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Fashion Trends

Unpacking the smart casual dress code: How to nail off-duty dressing like a chic royal

All it takes is pair of jeans and a little creativity.

By Rebecca Sullivan
There is nothing quite like the panic that starts to set in after receiving an invitation to an event marked with the dress code "smart casual".
Do you wear a dress and heels? Can you get by in just jeans and a top? Can you wear sneakers? It's a sartorial minefield.
The very first mention of the smart casual dress code appeared in the Iowa newspaper The Davenport Democrat And Leader in 1924, referring to a new style of dress, once that was loose and with shorter sleeves.
"The sleeveless dress with three-quarter overblouses, in smock appearance completing it for street wear, is accorded various interpretations. It is at once practiced and gives a smart casual appearance," the paper said.
The official definition of smart casual refers to a way of dressing that is "neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style".
But putting that into practice in 2019, in a world where no one bats and eyelid if you wear ripped jeans to a nice restaurant or a crop top to breakfast.
So we asked celebrity stylist Donny Gaella, who has dressed A-listers including Ada Nicodemou and Jules Robinson, exactly what on earth those two confusing words actually mean.
Meghan and Harry nailed the smart casual dress code during their recent royal tour of Australia. Getty
"Smart casual makes us most of us go into panic mode, because it's such a broad category, but what I always say is look at where the event is being held," Donny told OK!
"Is it a barbecue outdoors, is it indoors at a café or a fancy restaurant? The location helps you work out how dressy or casual the event is. Then you can factor in the weather, if it's hot or cold and make a call," he said.
Kate and Wills are peak smart casual in their jeans, sneakers and nice tops. Getty
Every woman's best friend - a classic blazer. Kate paired this look with gorgeous earrings and glam hair and makeup to dress the look up slightly. Getty
And yes, Donny says you can totally wear jeans to a smart casual event.
"Jeans go hand in hand with the dress code smart casual and you can dress them up or down," he said.
"When you have no idea what to wear a smart casual event, my go-to suggestion is the classic combo of white t shirt, blazer and pair of jeans, because you can't go wrong. You can take off your jacket if you feel overdressed. You can wear it with sneakers, flats, boots or heels at night to dress it up or add a nice pair of earrings."
WATCH BELOW: Are low-rise jeans really back? Story continues after video.
While darker wash denim is preferred for more conservative events, Donny says you can absolutely get away with ripped jeans, as shown above on none other than Meghan Markle, as long as it's not too ripped.
"I think we're going through this period where ripped jeans are on the way out. It really does make your look look more casual. A little bit of a rip is fine. It's OK if it's a slightly distressed jean, but if you have slashes all the way down your legs, you need to invest in a new pair of jeans," Donny said.
During her first official public outing with Harry in 2017, Meghan nailed her off-duty look with a simple white shirt, subtly-ripped jeans and matching brown leather bag and shoes. Getty
When all else fails and if you're in the middle of a pre-event wardrobe meltdown, Donny has one piece of brilliant advice.
"It's always better to overdress than under dress," he said.

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