Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re probably unsure what smart casual attire entails. You’re not the first gentleman to be baffled by this elusive dress code. A sartorial paradox, smart casual attire is an amalgam of sensible dressing annotated with playful elements of relaxed aesthetic. Regardless of its ambiguity, pulling off such a blended dress code is not that difficult, and we can help ensure that your efforts with this attire read clean, straightforward, and stylish. Here is our guide to perfecting the smart casual dress code for men.
What is Smart Casual for Men?
When dressing for a smart casual event, it’s important to keep the essentials in mind: neat and tidy, but not too dressy. This means a pair of dark or neutral-colored trousers, be it in the form of chinos or trousers – dark jeans are also appropriate as long as they don’t have any tears. Classic shirts, polos, or a plain T-shirt is the perfect mix of informal attire that blends well with the more conservative look. Add some leather shoes for a dressed-up feel, or stick to sneakers or Chelsea boots for a laidback twist. While this style has no real definition, you should ensure you look clean and presentable. This doesn’t mean that you can have fun with it, though. Add a pop of color, such as blue, yellow, or green – plaid and patterns work well, as long as they’re used sparingly.
When to Wear Smart Casual
There are plenty of places to rock a smart casual look, but you’ll most commonly dress this way for an event that requires a touch of professional flare. This includes a business event, after-work drinks, a first date, or the office. This dress code calls for an occasion where you’re required to dress neat and tidy but don’t have to go over the top or be too reserved.
Smart Casual vs Business Casual
When planning your outfit, it’s important to note whether you’re dressing for a smart casual or business casual dress code. Although both forms of attire are similar in the way that they blend elevated and relaxed items, each has a unique aesthetic. When dressing for a business casual event or occasion, combine elements from your usual office and weekend wardrobes, such as a check business shirt and crew-neck sweater with a pair of dark jeans.
Casual Attire Men
Formal Casual Attire
Despite these two being different in terms of styles, formal casual is a great way to dress if you’re heading to a work event or somewhere that isn’t too fussed about formalities. A bit like its business counterpart, the key to nailing this look is by mixing key elements from the two styles. Start with a classic white shirt and chinos or trousers, a casual blazer, and boat shoes. You can add a tie if the occasion calls for it or add a stylish accessory such as a hat or scarf if it gets chilly outside. Don’t be afraid of color, either. The beauty of this dress code is its lack of definition – it’s what you make of it.
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Informal Casual Attire
This dress code is another without a standard definition. While not entirely casual, informal attire is one step below semi-formal and can be interpreted in many ways. Blending suit trousers with a T-shirt and loose-fitting jacket effortlessly combines the different styles, meaning you can wear them to dinner or after-work drinks. Play with different shades, too – colors like yellow, blue, and green are timeless choices that are popular choices on and off the runway. If you’re dressing for cooler months, add some boots and a coat – this will keep you warm and help you look extra cool.
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Smart Casual Wedding Attire
The smart casual dress code is the way to go for a wedding that isn’t too formal or dressy. The key to getting this look right is to make sure you get your separates correct. While you don’t have to sport a full suit, you can add a fitted blazer and trousers in a matching shade, with a casual button-down shirt and loafers. Alternatively, mix your colors around and play with different textures – a linen jacket in a light shade combined with dark trousers is an excellent choice for a warmer event. Depending on the dress code, you can even add a tie, but it’s not a necessity. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be too informal – avoid jeans and sneakers for these occasions.
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Smart Casual Office Attire
Going to the office is no longer a Mad Men event, and casual Fridays are more common than ever. Now, dressing for work is a blend of the two, with a mix of smart attire with a laidback twist. Start with a neutral base, such as trousers and T-shirt or button-down – swap out the pants for jeans if the occasion calls for it. For an outer layer, you can sport a light blazer. Cotton is best for all-year wear, but you can add something from wool or tweed when the temperature dips and linen when it starts to get warmer. Sneakers or Chelsea boots look good with myriad textures and color combinations – neutral shades like white, tan, and black are essentials for every closet.
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Smart Casual Summer Attire
Whether you are going to a boat party or a cocktail party on the beach, there’s a fine line between being too dressy and casual during warmer months. While you don’t want to feel too sweaty or overheated, it’s best to avoid an overly informal ensemble. A smart casual outfit, such as linen trousers in a light color. Depending on the occasion, you can swap them out for shorts – in this instance, avoid wearing styles with patterns, and stick to monochrome or duo-chrome palettes. A blazer in a light and breathable fabric will keep you looking fresh and feeling breezy, no matter the temperature. Boat shoes or loafers prevent hot feet but continue to tie the two dress codes effortlessly.
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Smart Casual Winter Attire
Colder weather calls for layers, which is the perfect way to dress smart casual. This dress code usually includes button-downs or T-shirts, but swap these out for a knit sweater or rollneck when the temperature falls. Regular trousers or chinos are an excellent choice, but if the weather calls for it, you can add a pair of jeans for a more laidback spin. Keep the shoes simple – Chelsea boots, Dr. Martens, or white sneakers will keep the outfit fresh and interesting without stepping into an informal territory.
