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Don’t you just hate that?

Your friend posted an event on Facebook and you’re invited.

No, no that’s the good news. I’m always up for an excuse to party!

But ugh, it's a smart casual dress code.

What even is the smart casual dress code for women?

It’s something we women have debated and analyzed for decades. We’re caught in a never-ending battle between smart and casual but never seem to know which side we’re actually fighting for.

Well, now we’ve reached the end of our tether. It’s time to put the issue to bed once and for all.

It’s time we not only defined what smart casual for women means but when and how to use it too.

Will you join me in solving this age-old mystery?

What is Smart Casual Dress Code?

According to The Trend Spotter, smart casual is a polished yet relaxed attire.

Yeah, that’s still pretty ambiguous.

The Street describes it as a dress code comprising well-fitting, neat and appropriate pieces that are slightly less formal than business casual or business professional.

Mmm, okay. Getting warmer.

Stylist Britt Theodora told Who What Wear that smart casual “is an elevation of your ideal day-to-day wardrobe.” She even gave an example, saying that “To turn a go-to jeans and a t-shirt ensemble into business casual, throw on a black blazer and non-ripped jeans with ballet flats.”

Okay, okay, almost there.

Dave Arnold of Arnold Partners expanded on The Street’s definition, saying that “Smart casual is employing finer-quality clothes that are still casual but well-fitted, in-style and of good fabrics.”

Ow, hot, hot, hot! I think we’ve nailed it.

So let’s get this straight, smart casual is a polished outfit made up of your finest form-fitting clothes that you can seamlessly wear in either a casual or semi-formal setting.

Let’s try to contextualize this.

Let’s say you’re invited to a friend’s BBQ for lunch but that you’re also invited to a smart casual dinner later that evening and you don’t have time to change. You can’t show up to your dinner underdressed, so your only option is to stick to smart casual.

Taking from Britt Theodora’s example, you wear your neatest, best fitting blazer, a t-shirt, non-ripped jeans and flats. You don’t want to get BBQ sauce on your nice blazer, so you take it off. Now you fit right in with the common folk.

When it’s time for dinner, you simply put it back on and no one’s the wiser. You’re like Diana Prince changing into Wonder Woman. Cue the theme music!

women's white blazer


There, that wasn’t too hard, was it? But just so we’ve completely covered our bases, let’s delve a little deeper.

The Smart Casual Dress Code Policy

Now that you’ve got a general idea of what the smart casual women’s dress code is, let’s get into a few of the rules of how to dress for smart casual.

The Do’s

Just as you should with any other event where there’s a specific dress code, Intelistyle suggests you should consider a few things ahead of time:

  • Who’s going? Think about the type of people you’ll be mingling with.
  • Where’s the venue? Think about what people would usually wear to that place.
  • What type of event is it? Think about where it lands on the spectrum of smart and casual.

To build on Dave Arnold’s point about fabrics, InStyle Magazine says you should wear smooth materials like silk or viscose. And that you can never go wrong with a smart blazer.

Metro agrees, adding that blazers go with both jeans and dresses. And they keep you warm too!

Speaking of jeans, you can absolutely wear them as part of your smart casual attire. But The Evening Standard adds that you should only wear them if the event or venue you’re heading to is a laid back one. Jeans at a smart casual wedding are a no-no.

If in doubt, just make sure your jeans are fitted and in a darker wash. And sans any holes, intentional or otherwise.

dark wash jeans

Source: @fallingfora

T-shirts are dependent on how you wear them. If you’re confident in how they look with your outfit, then go for it. But Stylist Maria Turkel told The Street if you’re going to wear a t-shirt, try one that’s refined with good quality fabric.

She also recommends that you focus on the color, pattern and proportions of your outfit.

Generally speaking, you should opt for muted neutrals for your entire outfit. Black, white, cream and beige⸺all are safe bets.

The Don’ts

If you happen to work in an office where the dress code is particularly corporate, leave it at home for a smart casual event. It has no business there. Pun totally intended.

Don’t try to be too ritzy either⸺things like sequins and beads are too much.

Prints are acceptable but there is a line to be drawn with those as well. Too many and you’ll have crossed a threshold from which there is no return.

Avoid strong silhouettes like overly padded blazers or heavily structured dresses. Smart casual should be soft layers and luxe separates.

When it comes to dresses, anything too short is considered inappropriate and floor length is overkill. At or just below the knee is the sweet spot.

midi dress

Source: @lawyersfashion

Sneakers. Just no.  

