For men there are very few things in life that give them such a conundrum like smart casual. It is a phrase banded around flippantly through a man’s professional and personal life; fine examples are the new job’s office dress code or the summer drinks invite. Both say smart casual. But they are such different environments how can the same rules apply?
So what actually is smart casual?
Well the official dictionary answer says:
- (of clothes) neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code.
“think of a smart casual outfit as one that you’d wear for a movie or dinner date”
Again, not much use as I would say a movie is a severely less smart affair than a dinner date. Especially if you want to make a good impression on said date.
Put simply, for me, smart equates to a suit and casual is jeans and t-shirt. So smart casual is a hybrid of those two looks.
Rule #1 – The Blazer
By blazer I don’t mean your suit jacket without the trousers. This needs a purpose bought two button blazer that is a different texture/look to others in your wardrobe. Tweed or 100% wool is a good option for autumn through to spring with linen a failsafe for the warmer months.
You want a colour palette that fits nicely into your current wardrobe. Brown, navy or cream (for summer) typically will combine well with a man’s existing garments and go perfectly with our first choice for rule number 2.
Rule #2 – The Trousers
A staple of any gentleman’s wardrobe is a good pair of straight leg selvedge denim. It can easily be worn casually on the weekends with a t-shirt or be the foundation for your smart casual look should you need it to. If you are a more experienced hand by all means you can use other washes but don’t stray from a straight leg.
Rule #3 – The Shirt
Judge your occasion, but there are two selections we would always recommend. If the occasion is slightly further towards casual on the scale, then a button down oxford shirt is ideal. Further towards smart than a simple formal white shirt.
For the shirt, keep the colours fairly neutral, you can’t go wrong with white as the base to a good ensemble. Again if you want to look away from this then blue is a no-brainer, or even light grey if it suits.
Rule #4 – The Shoes
What goes brilliantly with a pair of selvedge jeans and a blazer? A pair of brown wingtip brogues of course. A timeless offering, if you invest in a good pair they will become a staple of your wardrobe for years to come.
Alternative options are the chukka, desert boot, or maybe a chelsea boot. When you have the rest of the outfit right, men can have a much wider choice of footwear to choose from. Grubby trainers are not accepted in this outfit, or in life for that matter.
Rule #5 – The Accessories/Additional Clothing
I often see men get all the previous four rules right, only to spoil it with their accessory choices. For some reason a pocket square is typically the offending piece. Simplicity is key for both accessories and additional clothing.
- Ensure your smart leather belt matches the colour of shoes (it doesn’t have to be the exact shade)
- No pocket squares
- No tie bars/pins
- Choose plain ties that go well with the blazer/shirt you have picked. If you feel confident then a spotted navy tie can look great
- Knitwear – this can be a lifesaver in the colder months. A crew neck merino wool jumper or cardigan that is grey, navy or black can make the shirt pop and bring the outfit harmoniously together
Check our picks of some of the best smart casual for varying menswear budgets.
Sam Brady is a menswear expert, having worked in or around the field for the past 14 years. He has built up a keen eye for detail when it comes to the production of clothing, and is happy showcasing the craftsmanship of Savile Row and Jermyn St. But he understands the need for an interchangeable modern man’s wardrobe that mixes high street and luxury clothing.