Smart casual dress code can be very tricky, but useful for many different occasions. Here’s a complete guide on how to dress smart with loads of outfit ideas for every body type.
Hey gorgeous! When it comes to fashion and clothing, everyone has their own personal style, and everyone has their own opinion on what is good fashion. Fashion is such a personal thing, that it’s impossible to find common ground when it comes to creating and following dress codes for events, parties or other occasions.
Whether it is for a birthday party or wedding, there are some people that would prefer to be all dressed in a fancy suit or gown, and some people would rather show up in a pair of jeans and hoodie!
There are many popular fashion styles when it comes to dressing up. For example, casual, lounge, athleisure, boho and preppy, there are so many ways of dressing up, everyone has their own favorite. But there is one style of dressing up that can rarely go wrong for almost any occasion. And that is smart dressing or smart casuals. From Hollywood celebrities to Instagram influencers to myself, there are many who love dressing smart.
But what are smart casual is and how to dress smart? Let’s find out all you need to know about this elegant dressing style that never goes out of fashion.
What is Smart Dressing?
Smart clothing is attire that you can go out in. It’s the attire that looks respectable in a society or in semi-exclusive places like clubs, restaurants, universities, etc.
Before we get into the guide on how to dress smart, we need to understand what governs “smart”. Dressing smart is synonymous with being well-dressed, looking elegant and donning a simple but polished aesthetic.
If you want to know how to dress smart, you want to first start with what dressing smart isn’t: anything too loose, wrinkly or shabby. The term “smart casuals” is what is often used to describe the style of smart fashion.
What are Smart Casuals?
When it comes to smart casuals and smart dressing, there is a lot of ambiguity in what it really is and that makes it confusing for many. Even the smart casual is at the dress code for many workplaces, parties and events, the term smart casuals can actually mean different things in different contexts.
For example some offices consider smart casual is to mean no jeans. Some conventional parties or schools also include “no bare shoulders” in this.
Even tourism or dining places like restaurants, casinos or bars have the dress code of smart casuals, which often means or no open-toe shoes. For some office at half the culture of smart casuals, the dress code could even mean semi-formals, which could translate to business suits but without ties, which is also called as business casuals.
According to Oxford dictionary, smart casual clothing is, “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code.”
So from the above definitions and dress codes, let’s list some key takeaways.
Smart casual and dressing smart is all about wearing casual and neat clothing, which should be conventional or timeless. The idea is to look well maintained or polished without having to wear formals. When you dress smart, you should look like you put some thought into your outfit.
So if you ask me how to dress smart, I’d say go for slight high maintenance pieces. This means that, dressing smart is also about wearing clean clothes, which are freshly washed, instead of wearing pieces that are typically worn many times, for example jeans or denim jackets.
Places and Occasions that Require Smart Dressing
- A lot of work places, especially the modern corporate work environments, require smart dressing.
In some countries are localities, restaurants or bars may require smart dressing. For example, lots of Italian restaurants have signboards that require patrons to wear smart casuals or formals for dinner.
- Casinos also often have smart dressing or closed-toe shoes requirements. Visitors and patrons at casinos almost always wear formals or smart casuals.
- Similarly, in luxury hotels or exclusive clubs, visitors usually dress smartly to brunches and for dinners, even though it’s never specified or required.
- Members of airport lounges also commonly dress smart, although it’s not mandatory. Other places where it’s common are tasting sessions at wineries, gentlemen’s clubs, etc.
- Some parties may require smart dressing as a dress code. Office parties, Parent teacher meetings, college farewells, cocktail events and business dinners are some examples.
- There are also occasions for students where smart casuals are not mandatory, but are worn by almost everyone. Some examples include business School mixers, interviews in college fairs, university dinners with classmates and professors, university field trips to offices, etc. It really helps to know how to dress smart if you’re a university student.
- Most of the holiday cruises, golf clubs or gym clubs prefer or require their members to dress smartly for their parties.
- In certain settings or societies, such as alumni mixers, charity parties, fashion events, auctions or exhibition openings, it’s very common for people to dress smart.
Unsure of How to Dress for a Party with Smart Casual Dress Code or for a Conservative Place?
Since the ways of dressing smartly are understood differently by everyone, it’s best to dress conservatively if you’re unsure. Examples include a work dinner, club night, visiting a cathedral, etc. If you’re traveling to a new place or restaurant where they require smart dress code, or invited to a party with smart dress code, the fail-safe ways to dress would be:
- Avoid ripped or baggy jeans.
