Penny Goldstone

Fashion Editor at Marie Claire



How to Build a Smart Casual Wardrobe

Style expert and fashion editor Penny Goldstone gives her advice on curating a smart casual wardrobe, highlighting the most-covetable pieces to invest in and how to style them.

Build a smart casual wardrobe

From black tie to business wear, each dress code has a seemingly easy set of rules to follow. However, smart casual is perhaps the most elusive dress code there is. Many events call for this attire, such as brunches, after-work drinks and theatre outings, these scenarios require a put-together look without the need for heels and floor-length dresses. For many, the question lies in how to successfully tread the line between smart and casual.

In my experience, I’ve found that when in doubt, leaning into the smarter end of the spectrum is key. It’s also important to start with that one hero piece and build the entire look around it. For instance, you’ll never look dishevelled in a well-cut blazer, silk blouse or knitted midi dress, even when styled with overtly casual items like chunky trainers or tread sole boots. Read on for more inspiration on how to strike the perfect balance and curate a smart casual wardrobe.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a good blazer will be the hardest working item you own. An oversized blazer paired with straight-leg jeans and trainers is a great daytime look, which can easily be swapped for slim heels for evening drinks. Just make sure the jeans are not torn, as that would tip the whole look into casual territory. A fitted blazer is a workwear staple, but can be toned down with leather trousers and biker boots. Consider other jackets such as a cropped puffer, which can be worn with a floral dress, or a faux fur gilet layered over a knitted dress.


You’ll never regret investing in stylish leather clothing. You may think leather is best worn in the evening, but it can work during the daytime just as easily. The key is to mix different fabrics and styles. Try pairing a leather pencil skirt with a sweatshirt, a biker jacket over a silk slip dress or an oversized shirt with fitted leather trousers. While black is always a classic, experiment with colour by choosing a tan or colour-pop pink piece for a fresh spin on the trend.


A dress is another staple piece than can easily be styled for a smart-casual event, although it’s best to steer clear of longer styles and embellishments. With that in mind, midi dresses are a great compromise. Try a silk slip midi dress paired with a biker jacket, cropped puffer or chunky cardigan and team it with platform boots, or a knitted dress with chunky loafers. Embracing an understated mood doesn’t mean tailored dresses should be avoided altogether, consider opting for bold colours and prints, and fabrics such as denim and cotton.


A jumpsuit is a versatile piece of clothing which can be styled for multiple occasions. On the more casual end of the spectrum, a belted utility jumpsuit can be elevated with a slim heel for date nights. On the smarter end, a tailored style can be teamed with chunky loafers for brunch outings, choose a ‘70s-inspired print to add a playful touch.


Knitwear can make or break an outfit. A loungewear co-ord such as a cashmere hoody and joggers can prove to be a stylish weekend look if layered with an oversized blazer. For a more sophisticated option, try a knitted midi dress, again dressed down with chunky footwear to ensure comfort. Exude a nostalgic ‘90s aesthetic by throwing a chunky cardigan over a slinky dress.


Although footwear is often seen as the final step in curating an outfit, it is not to be overlooked. Shoes provide the perfect finishing touch which will either elevate or play down an ensemble. This season, platform boots and sandals are the most-coveted styles. Try ‘90s-inspired black boots with straight leg jeans and a blazer, or metallic heels with a jumpsuit. Chunky loafers are a great workwear option which tread the line between smart and casual, though heeled pointed ankle boots work well too.