After 5 years of posting daily content on YLF, some of my early entries on “smart casual dressing” are still amongst the most popular. So I thought it was time for an update. At its simplest, smart casual means dressing up jeans. It’s dressier than casual, but not quite as formal as business casual because the denim dresses down the outfit. The beauty of smart casual is that in today’s age of casualization, it will take you just about anywhere.
Smart Casual is versatile, easy and flop proof, and it’s completely formula driven:
Denim + dressy top (or dress, or skirt) + dressy shoes + dressy accessories
ANYONE can cook up a killer smart casual outfit given the right ingredients.
- Denim: Jeans are the obvious choice in any colour and silhouette. Blue, black, grey, white and cream jeans are no brainers, but with coloured denim being big this season, that can work too. Skinny, straight leg, bootcut, trouser and wide leg jeans are all fabulous. If you don’t like to wear jeans, never fear! Substitute jeans for a denim skirt, or layer a denim jacket over a dressy dress or dressy skirt and top combination. For the more fashion forward and daring, there are more fringe denim bottom choices like denim shorts shorts, bermudas and cropped denim pant styles that can absolutely be dressed up to look smart casual. Take your pick.
- Top: Think dressier blouses, button down shirts, knitwear and knit tops instead of T-shirts. Do not be afraid to add sparkle, glitz and super formal tops to jeans or a denim skirt. Do not be afraid of adding a denim jacket to a sparkly dress. If you’re matching a skirt or dress ensemble with a denim jacket, make sure that the pieces are smarter than casual.
- Jacket: This is an optional but effective extra for smart casual outfits with jeans and denim skirts. The magical powers of a jacket can take an outfit from drab to fab. For smart casual, you’re after a dressier jacket. It needn’t be super tailored, but a casual jacket, although fab with denim, is not smart casual unless the rest of your outfit is very dressy. Jackets can mean anything from blazers and trapeze silhouettes, to boyfriend cuts, cropped styles, leather looks, trench coats and wool coats. T-shirts are generally not part of this dress code, but layer a fabulous jacket over a good quality tee and you’ve made it work.
- Dressy Shoes: Footwear goes a long way to finishing off any outfit and for smart casual, its no different. Think dressy shoes, either flat or heeled. Sandals, pumps, oxfords, boots, booties, ballet flats, mary janes – any shoe at all as long as it’s not a casual shoe.
- Dressy accessories: A dressier handbag completes the look. Jewelry is not a must, and these days I am happy to leave the house with only watch, wedding ring, specs and handbag. But adding a statement piece of jewelry will further dress up your outfit. Necklaces are a great option as are dressier scarves. Earrings, rings, brooches and bracelets are also fab. If you’re a belt gal, add a dressy belt.
Because darker denim is definitely dressier than faded denim, I used to suggest sticking to darker denim washes for smart casual. But when the other components are dressy, I think that faded denim can be a cool and unexpected in a smart casual ensemble. It’s a little tricky to get right though so if you are at all in doubt, stick to darker denim washes.
I spend half my life is smart casual attire because it’s my favourite dress code, and because denim is acceptable in my line of work. So it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the outfits I have posted on YLF are smart casual. Below are some of my favourites.