- Keep your shoulders covered.
- Avoid skin-show like cleavage or very short skirts if the place is conservative, like a church or certain countries.
- Avoid open-toe shoes.
- Avoid shorts.
- Avoid sheer fabrics.
- Avoid sneakers.
- Wear it simply and elegantly. Avoid things like wrapping your jacket around your waist, etc. which make the look casual.
How to Dress Smart: Basic Guide + Tips
- Dressing smart is all about being a part of society or community. So wear something that looks graceful, it should not be overly crazy, or anything that makes you stand out too much.
- Smart dressing is all about looking cool. So avoid being over-dressed in gowns or business suits with ties, diamond jewelry, or embellished scarves, etc.
- Keep your outfit simple and clean. Smart dressing is synonymous with smart casuals, so stick to simple pieces like well fitted trousers, skirts, knee-length dresses, pencil skirts, blouses, polo-neck tee-shirts or button up shirts.
- Keep it casual and relaxed. Smart dressing doesn’t have to be too sophisticated or boring. Feel free to wear what you like, as long as it’s not overly formal or extremely casual.
Go for a chic, well put together outfit, which makes it seem like you have put some thought into your accessories, hair and make up.
- Avoid anything too outrageous. Smart dressing is never about wearing anything provocative or to revealing.
- When in doubt, wear timeless pieces. Usually but not always, dressing smart is about wearing clothing and accessories that never go out of fashion. This is the easiest and feel-safe way of dressing smart.
- Make sure your dressing for your body type, because dressing smart is never about wearing something oversized or too tight.
Complete the Smart Dressing Look with the Right Accessories
Now that you know how to look smart with the right clothing, you also need to be able to master the perf accessories.
- For daytime, sunglasses are one of the best accessories to wear. A cool and relaxed look calls for a structured handbag, handheld clutch or a cross-body laptop bag.
- Pumps and closed-toe flats are the best ideas for shoes. Some other shoe ideas include ballet flats, loafers, Oxford shoes, booties, platform heels or stilettos.
- A watch, bracelet or dainty pendant chain necklace would be great ideas to finish the look.
How to Dress Smart for Different Body Types
A guide on how to look smart cannot be complete about talking about different body types because dressing smart is all about wearing the right clothing and the perfect fit.
- For hourglass shaped women, well-fitted relaxed dresses, such as sheath dresses or shirt dreses would be a great idea. Pencil skirts with button-up shirts, blouses are good options too. Wear them with cigarette pants or trousers.
- Hourglass shaped women should wear longer blazers, jackets over A-line skirts or dresses. Blouses tucked into flared skirts or trousers are great ideas, too. Empire waist dresses are also a good choice for them.
- The perfect idea for strawberry shaped women would be to wear peplum tops over skirts or trousers, which will make their figure seem balanced.
- Rectangle shaped women can try belted dresses, peplum tops or fitted jackets worn with trousers or A-line skirts.
How to Dress Smart on a Budget
Dressing smart is not about looking rich or sophisticated. The idea is to feel relaxed and look calm and cool! However, it seems that everyone who carries off smart casuals perfectly is dressed in expensive clothing. good-quality clothing. So if you’re wondering how to dress smart without maxing out your credit card, here are some helpful tips:
- Dressing smart means wearing clean, ironed clothes, that look as good as new. So be sure to keep your favorite pieces neat and stain-free.
- Be sure to iron your clothes before you wear them, keep them wrinkle-free.
- Neutral shades tend to give an expensive look. So go for a lot of neutral clothing items, or tonal outfits, like beige, cream, nudes, white and grey or black.
- Avoid fast fashion as their fabrics look cheap and get ruined after one wash. Go for good-quality clothing, which you can rewear.
- Invest in timeless pieces and individual items, so that you can pair them with one another to create new looks.
- Dress according to your body type, keep your outfit well-fitted or structured. This will avoid the shabby look.
- Certain brands are great with smart dressing, such as Ann Taylor and White House Black Market, two of my personal favorites. Their clothing can be pricey, though. So wait for sales, since sometimes items are marked up to 40% off, and this type of fashion doesn’t go out of style. So you can still wear them next season!
