What Does 'Smart Casual' Actually Mean?

Being told to dress 'smart-casual' for an event can be a head-scratcher. What does this vague term actually mean?

It's one of those phrases which can give you a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach – “the dress code is smart casual”. Somewhere between formal wear and your favourite pair of joggers, there has to be a happy medium. So how do you nail the smart casual look for a business-related event?

Firstly, don't pick an outfit you'd wear to work. This is a chance to shed the office clothes and wear something a little more fun. For both men and women, a nice fitting but relaxed top is essential, because you want to feel comfortable. According to etiquette experts Debretts, jeans are fine as long as you're confident this is a more laid-back event, at a laid-back venue.

On the flipside, don't wear anything you wouldn't wear to work. You wouldn't show up at the office in a battered pair of running shoes or the little black dress you'd wear on a night out, so anything you wouldn't be happy to wear to work is off the cards.

If you're in any doubt over how relaxed and informal the event is, always err on the side of caution and lean towards the smarter side of the dress code. It's easier to remove more formal elements of your outfit than it is to style out the fact you're in a t-shirt when everyone else is wearing a shirt or blouse.

Overall, you'll pitch it right by working out what sort of event this is and where it's being held. The more important the occasion and more prestigious the venue, the smarter you should go.


Don't pick an outfit you'd wear to work
Don't pick an outfit you wouldn't wear to work
Err on the side of caution
Judge your look by the event style and venue