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Difference between 'elegant' and 'smart'


Mark Skype Teacher
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Hi all,

In terms of clothing can we us 'elegant' and 'smart' interchangeably?

I mean, for example, could we say 'he looks very elegant in his suit'? I think it is much more likely to utilise 'smart' in this case as we are talking about someone how has very neat, clean and sharp clothes. I think 'elegant' has a slightly different sence to it. Perhaps it is more common to use this with females s 'elegant' can mean graceful in appearance and there is an implication that women are more graceful than men. What do you think? I think 'smart' is more usually employed with clothing.

Any comments would be much appreciated. Many thanks and have a great week. Mark

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Don't take my worth for it, but I think that "elegant" is a style to dress up, while "smart" is a choice made to dress up.

So that I see that dressing elegant is wearing fashionable clothes that fit great to someone.

While dressing smart is having made the right clothing choice that might not be necessarily elegant but sober, casual, contemporary, etc.

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I don't think those two can be used interchangeably, but in some situations, they may both apply and you can just choose one or the other to describe something, but it doesn't mean that they mean the same thing. "Smart" is a lot closer to "practical" or "sharp" than "elegant" in my opinion. "Elegant" is probably a lot closer to "classy" and those might be more forgivable when used interchangeably.

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I usually see a gender difference in the way that the two terms are applied. Smart tends to be used more for men and elegant tends to be applied to women. People don't normally say that a man is elegant. They say that he is classy, dapper or smartly dressed. 

A woman who is classy and graceful and dresses that way will usually be described as elegant. Elegant covers everything from her choice of jewelry to how she walks. A woman who dresses smartly but behaves in a silly manner would never be described as elegant.

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The way I understand it is that the word smart when used for the way someone dresses has to do with dressing conservatively and appropriately for in a given place or situation. On the same subject, the word elegance strikes as a broader word, dressed appropriately but good style, and maybe the value of the clothing worn is a factor as well.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Elegance is more related to how things appear intuitively. It's more of how things feel great, in a unique or simple way.

Smart is more concerned with complying to the socially accepted standard style of something (could be dressing up, could be writing, could even be maths).

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  • 1 month later...

I don't think that there is much difference between elegant and smart. However, I would not use them interchangeably. I see elegant as a word I would use to describe a female's fashionable look. Smart, I would use to describe a males way of dressing but I still wouldn't see it as being wrong to describe a female either.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is interesting - everyone seems to have a different opinion about how to use 'smart' and 'elegant', and difference between the two.

For my part, if we're talking about clothing and a person's general appearance, I would tend to use 'elegant' for classy, expensive-looking clothes worn in the evening, for a party or for a special occasion (to a ball, the opera, a wedding, for example), and would use the term for men as well as for women. A man can look very elegant in a tuxedo (US English) or dinner jacket (UK English), for instance.

You can look 'smart' in a wider range of clothes, in my view, and again it can be used for both sexes and also for children. A person can look smart in a business suit or in nice casual clothes (hence the term 'smart casual') as long as the outfit is neat and tidy, reasonably fashionable and fits well.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There is not much difference in the meanings of 'smart' and 'elegant'. Smart is more used in relation to one's appearance while elegant is used in terms of ones mannerisms and the way he presents itself. In my opinion, this is the main difference in the meanings of the two words.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 months later...

In my own perspective an elegant is someone who possesses a high level of class and character and appearance greatly matters. It may include being smart. A smart on the other is just being smart. You could be smart and be not elegant, rough and untidy. Being smart doesn't need to have a character of sophistication, but being elegant does.

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In my opinion, to be "elegant" includes being graceful and smooth-flowing while being "smart" would be more business-like and formal (if that makes any sense).

Consider the following sentences:

  • She elegantly descended the spiral staircase, her hand gently resting on the bannister as her dress flowed around her.
  • He walked directly towards her, smartly dressed in his suit and takes her for a night on the town.

It largely depends on the feelings of the speaker, which words are stressed and other factors.

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In my opinion, to be "elegant" includes being graceful and smooth-flowing while being "smart" would be more business-like and formal (if that makes any sense).

Consider the following sentences:

  • She elegantly descended the spiral staircase, her hand gently resting on the bannister as her dress flowed around her.
  • He walked directly towards her, smartly dressed in his suit and takes her for a night on the town.

It largely depends on the feelings of the speaker, which words are stressed and other factors.

That pretty much reflects my point of view about that matter :P

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  • 2 months later...

In my perception "smart" always pertains to being intelligent. If someone dresses "smartly" I associate that with a person being clever about impressing others with his or her particular choice of clothes. Whereas "elegant" has a totally different meaning to me. Elegance to me is something that is already an inherent quality that exists in the person or clothes already.

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