I don’t know about you, but I find “smart casual” the most ambiguous of dress codes. With the apparent increasing casualisation of every event in our lives – from barefoot weddings to festive funerals and everything in between – getting the look ”right” is getting more and more tricky. Don’t you find the lines between underdressed and overdressed, proper and inappropriate, and relaxed and careless, are getting increasingly slippery? Rather than diminishing the potential for fashion faux pas, sartorial slip ups have become an every present risk. While ‘casual’, ‘cocktail’ and ‘formal’ still seems pretty straightforward, ‘smart casual’ is instantly anxiety-inducing! Can I wear denim? Are sandals ok? Heels or flats? A teeshirt or a blouse? Leggings or trousers? Is my skirt too short? Or do I look too conservative? Arrghh!
Instead of standing paralysed in front of my wardrobe, however, I’ve decided to think of the ‘smart casual’ option as a more liberating way to go, an opportunity to have a bit of fun with an outfit, and to be flexible with some of my usual habits. I still think there are a few hard and fast rules depending on the occasion but these still leave plenty of room for stylish moves. My own do’s and don’ts for smart casual are as follows – let me know what you think:
Don’t wear anything that is cut off, distressed, or ripped – i.e. cut off denim shorts or skirts, or ripped jeans. Even with the best shoes and blazer, I think anything frayed immediately takes the smart out of 'smart casual'! Call me old fashioned, but save your artfully ripped jeans and booty shorts for the café or the club!
Don’t wear cropped or cut outs. A luncheon at your aunt’s house is probably not the right time to break out your new mid-drift exposing top. If you want to expose a little skin, make it all about your shoulders or arms or show off a pretty pair of ankles in cropped Capri pants.
Do wear layers. If you’re anxious that a tunic or dress is too sort but otherwise perfect for an event, then pair it with a great pair of trousers or leggings. Add heels for a polished look and you can easily get away with what might otherwise be too mini a mini!
Do wear colour! This is one of the best things about the 'smart casual' code – it definitely allows for colour. While more somber events may still call for a muted palette, work functions, lunches with the in-laws, even a job interview can be an opportunity to express personality through colour. You don’t have to go the full Ken Done but a smart cropped blazer in a summery gelati hue, a jewel-toned top, or a pair of bright pants can be just the ticket to a gorgeously put together style.
Don’t be sloppy! Layers and drapes and folds are all very well but to get the 'smart casual' style right, steer clear of sloppy and veer towards elegant. A loose top that constantly falls off your shoulder or hastily added layers can come across looking a bit lazy on the wrong occasion. If you like loose volume in your outfit, keep it on the smart side of casual with beautifully cut garments and statement accessories.
Do remember the details! A pretty manicure, shiny hair, a pop of lipstick, well-chosen accessories are all small but important details that can help put the smart into 'smart casual'. If you must wear jeans, for example, make sure your shoes are polished and your hair is tidy. I might sound like the mother that I am with these suggestions but, trust me, the most beautifully tailored dress will be undone in a second by scuffed shoes and shipped nail polish!
Do have fun and use your common sense! Your personal style can shine through at any event. The key is just to tweak it so that you feel appropriately dressed for the occasion (which will make you feel comfortable) but still like yourself. Smart Casual here we come!