The True Meaning of ‘Smart Casual’

You receive an invite to a celebration and at first you think: ‘Of course I have a social life!’ followed by the familiar feeling of dismay as you catch a glimpse of the dress code; those two dreaded words, ‘smart casual’. With everyone having conflicting opinions of the meaning of the phrase, it is not unwonted to question the extent of formality in which you must dress in order to blend in with the rest of the party’s attire.

However, in order to fully comprehend ‘smart-casual’ clothes, we must firstly understand the meaning behind the singular outfits. When I think of smart, I tend to imagine a tailored suit, pencil skirt and blouse or jacket and a bodycon dress, put simply, anything suitable to wear to an office job. Think the newsreaders’ clothes. Casual on the other hand, is what we would spend all day and night in, if we could. A comfortable outfit – leggings or jogging bottoms perhaps with a slouchy jumper. Anything that is comfy enough to clean the house whilst wearing, yet still not looking like complete pyjamas. So with these definitions drawn up, it’s easy to see how we are confused about the meaning of this oxymoronic phrase.

Smart casual can either be a smart outfit, with more of a casual vibe, or a casual outfit with a slightly smarter piece. The difference being the general feel. I like to think of ratios at this time – (smart pieces : casual pieces)

3:0 = very smart, office wear

2:1 = mostly smart, with a hint of casual

1:2 = mostly casual

0:3 = completely casual

Each number represents part of the outfit (top half, bottom half and shoes). Even though this provides a slightly clearer view of the picture, the lines remain blurred.

Casual = jeans, t-shirt, ballet pumps, trainers, wedges, jumper, shorts, skirts

Smart = plain trousers, fitted clothes, structured shoes, jacket/blazer, blouse/shirt

We can see from this comparison, that a majority of the ‘smart’ labelled items are structured, with the casual ones having a higher comfort rating, therefore using this logic surely a smart casual outfit would be either well fitted/tailored with a definite sense of comfort, or something less structured, yet not 100% comfortable.

By writing a list of what you deem smart and casual, you would no doubt see some overlap in items (e.g. I believe skirts and black jeans can be both, depending on the top half). After choosing one of these shared pieces, you could then pick a smarter top or bottom (whichever is applicable) or a more casual top or bottom, depending on the occasion.

Unquestionably, this must be the best way to put together an outfit after receiving that invitation. After walking into the well-decorated room, you see that there are tens of people with the same smart-casual definition, and you relax and enjoy the occasion (whilst also thinking about your rather successful decisions!)


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