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We’ve all been there… you receive an invite in the mail, and just after tearing through the envelope with excitement and a touch of self-pride at being invited to the wedding/birthday/milestone event… you see two dreaded words that bring you crashing back to Earth…

“Smart Casual“

All of a sudden, you’re not even sure if you can attend! This notoriously ambiguous dress code has the ability to make the most confident person start to second-guess everything they know. You’d rather it said nothing at all… right?

Relax! Take a deep breath… it’s going to be all right!

Basic Guide to Smart Casual Dress Code

In most cases, “smart casual” is just a polite way of saying – ‘dressy attire is not necessary for this event, but please don’t dress like you’ve just been walking the dog. While it’s a bit sad we need that reminder – with the absence of an official definition, the confusion is certainly understandable.

First of all, it’s important to clarify that even the most esteemed industry professionals can be thrown by this dress code. Why? Because it’s extremely ambiguous, and highly dependent on a range of external factors. From occasion and context, to venue and guest list… there’s really no wonder it’s so confusing!

With this in mind, there’s definitely a need to adjust your idea of smart casual depending on the occasion that requests it – but that’s not to say their aren’t some standard rules of thumb to help you through this difficult time.


Generally speaking, ‘smart casual’ for men should involve a collar, whether that be button down or polo. A crisp, well-fitted t-shirt can definitely pass, but in that case a blazer or nice jacket should be worn over the top. Traditionally, you can automatically rule out shorts, but of course there is always an exception… in this case, summer ‘polo’ style events could justify a smart pair of belted shorts, with loafers or ‘boat shoes’, a collared shirt and a blazer… but other than that, no shorts! A tie could be considered too formal unless clearly dressed down with less formal pants, shoes, vest or a playful/casual shirt and jacket.

Key Points:

  • Create Balance. Remember ‘smart; casual’ is two words. Dress up casual jeans with a blazer, or dress down formal trousers with more casual shirt or shoes.

  • Over > Under. It’s always better to overdress than under dress, period.

  • Chinos are your friend. Chinos are the smart-casual-essential, as they dress up and down, and come in a range of colours!

  • Mind your feet! Shoes should lean on the smart side. Automatically rule out thongs and runners ( On trend but should be worn appropriately)


As with many fashion related scenarios, women have it a little harder. There are literally so many options for smart casual for women…

  • Tailored pants and a sweater

  • Smart jeans and a t-shirt

  • A skirt and a chic top

  • A whole range of dresses

… All these things can pass for women’s smart casual, depending on the occasion obviously, but also on how they are styled. Women have a lot more options for accessorizing, and can quite easily dress up jeans with killer heels, or a plain top with smart jewelry and clutch/hand-bag. Some advice I always give to women is to talk to other people attending. This sort of conversation is completely normal in most circles, and at the very least ensures you won’t be the only one under/over dressed!

Key points:

  • No active-wear! Sorry ladies, I know it’s in fashion to look as though you’re always fresh from the gym, but yoga pants won’t pass for smart casual.

  • Consider the weather. You’re much more likely to look out of place if you’re dressed in defiance of the weather, than if you’re slightly over or under dressed. Layering can help here, with soft jackets or pullovers that can be on-and-off.

  • Appropriate Accessorization. Never underestimate the power shoes, jewelry, bags, hair and make-up can have on dressing-up or dressing-down clothing.

To conclude…

Golden Rule – Be Yourself!

We all know that ‘smart casual’ is ambiguous, dependent on a range of individual factors, and more-or-less open to interpretation. As such, there is no real RIGHT or WRONG, which means there’s nothing more important than being yourself. Wearing something you feel comfortable in is always the best option, as confidence radiates through personality.

Having said that, there’s a certain duty-of-responsibility that comes with being invited to any event. Out of respect to the host and the occasion, make an effort to gain an understanding of what spectrum of the ‘smart casual’ scale the occasion demands, and do your best to fit in those parameters… whilst still staying true to yourself and your personal style.

For more information on the smart casual dress code, or help dressing for a particular event, don’t hesitate to contact Nikki Casey for some professional, friendly guidance.

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