‘Smart casual’ can be the hardest dress code to interpret and a great deal depends on the invitation and the type of event. A printed invitation suggests a smarter event than a text or email.
‘Formal’ Smart Casual for Men
It is worth remembering that town/city events will generally be more fashionable and formal than those held in the country. Similarly, if the host or hostess is very traditional or of an older generation, then the style may be more formal.
For men, smart casual requires a jacket or blazer, flannels, needlecord trousers, or chinos (not jeans), a shirt with a collar, not a t-shirt, and smart shoes, not necessarily lace-ups, but not trainers or sandals. A sweater may be worn if it is cold. Ties are not necessary but carrying one is often a good tip, just in case. Smart casual is usually a summer dress code, but if it is winter then opt for an overcoat rather than an anorak or parka. A tweed sports jacket may take the place of a blazer and may be worn with cords or old-fashioned cavalry twill.
‘Formal’ Smart Casual for Women
For ‘formal’ smart casual events, a smart day dress, worn with a jacket, is a safe choice for women. At more casual events, dress down a little – for example, smart trousers or a skirt, with a cardigan. Avoid wearing denim, unless it is immaculate and balanced with a tailored jacket and smart accessories. Also avoid high heels and wearing suits, as they look like business clothes. Sports clothes and sports shoes such as trainers are incorrect.
‘Informal’ Smart Casual for Men
It may be worth considering the details of the invitation before asking the host or hostess for advice. It can usually be interpreted as jeans for men but smart, clean, dark-coloured jeans. Remember you are going out so change from what you have been wearing at home. Other than in high summer or on the beach, trousers are better than shorts and polo shirts better than collarless t-shirts. Just because an event is informal it is not synonymous with making no effort.
‘Informal’ Smart Casual for Women
Study the invitation and dress for the occasion, the time of day and the season. Denim should be immaculate and sports or beach clothes avoided unless the occasion demands. However, too much tailoring and heels can also look wrong. If you are unsure, find out as much as possible about what other people are intending to wear and if that isn’t possible ask the host or hostess. It is always more polite to the host to dress up. ‘Come as you are’ rarely means what it says. Be prepared to adjust your outfit at the last minute. For women, this may mean dressing down an outfit, for example swapping heels for flats, taking off dressy jewellery or removing a jacket and putting on a cardigan.