How to nail the smart casual dress code according to a stylist

Fashion's most fear-inducing oxymoron: the smart casual dress code. More frequently occurring than a black-tie event, and yet arguably more baffling. After all, how can you possibly blend two seemingly style opposites?

Elevating your daytime wardrobe is a great foundational rule – acing smart casual is all about a seamless fusion of informality and elegance. 

What is a smart casual dress code?

Smart casual is a dress code that mixes casualwear with more polished pieces. "Polishing up your everyday" is how fashion stylist Emma Rose Thatcher likes to think of it.

MORE: Casual outfits: 6 stylish dressed-down looks to recreate

READ: How to create a capsule wardrobe for 2023

"Swap your denim for a tailored pant, add key accessories to elevate your outfit, and play around with textures to create that luxe feel," Emma advises. "I love a silk relaxed pant with a shirt or knitwear. And add a heel, I love my Manolo Blahnik Maysale kitten heels for a smart casual look or even a simple heeled ankle boot."

Hello! Fashion shares our stylist-approved tips to help you nail smart casual:

Think about tailoring


 "Oversized tailoring lends itself well to a smart casual dress code, team pieces with a simple cotton T-shirt to dress it down," Emma says.

Factor in the fabrics

"I love my silk co-ords - they look elevated due to the luxe finish and the matching element, and yet feel super relaxed and comfortable. With leather pieces I’d avoid my leather aviator jacket, but a leather pencil or pleated skirt is great to team with a knit to make smart casual work for my style."

Can you wear jeans for a smart casual dress code?


 "I would avoid lighter denim or ones with rips and trainers depending on the event, " Emma advises. "But ultimately I think anything can work if styled in the right way.

"I’m the biggest denim fan, and jeans are my go-to when I want to feel like me, but I would personally avoid them in certain smart casual situations. It all depends on the occasion. I recently invested in some high-waisted wide-leg jeans from Goldsign; they’re a darker denim and look great teamed with a silk shirt and a heel and could totally work for smart casual, but I’d perhaps leave my light wash, slouchy Levi’s at home."

MORE: Best dark denim jeans and how to style them this season

Dress things up with a unique accessory


"Add a belt, I love black and brown for stylish belts with interesting buckles that instantly polish off an outfit."

MORE: 12 iconic designer belts that will stand the test of time

Inject some of your personality

"As with any event, it’s about adapting your personal style to the occasion," Emma advises. "If you don’t feel like ‘you’ as you’ve tried too hard to fit in with what everybody else will be wearing, you won’t feel good. If you feel confident, you’ll look confident, and that will translate to your outfit."

Fashion columnist Joanne Hegarty weighs in on the smart casual conversation with her golden rule.

The SS rule

"I always think of the two 'S' rule when choosing a smart casual outfit," Joanne says. "Mixing something with structure like a bouclé jacket with a slouchy pair of cargo trousers and trainers is always a winner."

Elevate casual pieces with stylish footwear


"I like to mix up high and low drama pieces to create a polished stylish finish. A pair of heels under a pair of your favourite jeans always looks chic."

Incorporate high drama jewellery

"A pair of statement earrings paired with a knit or a T-shirt is another way of elevating casual wear."

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