What Does It Mean to Dress Smart Casual or Business Casual?

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The world of fashion is complicated to navigate, especially when many of the terms sound similar. For example, many people confuse two staples of attire: business casual and smart casual. Although these two terms sound quite similar, there are some subtle differences you need to know about before dressing up for your next event. Once you have the definition down and see some outfit ideas, you’ll easily understand the difference between smart casual and business casual.

What is Business Casual?

Business casual often sounds like an ambiguous term because it implies you should dress for work (business) and dress casually. However, the term is meant to give people flexibility in what they wear while still maintaining a professional appearance.

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For men, this means you don’t need to wear a full suit and tie, but should wear slacks and a polo or button-down top. For women, business casual looks fairly similar, with the added information that skirts and dresses are fine (assuming they are knee length or below).

Business casual indicates that you should not wear jeans, sweatpants, athletic pants, or shorts. Also, you should not wear graphic t-shirts or similar informal tops. That being said, a nice, neutral pair of sneakers can be acceptable footwear for a business casual outfit, although many opt for something a bit more formal.

Business Casual Outfit Ideas for Men

  • Pants: slacks, khakis
  • Top: button-down shirts, polos, sweaters
  • Shoes: loafers, Oxfords, some boots
  • Accessories: belt, watch, simple rings
  • Optional: sports coat/blazer, cardigan

Business Casual Outfit Ideas for Women

  • Bottoms: slacks, khakis, chinos, skirts (at least knee length)
  • Top: blouse (with or without buttons), polos, sweaters
  • Full-body: knee length or maxi dress, jumpsuits
  • Shoes: loafers, Oxfords, flats, pumps, some boots
  • Accessories: belt, watch, simple jewelry, scarves
  • Optional: blazer, cardigan

What is Smart Casual?

Smart casual is a more recent term, and it often confuses people as it resembles the aforementioned business casual. However, smart casual is almost more of a step down from business casual.

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In smart casual attire, the emphasis is on the “casual,” but with some business (smart) elements added to enhance or elevate the outfit. While business casual is what people wear to work, smart casual is often what people wear for a first date, dinner with friends, or after-hours events for work.

When dressing smart casual, you can either fall into the “formal smart casual” category or the “informal smart casual” category. Either way, jeans are generally accepted, assuming they look nice and do not have holes. Also, unlike business casual, you can get away with a more relaxed top if you dress it up with a blazer.

Smart Casual Outfit Ideas for Men

  • Pants: dark jeans without holes, chinos
  • Top: collar shirt (polo or button down), henleys, flannels, t-shirt if paired with a blazer
  • Shoes: loafers, Oxfords, or other “smart” shoes to dress up the outfit
  • Accessories: belt, watch, simple rings
  • Optional: sports coat/blazer, cardigan

Smart Casual Outfit Ideas for Women

  • Bottoms: slacks, khakis, chinos, skirts (not too short, but pencil skirts acceptable), dark jeans without holes
  • Top: blouse (with or without buttons), t-shirt (if paired with blazer)
  • Full-body: knee length or maxi dress, jumpsuits
  • Shoes: loafers, flats, pumps
  • Accessories: belt, watch, simple jewelry, scarves
  • Optional: blazer, cardigan, denim jacket

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is it acceptable to wear smart casual attire?

Smart casual attire has become quite trendy in recent years. You can wear smart casual out on dates, to weddings, and even to some work functions.

Can I wear sneakers with business casual attire?

Although most people avoid sneakers with business casual attire, you can wear them if they are specifically tailored to the outfit and match the general vibe you are giving off.

Can I dress smart casual for an interview?

Job interviews are all about making great first impressions. Although most interviewers expect you to dress up a bit for interviews, you can get away with smart casual attire in some settings. It’s best to research the company first.

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