What is smart casual clothing?

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Smart casual is a dress code that is used for a variety of occasions. It can apply to both men and women, but has a different meaning for each. Smart casual is not a suit or evening glamour; neither is it scruffy sneakers or sweatpants. The correct attire for an event with a smart casual dress code can be difficult to choose, and usually depends upon the context.


"Smart casual" is a popular dress code for a variety of events. It suggests that the wearer should unite qualities of both smart and casual dress: the attractiveness of smart clothing with the comfort of casual clothing. Put simply, smart casual means looking as though you have tried, but not tried too hard. The term was first used in an Iowa newspaper in the 1920s, and has been popular even since.

Features for Women

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It is essential to avoid appearing either too dressy or too scruffy. A blouse, or a coordinated sweater or cardigan, should be correct. T-shirts should generally be avoided, unless they are smart, attractive and free from slogans. Trousers should be formal, worn with boots, flats or mid-heel shoes, while a skirt should be worn with appropriate hosiery, and should be of an appropriate length. A day dress can also be correct. If you wish to wear jeans, make sure they are smart and fashionable, and try dressing them up with a jacket or a formal top.

Features for Men

It is important to come across as neat rather than scruffy. While there are no hard and fast rules, it is safest to choose a top with a collar: a shirt or a polo shirt would strike the right tone. If wearing a sweater, make sure it is good quality (for example, cashmere), and doesn't display any slogans or humorous logos. When choosing trousers, make sure they are not too scruffy: chinos or cords are good. A blazer generally gives the correct impression. If you wish to wear jeans, make sure they are smart and neat, and wear a jacket to make the outfit more formal.


A dress code is important because it suggests the mood that the organiser is trying to create at the event. At a work event, smart casual suggests that the event will be informal, but not inappropriately so. If the event is a wedding or a party, smart casual will create an relaxed, comfortable mood; however, it is still necessary to make an extra effort with your appearance. Dressing neatly and well will never come across as incorrect; just be careful not to appear too formal.


Misjudging a dress code can have a noticeable effect on your social ease and the view others take of you. If you want to gain the respect of others at the event, and especially if you want to impress whoever issued the invitation, it is worth taking the time to work out what the dress code means. If you are too smart--for example, if you are wearing at suit when others are in linen trousers and shirts--you risk coming across as intimidating or out of touch.

If you wear a glamorous dress when others are in jumpers and trousers, you will appear overdressed and will probably feel uncomfortable. If you wear sweatpants or torn jeans when everyone else is wearing smart jackets and skirts, you will seem disrespectful and as if you haven't tried. It is important to try to work out what exactly smart casual means for the event you attend.

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