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What does smart-casual mean? A look at how to wear this tricky dress code as a female

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Smart-casual can cause a panic in even the most fashion conscious of us.  I mean, how smart is too smart and what would look too casual?  Are jeans acceptable?  Trainers?  The list goes on and the confusion around this seemingly juxtaposed dress code builds.  After all, smart and casual are total opposites.  Smart being suited and booted for work, weddings, funerals, important events and so on.  Whereas casual is whatever you want to wear.  After a day of being dolled up casual gives the opportunity to relax and throw on something more comfortable and less rigid.  To mix the two into one dress code can seem almost impossible.  In this blog post I am going to look at what exactly smart-casual means and how exactly to wear this confusing dress code as a female.

What is smart-casual?

As much as the name seems to contradict itself, it does also make sense.  It means to look presentable, but not go over the top.  It’s to look respectable, but in a more comfortable manner.  It’s an in-between smart and casual dress code that can often mean different things to different people, but it’s not about throwing your ripped jeans, muddy Converse and baggy t-shirt on!  You still need to look neat and tidy, but not totally overdone. 

To put it simply, it means don’t wear what you’d wear to the grocery store, lounging around at home with the kids or to a sports match!  Put some effort into your outfit.

When to dress smart-casual

There are many events that may explicitly request a smart-casual dress code, but more often than not you’ll need to use your common sense to make a judgement yourself.  First dates, birthday parties, wedding anniversaries and even interviews may require you to dress in a smart, but casual manner.

Interviews can be a little trickier to judge, but if it’s an interview at a High Street fashion chain then they’re probably not expecting you to turn up in a full blown trouser suit.  If you’re unsure then call up the company before to check if there is a dress code to adhere to.

With personal engagements you’ll need to make the decision also.  On a first date, unless you’re going to the swankiest restaurant in town, you’ll probably want to go more as yourself but without looking too sloppy.

If you’re invited to a full wedding day then by all means dress up and go for it, but if you’re only invited for the evening do then you may want to wear something a little less restrictive.

How to dress smart-casual as a female

This is going to depend on the situation or event as you’ll need to make your own judgement to whether you can lean more towards the casual side of dress, or if smarter would be preferred, but here are some general guidelines to help you.

Instead of a full on trouser suit, tone it down a little.  Forget the suit jacket and shirt and instead choose to wear the smart suit trousers with a top and cardigan instead.  You’ll still look presentable, but you’ll be comfortable and more relaxed.

Put the heels away and choose flats instead.  Trainers or rubber soled pumps may be a little too casual, so choose smart flat pumps or jewelled flat sandals that are not too over the top.

Alternatively you may want to wear some more comfortable fitting trousers like these from Chums and team with a low heel and plain fitted top.

Jeans are usually a no-no if an event clearly requests smart-casual.  That said, a dark pair of jeans with a smart top and polished heels may be suitable for some events, but if in doubt then I’d advise against wearing jeans at all to any dress coded event that doesn’t specifically say they are allowed.  Your safe option is to avoid jeans when there’s any mention of the word smart, even if it’s placed next to casual!

Instead of a smart tailored dress, go for a long maxi-dress in a block colour or monochrome pattern.  Teamed with a smart black cardigan and flat plain sandals you’ll look smart-casual instead of as though you’re simply off to the beach!


Though smart-casual at first might sound like a rather ambiguous dress code, it does actually have some meaning and sense behind it.  Don’t dress like you’re off to business meetings all day and don’t dress like you’ve just woken up and thrown your comfiest clothes on.  If you look well-dressed enough to attract compliments about your outfit, but you’re still comfortable then you’ve nailed it.