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Smart Casual Outfits
Blazers are a popular choice for smart casual as they can be paired with different pieces and work well for a layered look. The one thing that you must consider is the material for the blazers you intend to wear with this attire. For smart casual, ensure that your blazers are not too formal and are lightweight and have relaxed elements. This will ensure that your look is seamless, and the pieces can work cooperatively for an overall casual essence. You do not want the look to read outdated or mismatched. The trick to perfecting smart casual is making the pieces look like they were made for each other. Also, don’t just assume that you will need a blazer for a stylish smart casual look. Think about other alternatives to keep your looks refined yet still textured. Cable knit cardigans are a novel alternative that will add a preppy touch.
An advantage of smart casual style is that there is greater freedom with what shoes you can get away with. Keep in mind that it is all about balance; you want to put forward a respectful, polished casual look. Boots, loafers or Oxfords work well, lending a more mature edge to your clothing. In terms of material for your smart casual shoe choices, opt for suede for a well-textured, quasi-formal touch. A great pair of sneakers can also be a perfect accompaniment but keep in mind that you should opt for clean, minimalist styles (classic converse or leather sneakers are an easy go-to).
Button downs shirts are the obvious choice, but there are a few things you need to remember. Firstly, opt for classic colors and traditional patterns. Smart casual looks should observe tradition, so opt for timeless prints and tones for a grown-up take on casual wear. Colors like whites, powder blues, and navies work tremendously, and patterns like gingham and tartan are classic and read stylish (provided your pieces are well-tailored!). While well-fitted shirts dress up your outfit instantly, keep in mind that a looser fit button-down can also work when done in particular materials. Denim and chambray shirts are a great example and can switch up your look. Tuck them in and finish with a textured woven belt for a more relaxed approach. These shirt styles are also perfect for layering.
Go for simple T-shirts that don’t have too much color or print. A classic white or grey t-shirt will work as a great starting point if you’re stuck with coming up with a smart casual outfit. A horizontal striped shirt can also be an easy way to add dimension, but ensure they are traditionally colored and not too bright to sustain a classic feel. Also, be conscious of the material of your t-shirt. Lower quality and ill-fitting T-shirts don’t make the cut for everyday casual style, so they most certainly are a no-go for smart casual.
While a blazer is ideal for creating a smart casual look, there are other jackets that you can wear for this dress code. A sophisticated leather jacket or sleek bomber is a stylish alternative to traditional tailored designs. To ensure your look reads as smart instead of sloppy, just make sure you partner your jacket with elevated items, such as a collared shirt, tailored pants, and dress shoes.
Jeans and Chinos
Great fitting jeans are always a failsafe go-to, but with smart casual you will need to ensure they are a bit more dressy and not too ‘casual’ (ie baggy or overly distressed). Jeans are awesome, but let’s face it a pair of chinos can amplify any quasi-dressy style effortlessly. Chinos are the ultimate staple – whether your event is more casual or more dressy, this pant works well for ambiguous dress codes. Chinos are great investments in colors like khaki, navy, and beige as these tones work with a wider range of complementary colors. Black reads classic, but can at times be less versatile and work to construct casual looks as opposed to boosting them.
Please remember that we are not talking about board shorts here. You will need them in high-quality fabrics and should be fitted and certainly above the knee. Be cautious when choosing to go for shorts, they can work well but can also register underdressed in the wrong context.
No smart casual outfit is complete without the addition of accessories. To put the perfect finishing touch on your look, select accessories that read as chic without feeling overly dressed-up. A belt is a must, but try choosing a brown leather style for the right mix of relaxation and sophistication. When it comes to ties, you can wear one or not. If you do go without, consider adding a pocket square to dress up your look a little more. Other accessories you may wish to wear are a stylish yet straightforward watch and sleek sunglasses.
Can I wear jeans in smart casual?
Jeans are a staple in the smart-casual wardrobe if you can style them properly. Avoid wearing anything too loose-fitting or with rips. It's best to avoid them when dressing for a wedding or scaled-up work event, but they work well at a birthday lunch, after-work drinks, or a date with someone special.
Can I wear sneakers for smart casual?
Sneakers are a great option for a smart casual dress code. This footwear is a great way to dress down a more formal outfit, including a suit, jeans, a blazer, chinos, and a coat. You should always keep the sneakers clean and minimal in design.
How to wear smart casual for men?
To create a stylish, smart casual outfit, mix everyday garments with more sophisticated pieces. Be sure to select silhouettes and colors that flatter you. For a fashionable look, try partnering a pair of chinos with a button-down shirt and blazer. When it comes to shoes, select either boots, loafers, oxfords, or a smart pair of sneakers. Finish your look with a belt, pocket square, sunglasses, and sleek watch.
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