Is there any phrase more chilling than ‘smart casual’? Picture the scene: you’re scanning the invite, getting excited about the event when – bam – there it is: ‘Smart casual dress code’ hidden at the bottom.
What does is even mean? Men’s smart casual is, arguably, easier – it’s smart shoes and no tie, right?
How smart is too smart. Are trainers OK? No, but we’ll get to that. When it comes to women’s smart casual, more questions abound. Flats or heels? Bare shoulders or covered? Should I wear a hat? Take a deep breath, try not to panic.
We’ve come up with six, handy ideas for both men and women’s outfits that will help you nail that dress code and be the belle of the casual ball.
1. If in doubt, go smarter
Don’t turn up in black tie or anything – you do that, you’re on your own. But if you are unsure, it’s better to be a little overdressed than under. Smart elements can be easily removed: ties can come off, up-dos can come down but not even Queen Anna Wintour herself could magic up smart shoes out of the clean blue air.
2. Don’t wear anything you’d wear to work
Smart casual is meant to be fun, a chance to shed the stuffy office attire your wear day in, day out. Suits – skirt or otherwise – should be left in the wardrobe. Men, opt for a relaxed but well-fitting shirt and, when it comes to shoes, swap trainers for something classic such as a loafer or brogue. For women, almost anything goes as female footwear tends to multitask better. Unless you work on a farm. Wellies are a hard no.
3. Don’t wear anything you’d never wear at work
We’re talking T-shirts. We’re talking sequins. We’re talking anything you got for free on a bar crawl. Imagine that you’ve bumped into your boss and you’re wearing it. Done? Now once you’ve stopped shaking, hang it back in the wardrobe and step away.
4. Yes, you can wear jeans
Contrary to popular belief, jeans are absolutely acceptable as smart-causal attire. If in doubt, go for a darker wash and a tailored fit. Add a heel to dress them up and add a white shirt for a classic pairing. It should go without saying but rips are a no-no, baggy cuts are out and if your underwear is visible, you should probably never wear them again. If they were trendy in 2002, they are not smart casual.
5. Blaze(r) a trail
Blazers are the answer to your sartorial dilemmas and they are an easy smart-casual win for women and men alike. They go with jeans, they go with dresses and they provide warmth. So, ladies, you can finally burn that pashmina. A blazer puts the ‘smart’ in ‘smart casual’. However, men should be aware that ‘blazer’ does not mean ‘suit jacket’ and that a hodge-podge of office wear and chinos does not a smart-causal outfit make. See rule number two.
6. Dress for success
Dresses are a staple of any women’s smart-casual wardrobe. They may be a staple of a man’s smart-casual wardrobe. Regardless of how you identify, there are some dress rules that we all must follow. Essential, the clue is in the title: wrap dress, tea dress, midi-dress. These are all acceptable prefixes for a smart-casual dress code. Mini dress, lucky dress, bridesmaid’s dress and fancy dress, however…no, no, no and absolutely not. Thin straps are fine but consider taking a cover-up just in case, such as – altogether now – a blazer. As for hemlines: I don’t want to come over all headmistress-y but you need to find a happy medium – literally. Too short is inappropriate and floor length is overkill. Aim for the knee, you can’t go wrong.