How to Dress Smart: 35 Smart Casual Outfit Ideas
No matter how many tips I give, I can’t explain how to dress smart without showing you actual outfits. From smart-casual to semi-formal, from summer to winter, here are 35 outfit ideas you can try.
Blazer + Jeans
If you’re wondering how to dress smart in jeans, I’d say avoid baggy jeans, and wear it with a nice blazer or jacket. Complete the look with pumps, cross body bag or clutch and eyeliner. Perfect for spring or early-fall weather.
A white dress is one of the easiest ways to look smart, because it looks crisp, clean and even expensive. Choose a well-fitted flared or shirt dress. Accessorize it with a pair of stilettos or ballet flats and a nice structured handbag. If you wanna take the look up a notch, add a gold pendant necklace or pearl necklace. Perfect for a fancy brunch. Or for a dinner date.
Also read: What to Wear to Brunch in the Summer
Collared or blazer dress is a great idea for when you want to look more formal or presentable without wearing a suit. Go for a knee-length or midi dress and add a pair of booties in the winter or pumps in the summer. Great idea for interview dressing. Or a business lunch.
Shirt + Trousers
If you want the easiest way to look smart that suits all body types, go for a pair of trousers and pair it with a button-up shirt. Pick plain trousers that fit well, neither too tight nor too loose, cropped at the ankles. And go for a striped or plain shirt, tucked fully inside, or just on the front. Pair with a mini bag or cross-body bag for a more casual look.
If you want to know how to dress smart in the quickest way possible, this is your idea. A sleeved, knee-length or midi wrap dress is one of the most versatile outfits for lunch, travel, or anywhere else. It’s comfortable, elegant and classy. Here is Diane von Furstenberg, the designer who first designed a wrap dress! Wrap dresses are suitable for any body type or age, since they are also great at hiding the tummu fat well!
If you don’t like wrap dresses, a shirt dress is another great idea to dress smart. They look slightly formal, but not too much. Great idea for pear-shaped women and new mommies. Go for a solid-colored one or striped one, and add loafers or slip-ons to complete the look.
Black Knee-Length/Midi or Pencil Dress
A black dress is a great way to look polished and smart. Go for a sleeveless or sleeved dress. If you want a more elegant touch, go for a collared one. Wear it with flats or pumps, and add a mini bag.
Long Jacket + Trousers + Booties
Long jackets, coats and vests are the best idea for spoon and pear-shaped women. Pair them with a T-shirt, top or turtleneck sweater. Where over a pair of skinny jeans or trousers. Had a pair of sunglasses, stilettos and a handheld bag and you’re good to go.
Tuxedo Jacket over a Skirt or Dress
Women’s tuxedo jackets are the best idea when you want a formal touch without having to wear a formal outfit. Just wear a tuxedo jacket over a knee-length dress or a long skirt had a casual bag and flat shoes or heels. It’s a great idea for a restaurant, dinner at a club or a party with a smart casual dress code.
When you’re in the mood to look polished, it’s a great idea to don a casual suit. Go for a corduroy or cotton suit. You can wear a matching set or go for a different colored trousers and jacket. Add a duffle or handheld bag and pair it with stilettos flats or heels. If you’re in the mood to go more casual, you can even add boat shoes or loafers.
Turtleneck Top/Sweater with Skirt or Trousers
A turtle neck sweater or top is a great way to look modest. If you’re wondering how to dress smart in the winter, this is the perfect way to do so for any body type. Wear the turtleneck sweater with a long skirt or a pencil skirt. Add a pair of boots and a structured bag.
Coat Over Leather Pants
Wondering how to dress smart with leather pants? Even leather pants can be dressed in a polished or elegant way. Wear them with a sweater top or a white blouse, and add a long coat or formal jacket. Finish your look with pumps or strappy heels and a flap bag.
Flared pants are a great idea to look semi-formal. If you’re wondering how to dress smart for a lunch date or vacation, this is a great outfit idea. The monochromatic outfit gives the polished look and you can pair it with a hand-held clutch and pumps.
Button-up Shirt + Palazzos
Palazzos are usually worn in the summer and are considered very casual. But you can also dress smart in a pair of palazzos. Pair them with a blouse or button-up shirt. Accessorize with heels and a micro bag and you’re dressed for a date, shopping or lunch date.
