies.
RRP: £79 | A white silk shirt is a timeless classic and will slot effortlessly into any capsule wardrobe. The silky fabric instantly softens and elevates this tailored item, adding a freshness to any ensemble. Perfect for pairing with other neutrals or to calm down bolder hues, tuck this blouse in to show of your waistline.
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 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.
RRP: £77 | Borrowing an androgynous boxy cut from the boys, this khaki blouse has a more relaxed fit and asymmetric hem for a softer feel. This classic neutral hue will pair with everything.
RRP: £49 | Tailor your lower half with these slim fit trousers. The high waist and slightly cropped hemline help to lengthen your pins and balance out a boxier top half, streamlining your shape.
RRP: £110 | This pair of pumps elevate a traditional loafer shape to something more modern. Made from buttery soft leather, slip a pair into your bag for when you're tired of heels, these are excellent Quiet Luxury shoes.
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 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.
RRP: £42 | A one-stop outfit, a jumpsuit is the perfect choice for so many smart casual events. This bold printed design will add the wow factor to any look. Dress up with a blazer or statement heels, or make it more casual with a denim jacket.