So, What is smart casual?
Dress codes are tricky, but arguably the smart casual dress code is the trickiest. How smart is smart? Can you ever wear denim? Are trainers definitely a no? What's the difference between a smart casual and a business casual affair?
We'd posit that, actually, in 2019, dress codes are becoming steadily redundant. Beyond black tie, white tie, formal weddings and .. er, maybe Ascot or any opportunity to meet the Queen, it's rare that you'll have to observe a strict set of rules. The emphasis now, it would appear, is on looking put-together, paradigmatic of your best self and, as far as you can, sassy and unique. And if that involves denim, then so be it.
A Fluid Social Calendar
Recently, we wrote about the transmutation of dress codes in a piece for the magazine. With fashion commentator Osman Ahmed asserting that: 'dress codes today are way more likely to be unspoken than spelled out. And they’re more fluid, with supposedly formal affairs shifting gear.'
The reason for this, it appears, is that our social lives are more fluid in general. We're not just heading to dinner parties, cocktail parties, business events and black tie soirées, for which the dressing mandate was clear. We're being invited to all sorts of disparate events, from immersive supper clubs and secret cinemas, to bouji girls trips and sober raves.
'Our social lives are more diverse than ever,' Ahmed explains, 'as we cram our leisure time (all 38 hours a week of it, according to an ONS study) with a growing range of events, fielding WhatsApp invites for drinks, dinners, panel events, a night out at Pxssy Palace and so on….
'More than ever, we need clothes that work hard, taking us from one occasion to the next. And we need them to look good. Of course.'
The High-Low Approach
Style publicist Daisy Hoppen, who has a diary packed with meetings, coffee dates, lunches and drinks, rarely has time to change her outfit entirely between social engagements. Her trick? Always carrying a trusty set of flat shoes and a jazzier pair of heeled pumps, to be swapped in should there be the need.
‘It’s all about finding a great dress and a great pair of flats,’ she says, adding: ‘What is interesting with casual looks is the rise of silk pyjamas and cashmere tracksuits. I live in the brightly coloured silk PJs from Ganni, and Olivia von Halle’s cashmere tracksuits are ideal for travelling, but also feel fancy enough to wear out for drinks.’
And here we have it, the epitome of the 'smart-by-stealth' approach. The emphasis is on dresses or separates that can be restyled in a flash, to suit the wearer's mood. A denim jean with dad trainers might be trendy enough for a relaxed coffee meeting, but just a touch too informal for an art gallery. Denim jean with a kitten mule and Chanel-style hair-bow swapped in, however, and voila! Instant chic.
As The Influencer Says
Osman Ahmed also consulted with fashion consultant and influencer Veronika Heilbrunner, who let us in on her smart casual secrets. And according to her, there's a formula.
‘I enjoy adding just one or two luxurious items to each outfit,’ says Heilbrunner, who has almost 170,000 followers on Instagram. For example, ‘a pinstripe suit and sneakers, or perhaps a midi skirt worn with a lumberjack shirt’.
Let Your Personality Shine Through
Contemporary smart casual dress codes are actually relatively easy to interpret. Lean away from trainers, while denim is fine if you're pairing it with a more formal shoe and potentially a button-down shirt or a blazer. If you're going to wear a more formal trouser, pair it with a cotton top to keep it from looking too businessy. Don't get your cleavage fully out, try not to flash anyone in a too-short skirt. That sort of thing.
But if, like us, you feel the smart-casual dress codes of ten years ago are kind of outmoded, then you'll be pleased to hear that in 2019 it's all about personality. Instagram has democratised fashion, to the point where self-expression is arguably better currency than faithfully following the trends.
So, forget showing up to a party looking acceptable. Show up to that party looking uniquely you.
As Ahmed says, 'go big and let that attitude come through in your outfit, whatever you end up doing (and whomever you end up doing it with).'