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Women's Style Guide

Dressing down: How to create a killer smart casual look

This two-word phrase can strike fear into hearts of women everywhere: 'smart-casual'. It's a frustratingly vague dress code and knowing what it really means is something we all struggle with. We each have our own idea of what constitutes 'smart-casual' and, therefore, it is hard to figure out what to wear to satisfy this.

There are a few things that you can bear in mind when you pick a smart casual look. Certain garments work every time, while there are some basic rules you can follow to get your outfit just right. A lot of it comes down to the event itself – consider this carefully, and you may find it easier to pick your look.

Here are a few hints and tips that can help you choose the perfect smart casual outfit:

The smart-casual scale

When we refer to 'smart -casual', we really mean a number of different things. There are varying levels of smart casual and, quite often, the event you are dressing for will determine what level you should aim for.


For the events that lean a little bit more towards smart than casual - such as a night out for drinks or a garden party - you may want to leave your jeans at home. Instead, why not pick a dress that you can play down with some pretty flats and chunky jewellery? Chinos are a great alternative too, especially when paired up with a pretty blouse. They will also look lovely with a structured blazer or chunky knit jumper when it's a bit cooler outside.

The beauty of chinos is their smooth finish and soft, comfortable feel. You can buy some with elastic waistbands for extra comfort, or even a discreet tummy control to pull you in and smooth your silhouette.

For something more casual like lunch with friends, a little bit of denim will work perfectly. This could either be jeans with a blouse and a jacket, or a denim shirt over a dress or tee-and-skirt combo. Whatever you choose, this will create a really pretty and effortlessly elegant smart-casual outfit.

Less is more


When you're struggling over your outfit, it's all too tempting to throw on accessories or layers. The trick is to keep things simple - the cleaner your lines are, the more flattering the silhouette you will create.

Pay close attention to how your different items sit together and be sure to avoid creating an excess of material around your waist - this is the bit that should look the slimmest. Pull-on trousers are ideal if a neat shape is your priority.

Never underestimate a simple blouse

Blouses have a very delicate, airy feel to them that will look elegant with a well-fitted pair of jeans or chinos. The combination of feminine fabrics with structured designs will create the ideal look for drinks with friends or an informal party. Pop on some sandals or heeled boots, depending on the weather, to complete the look.

When it's a bit cooler, a long-sleeved tunic will look just as smart while keeping you a bit more covered. Look out for wrinkle-free items too, as they give you all the style with minimal effort.

Take a look through Cotton Traders' range of tops and blouses to find your perfect smart casual style.

A little bit of lace


Even the simplest of items can be enhanced by a bit of ladylike lace, transforming a garment into something really feminine and delicate. Where tops are concerned, having lace sleeves can do the trick, so you don't necessarily have to opt for something that has lace all over. Keep the rest of your outfit simple and chic so the lace becomes a standout feature.

Dress to impress

Dresses are often the perfect solution to the smart casual problem and can help you feel that little bit more glamorous. It is important to consider the length carefully, since this will determine how smart or casual you look.

A long skirt may look more appropriate for a summer day out than a smart casual event, whereas one that's closer to your knee may look better at a bar or restaurant.


A mid-length dress will look sophisticated while still showing a little bit of skin. With a pair of low court shoes or open-toe sandals, this could be the ideal option.

Glitz and glamour

To take your casual outfit up a notch, you can add something sparkly to give it that extra edge. It can be as subtle as you like, so you needn’t worry about looking over-the-top. Look out for tops, dresses or skirts with added embellishments at the neck or hem to transform your look.

Add it in or take it off

It was Coco Chanel who once said that, before you leave the house, you should look in the mirror and take one thing off. Just removing one part of your outfit can completely transform the way the ensemble looks. Consider the layering and placement of everything, as well as your jewellery, and this will help you spot if there is anything that could be considered 'too much'.

Contrastingly, some outfits need an extra something to complete the look; many garments are made with this in mind. For example, some sweatshirts are available with detachable collars making them one simple step away from smart as opposed to casual.


One of the most effective additions you can make to your outfit is a blazer or jacket. It can add shape and structure to even the simplest of outfits, making it a real asset to your wardrobe. A linen blazer will be perfect for summer evenings, whereas a country-inspired herringbone check jacket will keep you warm during winter.

Smart-casual doesn't have to be a nightmare. With the right combination of fabrics, layers and designs, you can create a look that is both comfortable and appropriate for any occasion!

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