What is smart casual dress for women?

Updated April 17, 2017

You recycled your copy of "Dress for Success" and donated all of your bow blouses in 1998. It took a few more years to figure out the difference between business casual and your country weekend wardrobe. Now a work-related dinner calls for smart casual. You already have so many clothes in your wardrobe that they overflow into the spare bedroom closet. Lucky for you, smart casual is the most versatile wardrobe you can own and can be pulled together from clothes you already have in your closet.

When to Wear Smart Casual

Smart casual will take you to an upscale restaurant, date night, dinner parties, the theatre and more. It is also acceptable for many types of offsite work activities and, in some cases, even for the office.

What's Included

Women can pull off the smart casual look with the following guidelines: • On the top, wear a feminine blouse, tailored shirt or turtleneck layered under a coordinated jacket, vest or sweater. • On the bottom, wear slacks or a skirt in a crisp fabric or dark, dressy denim jeans. • For dresses, select a tailored shirtdress or a structured knit or fine wool wrap or tailored shift dress worn under a jacket. • For footwear, wear dress socks or hosiery with flats, moderate heels or boots. • Fabrics may include twill, tweed, dress denim, fine wale corduroy, sleek wool, suede and other refined materials. • Wear at least one coordinating piece of jewellery---earrings, a bracelet or necklace. • Carry a sleek leather, faux leather, or suede purse, portfolio or briefcase.

How it Differs

The closest categories are dressy casual on the upscale side and sporty casual on the downscale. Dressy casual might entail a pants suit or coordinated separates in a richer fabric. If going to a casual wedding reception or afternoon tea at an elegant hotel, these events may call for dressy casual.

Sporty casual permits the wearing of athletic-style shoes and cotton sportswear, for example cotton trousers, shorts, hooded jackets and T-shirts. This look is made for hanging out on weekends or will take you to a sporting event as a spectator.

Smart casual may also look like business casual. Business casual, however, is more tailored. For example, a knit vest over a blouse is not considered business casual, but could be worn for smart casual.

What Not to Wear

Smart Casual is a coordinated, complete look. It does not include: • Spaghetti strap tops and T-shirts • Blouses worn without a jacket, vest or sweater • Too-short tops, i.e., belly shows when you lift your arms overhead • Plain crewneck T-shirts or tank tops (though sleeveless blouses and knit tops are permitted) • Casual jeans, crop trousers or shorts of any kind • Denim shirts, skirts and jackets of any colour • Sundresses • Casual sandals or thongs • Uncoordinated outfits, i.e., clashing colours and mixed styles like a tailored wool jacket with khakis • Garments that are meant to be worn rumpled, for example, seersucker or linen • Anything that could be considered athletic, including socks and shoes • Fabrics that are coarse and casual, like wide-wale corduroy and nubby polycottons.

Tricky Bits

There are many items that straddle the line between smart casual and sporty casual. Strictly speaking, you do not have to wear two layers, i.e., a jacket or vest atop a blouse, to be smart casual. However, the one piece that you do wear on top should be accompanied by smart accessories. For example, you could add a bold necklace or a beautiful scarf for a dressier touch. Also, make sure that the top has a finished look on its own. Avoid overstitched necklines or flimsy fabrications that ought to be layered.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Pamela Fay has been a business writer for more than 15 years, with work appearing in publications such as "Legal Times." She has also worked in the consulting arena since the 1990s, specializing in leadership development, human resources, change management and diversity. Fay holds an M.B.A. from Dartmouth College.