An Easy Formula for Creating Perfect Casual Summer Outfits

Three Items to Make Stylish Casual Summer Outfits

Whether you’re sticking close to home or traveling to exotic, faraway places, it’s good to have several perfect casual summer outfits that can take you from the beach to brunch or shipboard to shopping. These are the casual summer outfits you can wear almost any time and are no-brainers. Buying and planning them in advance makes it easy to slip them on and be out the door in minutes. To help you out, I’ll offer up some great summer outfit ideas for you to wear.

The easiest formula for the perfect casual summer outfit is linen shirt + cute shorts + flat shoes. Easy to remember as the main pieces all start with the letter S. This is the perfect combination that will get you into most any door, will travel easily, and be the most versatile. Once you mastered and managed to put together several casual summer outfits based on the formula, you can add in accessories that can change both the vibe and the appearance of the 3 pieces.

Let’s start with the first piece that goes into a great casual summer outfit: the linen shirt…

Linen Button Down Shirt

Your top can be sleeveless, short sleeved, or long sleeved (yes, I said long). Your most versatile choice is a button-front, rather than a pullover, and you will want it made of a lightweight and breathable material: like linen. The color is also important, and I think that light and natural/neutral colors work best—white, cream, beige, chambray.

To get back to the long-sleeve point, I believe there is a method in the madness, if you do it right. Long sleeves protect against the sun’s harmful rays if you are without sunscreen. They can be rolled or pushed up to show a bit more skin as well. The versatility of the long sleeves will be understood if you happen to go from a warm stroll on the beach into a frigid restaurant. If you are in a tank, there’s no keeping warm in that environment! These style of summer shirts create more of a stylish casual outfit rather than young looking outfit. Imagine this outfit with a tank top, it would have a completely different feel.

I traditionally choose a button-front shirt, as it allows for some variation. I can wear it over a swimsuit with the bikini top peeking out, layer it with a tank, and even tie up the bottom hem in a knot for a different look. They can be used in more ways than one.

For this outfit, I chose a lightweight white linen, button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up. It was perfect as we walked around, going from shady wooded areas to full sun. The linen shirt I’m wearing in this casual summer outfit is from Michael Stars. I’ve worn many of their summer clothing on the blog before, and I’m a huge fan of their summer basics.

Next up is our second piece in the formula for perfect casual summer outfits: the shorts…

Casual Summer Shorts

I find that shorts have the most versatility. While I love skirts, it’s a bit more difficult to sit down in the sand or climb a hill in a skirt.

When looking for the right short, material is a key factor. Again, linen and cotton are good choices, and you can always opt for denim. There is also a whole array of sport fabrics that are good lightweight options. Stay away from anything distressed, frayed, or worn. Again light and neutral colors are best: white, beige, brown, khaki, chambray, navy or even olive green like the one’s I’m wearing. If you stick with neutrals, you can wear them more often. Neutral colors act as a base, then all you have to do is accessorize to bring some color.

Since the goal is to be cute and stylish, we’ll steer clear of booty shorts and stick with more traditional lengths:

  • Shorter Shorts: These have a 5 to 6-inch inseam, which provides coverage. (The olive green shorts in the photo are a good example of these, they are chinos from JCrew.)
  • Mid-length: These hit halfway between your knee and the top of your leg. They are comfortable, slightly modest, and keep you from burning your legs on any hot seats!
  • Bermuda Shorts: These shorts fall just above the knee. These are a good option if you are sun sensitive, will be cycling, or want to cover up more of your legs.

And then you have a casual pair of cute shoes to consider…

Casual Summer Shoes

I think you probably have the most variation in this category. Shoes, or sandals as the case may be, complete your casual summer outfit. You have three basic options, with hundreds of variations within each.

First is the sport shoe. This could be a traditional Ked sneaker, white tennis-style shoe, Nike’s, Converse, or Sperry Topsider boat loafer. You want something comfortable, breathable, and lightweight. Leather and canvas are usually your best options. White, navy and khaki are good neutral color options that pair well with most casual summer outfits.

Then we have flats. Ballet flats, Tom’s slip-ons, or a nice Cole Haan driving moccasin are all good examples. You’ll want to stick with the same leather or canvas options, but color-wise you can be more adventurous. Maybe a floral print or bright green to give you a pop of color.

Your third option is the quintessential summer shoe: the sandal. Your best option here is something with straps that keeps the sandal anchored to the foot, rather than a flip-flop. Slip on, gladiator, and strappy styles are always good options, as are a few embellishments. (As you can see I went with strappy, gladiator and embellishments!) Well-made leather sandals with a good footbed are your best bet, but some sandals are using sturdy cotton elastic that also let your foot breathe and stay comfortable.

So, there you have your 3 basics: shirt, shorts, and shoes. If you want to see a lot of summer outfit ideas make sure to check out my summer outfits page!

Summer Accessories

While accessories are not strictly necessary, typically it is good to have a few little accents to perk up an outfit, or need to be practical and carry a bag. Here are some accessory tips for your summer outfits.

Summer Hats

Hats not only add a bit of panache to an outfit, but they also serve a practical purpose by keeping the sun’s harmful rays off of your face. Steer clear of baseball caps and stick to a straw cloche, Panama or woven fedora. As you know, I’m a big fan of hats and wear them year-round, if you need some ideas on what hats to buy or how to wear them in different outfits view my post, 15 Stylish Ways to Wear a Hat.


This is more of an essential, to shield your eyes from the sun. But they don’t have to be boring. Aviators and Wayfarers are classic and will never go out of style, but there is a multitude of shapes to choose from. Instead of black, try a tortoiseshell rim, or maybe a navy or khaki rim. Let your glasses fit your personality.

Summer Jewelry

This is where you will keep it simple and accessories to a minimum. A small pair of stud or hoop earrings is really all that is needed, but you can add a watch, lightweight bracelets or necklace for some added panache to your summer outfit.

Summer Handbag

My rule for summer bags is either small or overly large. Because of the heat, I don’t want to be weighted down by a heavy large leather bag. A small crossbody or shoulder bag in leather or a woven material works best. (Stay away from clutches to avoid sweaty hands.) The exception to this rule is if you need to multitask on your trip out. Need to take beach supplies? Packing a lunch or snack? Going shopping? If so, a large beach bag in a lightweight canvas, woven or straw material is a good option.

Summer Scarf

While the weather may be warm, a colorful scarf can also add a personal touch to your outfit, whether worn as a headband or headscarf, belt, tied to your bag, or worn more traditionally around the neck. A lovely ikat print lends a Boho vibe; a blue-and-white striped scarf is classical and slightly nautical, and bright florals and prints lend a fun and happy accent to an otherwise neutral summer outfit.

So now it’s time for you to pull together your perfect casual summer outfits!

Stay Stylish,

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Outfit Details

Shorts from JCrew Linen Blouse from Michael Stars Sandals from Klub Nico // Sunglasses from Dolce Gabanna // Mini Crossbody from ZAC Zac Posen

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