When to Go Smart Casual

Smart casual dress codes are standard at a lot of different events but each one may differ slightly in their definition of smart casual. Remember to ask yourself the three questions I mentioned earlier⸺Who? Where? What?

Smart Casual Dress Code For Restaurants

The smart casual dress code for dinner may vary but your outfit options are just as versatile.

Smart Casual Dress Code For Restaurants

Source: @kathleen_barnes

The Trend Spotter claims that you can wear plenty of outfits without appearing dull⸺but if you’re stumped for ideas, just mix classic items like a pair of black pants with more exciting ones like an off-the-shoulder top.

Smart Casual Dress Code For Wedding

Smart casual wedding attire is one of the more tricky occasions to nail down because you don’t want to veer too far in either direction.

The mantra of ‘It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed’ doesn’t necessarily always apply to weddings.

I second The Trend Spotter’s and Instyle Magazine’s suggestion of a chic tea-length dress paired with low heels and casual accessories.

Smart Casual Dress Code For Wedding

Source: @lawyersfashion

As a chic alternative, you can also try a jumpsuit or stylish pants.

It goes without saying but don’t wear white. Please. 

If you want to learn how to dress for any kind of wedding, you can read my blog 76 Stunning Dresses For a Wedding Guest

Smart Casual Dress Code For the Office

More and more workplaces are slowly replacing the business professional look with its more hip counterpart smart casual. 

Not to be confused with the smart business casual dress code, smart casual office attire is still professional but with more options.

Smart Casual Dress Code For the Office

Source: @lucygrasso

Think about swapping your pants for a skirt or a relaxed suit and spicing things up with pops of color. 

Again though, ask who? Where? What? Your workplace may lean more towards the smart side of smart casual.

Smart Casual Dress Code For Day Events

Out to lunch with friends or an informal client meeting? Daytime smart casual attire for women offers you a lot more flexibility than an evening rendezvous. Especially in summer.

Smart Casual Dress Code For Day Events

Source: @miamiamine

Anything from a polished dress to pants and a chic top and even a button-up shirt paired with a sleek slip skirt can work for you.


The Elements of Smart Casual Women’s Outfits

The dress code for smart casual is best approached one piece at a time. You’ve got the framework laid out for you now, all you have to do is choose how you want to present yourself to your fellow attendees. 

Dresses For Smart Casual

Choosing a smart casual dress all comes down to its appropriateness. Remember what I said about those hemlines?

The same goes for the neckline too. You don’t want to show too much chest.

Both Intelistyle and Vogue recommend you keep your embellished cocktail dresses at home as well. Choose a more plain dress instead and accessorize with a bold necklace.

Think ‘polished’ when choosing your smart casual dresses, which could mean a wrap dress  in one of the neutral colors I mentioned before. 

Dresses For Smart Casual

Source: @lawyersfashion

If, for whatever reason, you feel compelled to don a maxi dress, just make sure it’s a sophisticated one.

Smart Casual Dress Code Pants

Pants are by far the easiest item in the women’s smart casual dress code. If you’re struggling with how to dress smart casual, Vogue says to start with a pair of well-cut, tailored pants and then pair it with a soft, silk blouse.

 Smart Casual Dress Code Pants

Source: @lawyersfashion

You could be a bit edgy and wear stretch leather pants or patterned pants too. Match them with a longer length shirt and a smart casual jacket or blazer. The same can be applied to your smart casual jeans if you decide to wear those instead.

Smart Casual Dress Code Tops

When it comes to choosing a smart casual top, it pays to be picky because there are a lot of options. A lot.

In summer, a white button-up shirt is a failsafe choice, and a stylish one at that. Choose one made of light quality fabric like chiffon or cotton. 

Smart Casual Dress Code Tops

Source: @miamiamine

In winter, wear a black turtleneck under a brown or beige blazer or wear a turtleneck sweater instead with a pair of tailored pants.

Smart Casual Dress Code Shorts

Shorts are definitely a part of smart casual for summer. And they’re an excellent choice given the right occasion.

 Smart Casual Dress Code Shorts

Source: @myazurelife

Like everything else, your shorts need to be of a high standard. Tailored is preferred. Denim shorts need not apply.

Smart Casual Dress Code Jackets

When I used the analogy of a backyard BBQ in the beginning, I said that simply adding and removing your blazer could transform your look. And it’s 100% true. That extends to longline and cropped blazers as well.

