What Does A “Smart Casual” Dress Code Even Mean?
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What Does A “Smart Casual” Dress Code Even Mean?

The “smart casual” dress code is among the most ambiguous around. (“Beach formal” gives it a run for its money.) So if the term is confusing or simply new to you, you’re not alone. If you live abroad, you may have encountered it more often.

When it comes to “smart casual,” there’s one rule that transcends countries: If it reminds you of the bedroom, the beach, or the boardroom, leave it at home.

Here’s a more specific framework for deciding what a smart casual outfit looks like. First, think about an office with formal business attire ie. one where slacks, skirts, and dresses in dark colors are at play. That’s a conservative business dress code. Business casual attire is one tier down from that, where cuts, fabrics, and colors are still generally conservative, but you can lose certain items like the tie, the heels, or the skirt and jacket combo. Smart casual means you’re dressed elegantly but comfortably.

Here’s what you should keep in mind:

Think: Blouses and tops that are interesting but professional

A smart casual look is about mixing separates into one cohesive, polished look. For tops, say “no” to a tank, a T-shirt, or anything too stuffy or formal. This is an area where you can play around with a beautiful blouse in an interesting pattern, cut, or color. Avoid sequins or anything that screams cocktail or party.

Think: Pants and skirts that skim, don’t cling and have interesting patterns or colors

Traditional slacks can be boring. But when done right, they’re the basis for a more interesting look. Try a slim, cropped trouser in a fun pattern that’s small enough to still be a neutral base. Or go in the opposite direction and try a wide-legged trouser in a fun color.

Steer away from anything too sheer or too clingy. Remember, the idea is to be polished but comfortable.

Think: Dresses that are simple, elegant, and easily dressed up or down with the right accessories

If you choose a dress, try one that’s a little more fashion-forward. Consider an asymmetrical cut or a bold pattern in an otherwise simple wrap style. If you opt for a simple silhouette, dress it up with bold accessories.

Whatever you do, don’t opt for a dress that’s too casual. A floor-length dress might be better suited for the beach or poolside; a midi or knee-length is the safest choice. As for the fabrics, avoid anything too silky, lacy, or stiff.

Think: Shoes that are block heels, mules, slides that add a dose of polish

Let’s get this out of the way: Sandals are out of the question. Sneakers might be all the rage right now, but you’re better off leaving them at home and instead opting for a pair of low heels. (If you work in a creative field, you could get away with them. Just opt for a pair free of scruffs and made of a non-canvas material.)

Block heels (a.k.a. stacked heels) are a comfortable but stylish option. A pair of mules or slides also does the trick. Stiletto heels can be worn, but aim for less than three inches and balance it with a conservative top and slacks/skirt.

And, when the weather gets too hot, here’s a guide to looking put-together in sweltering heat.