Button-up Shirt + Jeans
Here’s an outfit idea that is perfect for your office as well as drinks afterwards. Go for a white button up shirt and pair it with a well fitted pair of jeans. Tuck your shirt all the way in and add a structured handbag and pumps with it to look polished. There is also a great idea for airport lounge or a work dinner.
Long Skirt + Sweater
Long skirts look so modest that they’re always the safe choice when you’re thinking how to dress smart. In the fall or winter season, pair it with a sweater tucked in, and in the summer, pair it with a top. Add a matching handbag, booties and tie your hair in a chignon for a meeting. Or go for cute loose curls for a date.
Double-Breasted Jacket + Trousers
Double-breasted jackets look royal. And they can be a great choice for semi-formal occasions or parties which have a smart casual dress code. So pair it with either a pair of jeans or trousers, depending on how formal you’d like your look to be. Kate Middleton wears a lot of double-breasted jackets, so be inspired!
A midi dress is a timeless garment and suits every body type and age. It looks spectacular if you choose a pastel or neutral shade, and wear with a pendant chain, heels and a cross-body bag. Great idea for your golf club, or a fancy dinner with your man. They’re the perfect choice for pear or spoon shaped women.
Sheath Dress (Blazer/Trench Coat Optional)
I love sheath dresses. They’re really age-appropriate for 25+ women or even 35+ women. And they can look great on hourglass shaped or rectangle shaped women. Pair them with a flap bag, flat shoes ad sunglasses, and you’re ready for lunch with the ladies, visiting your in-laws or a work lunch.
After sheath dresses, shift dresses are my second favorite type. They’re structured dresses that don’t have a defined waistline. They look great for daytime outings, brunch or lunch. So pair with booties or flats, sunglasses and a cross-body bag. To make it look more polished, go for a structured leather bag and nude or matching pumps.
Looking for a modest dress for work? Whether you’re a professor, or meeting your boyfriend’s parents, or going for a casual interview at Starbucks, a matching pant-set is a great idea. It has a pair of trousers with a matching top. You can also go for a crop-pant-suit, which can be a great semi-formal outfit.
A skirt suit is also considered business-casual, if you’re wearing a formal jacket. This is a great outfit idea if you want to look older (say, for a work dinner with senior management staff), or if you’re 40+. If not, go for a casual cotton jacket, and you have the ideal attire for a business dinner.
Long Tunic + Trousers
Here’s another modest dressing idea for those who want their legs covered as well as something long enough to cover the hips over the trousers. Go for a well-fitted tunic in a solid color to look polished. This is a great idea on how to look smart for Indian or Muslim girls, or if you’re traveling to a conservative country, or for an interview.
Knee-Length Skirt + Top or Sweater
If you like it chic and trendy, A-line or flared knee-length skirts are a great idea. Personally, I love them because of how comfortable they are. You can wear a knee-length skirt both in the summer and in the winter; and you can even wear the same skirt in all seasons if you style it right. In the summer, wear the skirt with a top or shirt. And in the winter, pair it with a sweater, either tucked in or belted for a structured look. Add a pair of tights or pantyhose. Accessorize with a matching or contrasting necklace and some knee-high boots.
Black and White Color-Blocking Outfit
An achromatic outfit, that is, one in black and white, is a great way to look polished without putting in much effort. Either go for a color blocking dress, or wear a pair of white or black trousers with a contrasting top. Add a matching coat in the winter and contrasting pumps in the summer. Black and white are really easy to pair with each other and anyone can make this kind of outfit look smart!
Blouse + Trousers
The blouse is a great way to look smart if you don’t want to wear a button-up shirt. You can even go for a half buttoned blouse like this one. Pair it with well-fitted pants and add a necklace, a side braid or chignon. This is a great outfit for a work meeting, a semi-formal party, interview or a university mixer.
Peplum tops are already structured so they’re a great way to look polished. If you’re wondering how to look smart with just a simple top, this is your answer. Just wear a cute peplum top with trousers or jeans. Add a pair of pumps, a box bag and you’re ready for brunch, casual meeting or even traveling.
Pencil Skirt+ Blouse
Pencil skirts are favorite both for casual and formal wear. Almost every celebrity loves them. Both leather, cotton and wool pencil skirts are worth a try. In the winter, pair it with a tucked-in sweater and booties. In the summer, wear your pencil skirt with a sleeveless top and flats.