Intelistyle recommends a colored or patterned blazer during the day because black or navy may feel a bit too heavy.

You could go a completely different route and wear a bomber jacket instead, provided that it’s appropriately sleek.

Smart Casual Dress Code Jackets

I love this blazer for smart casual wear because despite its inexpensive price tag, it's such a high-quality piece.

The crisp white color makes it a versatile option for your smart casual outfits. And the double breasted overlap has such a refined quality to it, while the gold buttons add that extra little touch of class.

No matter what the rest of your outfit looks like, you will feel supremely confident and sophisticated when you're wearing this blazer.

Smart Casual Dress Code Skirts

Skirts are great for smart casual attire because they give you more room for complementary casual pieces.

As with dresses, go for knee or midi length skirts in a pencil shape. But don’t be afraid to experiment with fuller shapes.

Smart Casual Dress Code Skirts

Source: @lawyersfashion

Lace looks pretty when paired with a plain top and minimal accessories. A shorter skirt should always be balanced out by a long sleeve top with a modest neckline. 

Smart Casual Dress Code Jumpsuits

If you’re in a rush or just don’t have the headspace to devote to your outfit choice, a smart casual jumpsuit is an easy, put-together look.

Opt for a cropped leg and statement heels or wide leg with block heels. Patterned or plain, they’re a fantastic choice for a smart casual event.

Smart Casual Dress Code Jumpsuits

There's something just so undeniably cool about this jumpsuit. It's sleek, dark and elegant.

I can't think of a better outfit for instant smart casual attire, it's so simple but so beautifully understated.

You will look and feel so slim and tall while you're wearing this jumpsuit.

Smart Casual Dress Code Shoes

Your choice of smart casual shoes can make or break your outfit, so choose wisely. 

Black is always the smartest color while bright colors have a more casual feel to them. Block or kitten heels may be more appropriate (and comfortable) than a thin heeled stiletto. Although, if you do wear stilettos just make sure they’re of a medium height.

Smart Casual Dress Code Shoes

Source: @kathleen_barnes

Pointed toes are smarter than rounded ones and leather or matte suedes sit atop the smartest textures.

If you’re wearing flats, brogues will smarten up your look in a jiffy. 

Smart Casual Dress Code Bags

Put the finishing touches on your outfit with an appropriate smart casual bag.

Try to be matchy-matchy with the rest of your outfit. Either a clutch, bucket bag, body bag or tote. Overly structured office bags and backpacks can sit this one out.

Smart Casual Dress Code Bags

Source: @kathleen_barnes

Well, there you have it. I think we’ve pretty thoroughly answered the question of what is a smart casual dress code, don’t you?

The next time your friend invites you to their smart casual event, you’ll be armed with all the knowledge you need to confidently choose your outfit. Smart Casual is your middle name.

Key Takeaways

  • The women’s smart casual dress code can best be summed up as a polished outfit made up of your finest form-fitting everyday clothes that you can seamlessly wear in either a casual or semi-formal setting. 
  • When you’re invited to a smart casual event, ask yourself who will be attending? Where is the venue? And what kind of event is it? These are important in determining how smart or casual your outfit should be.
  • You can wear jeans with your smart casual attire but it’s recommended that you wear a pair that’s fitted and in a dark wash.   
  • Avoid too much color in your smart casual clothing and opt for muted neutrals like black, white, cream and beige instead.
  • Business professional attire, sparkly wear like sequins and sneakers do not fit the smart casual dress code.
  • Choose smart casual dresses based on their appropriateness, meaning modest hemlines and necklines. Cocktail dresses are not smart casual dresses.
  • Smart casual pants should always be tailored and well cut. 
  • Be picky with your choice of top and only select ones made of high quality fabrics to suit the season.
  • Shorts are acceptable smart casual clothes but they must be tailored. Denim won’t cut it.
  • Blazers are a staple of the smart casual dress code, you can never go wrong.
  • Wear skirts with conservative hemlines or a mini skirt with a long sleeve top and modest neckline.
  • Jumpsuits, either plain or patterned, are a great option when you don’t have a lot of time.
  • Black, block heel leather shoes with pointed toes are a great choice for women’s smart casual shoes. Colorful shoes or stilettos are more suitable for casual events.
  • Try to match your bag to your outfit and leave structured office bags and backpacks at home.

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