A polo t-shirt is the perfect smart-casual garment for a vacation on the yacht or your golf club. Pair a solid-colored one with white jeans or trousers to give an instantly effortless vibe. Add strappy flats or heels and a simple flap bag.
I love sweater dresses. They can be worn up or down. They can work for everything from classroom to office, drinks to dates. You can wear them in so many ways. If you want a semi-formal look, pair a black or white sweater dress with pumps, a belt, chignon or a headband. For a sightly more casual look, wear your sweater-dress with a colored belt, ballet flats and stacked bracelets.
Skinny Scarf + Belt
A skinny silk scarf, especially when tucked inside your belt, is a great way to dress smart. Pair it with a midi skirt and a matching top, for a monochromatic look. Add wedge heels, a bracelet and flap bag and you’re good to go!
Palazzos + Tunic
Here’s another really conservative idea that can work for all age groups and body types. You can wear a pair of dark colored palazzos underneath a long tunic. This is a great attire for a family dinner, or a party with smart casual dress code. Add a statement necklace and red lipstick to look fab!
Jumpsuit + Blazer
Jumpsuits look really casual. But there is a way to make them seem semi formal or elegant, too. Simply choose a solid colored one and add a blazer or cotton jacket over it. To look more polished, add a belt, structured handbag and pumps.
Maxi Skirt + Blouse
Maxi skirts are a great way to look elegant at any age. A maxi skirt with belt-loops looks as smart as one can. Just pair it with a button-up shirt and pumps, and you’re ready for anything life has to throw at you! LOL. This outfit can work perfectly for all the different curvy body types (mango or pear shaped women).
Semi-Formal Casual Maxi Dress
Maxi dresses are almost always associated with casual vacations. If you want to know how to look smart with maxi dresses, here is the perfect idea. Choose one in a solid color that is sleeved and collared. Add a belt. Pair it with closed-toe flats or pumps. Add a clutch for a semi-formal look or tote bag for a more casual touch.
This is a great outfit for visiting a cathedral (choose a nice pastel shade), a conservative country or even for a funeral. Of course, if you are looking for conservative smart casual outfits, this is the perfect idea for you, too, which can work for dinner, office or even traveling.
Finishing Thoughts: Last Few Tips on How to Dress Smart
- Even though smart dressing is all about looking relaxed and cool, it’s never about looking shabby. So make sure your clothes are ironed.
- Keep your clothes well maintained and clean, so they last longer.
- Focus on overall look and your personal grooming. If your hair looks shabby, you’ll seem too causal even if you’re dressed smartly.
- The main difference between casuals and smart casuals is that casual clothing is less high maintenance, for example hoodies, over-sized T-shirts, baggy jeans etc. However, for smart dressing, wear slightly high maintenance clothes that require ironing and frequent hand-laundering, such as trousers, well-fitted dresses or skirts.
- Ideally, smart clothing should be comfortable and elegant, instead of too tight or revealing.
- When in doubt, wear clothing that won’t go out of fashion, such as trousers, polo-neck tees, sheath dresses, midi skirts or shirts.
- Go for well-fitted clothing. Loose clothes end up looking too casual.
So I hope my guide on how to dress smart was helpful. I’d love to see your smart casual attire, if I helped you put it together. So don’t forget to tag me on Instagram @shilpaahujadotcom and I’ll like your pic!
Shilpa Ahuja a designer and entrepreneur. She is the editor-in-chief of ShilpaAhuja.com, which she founded with the goal of inspiring confidence in the modern working woman through fashion.
Fashion has traditionally been for the rich, white, thin woman. That’s how it evolved over centuries and that’s how it’s been represented in fashion media. But Shilpa believes that with the changing role of women in the society, fashion has changed, too. She believes that fashion is for everyone, regardless of their age, gender, color, body type and background. So she translates runway fashion into easy style advice that one can incorporate into their daily lives.
Shilpa’s work has been published in the University of Fashion blog and Jet Airways magazine. She is also an artist, illustrator and cartoonist. She is also the creator of Audrey O., a comic series that represents the lifestyle of millennial women. She enjoys creative writing and world travel. Her art has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh and been published in Chandigarh Times.
Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa also has a professional degree in architecture and has worked in interior project management. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”. Shilpa has a Masters in Design Studies degree from Harvard University. For feedback and questions, please email [email protected]