It can be difficult to determine the meaning of smart casual. According to the Oxford Dictionary, smart casual is “neat, traditional, but relatively informal in fashion, especially when worn to conform to a specific dress code.” It’s becoming more common to wear smart casual.
You go online and search for smart-casual style guidelines that advise everything, from shorts that don’t seem particularly smart to Ascot ties that don’t feel casual. As the last one indicates, these guides feel almost like they were written right after the ten commandments.
It doesn’t matter what smart casual means.
Josh Sims, author of Men of Style, says that smart casual is one of those terms histories won’t be kind to. “Fortunately, the recent rise in non-designer-y brands that offer very wearable, thoughtful clothing makes it moot to second-guess what the term actually means.” It’s quite smart, but it’s also very comfortable.
What is Smart Casual?
Let’s first answer the question, “What is smart casual?”. Here are some examples of how you can see this dress code in action.
Smart Casual Dess Code
Smart casual can be defined as anything, but it could also refer to any other style. According to Mr Porter’s Style Advice Page, smart casual can refer to “pretty much any smarter than a tracksuit but less formal than an suit.” He adds that a blazer and a white shirt are the best options.
However, there is no single answer. Debrett’s Guide for the Modern Gentleman makes a distinction between “formal casual smart casual”.
Formal Smart Casual
Formal smart casual includes a jacket, blazer, flannels or needlecord trousers or chinos (not Jeans), and smart footwear (not necessarily with lace-ups but trainers or sandals).
Informal Smart Casual
A casual smart casual dress code is not clear. However, it does include consent for “smart and clean dark-coloured jeans”, the declaration that “polo shirts are better” than “collarless T-shirts”, and the instruction to “change from what your have been wearing at home”.
Although it may sound confusing, this last point might be the best to start with. Smart casual can be defined in many different ways. It is a way of life that includes dress and thoughts.
What’s The Difference Between Casual And Smart Casual Dres’s Codes?
The difference between smart casual and casual can be viewed as stepping up the style. Casual dress can be as simple as jeans and a shirt, but smart casual could mean a collared jacket or dark wash denim.
Smart casual is a better choice because it gives you a polished look. Casual can look sloppy or lazy (baggy pants, we’re talking to you), while smart casual reflects professionalism or thought behind the outfit.
Casual attire can be a good starting point to find the perfect smart-casual outfit. You can start with the pieces you already have and add some upscale or flashy items. These tips will help you create an outfit that is a little more elegant than your everyday wear without compromising comfort or personal style.
The History Of Smart Casuals
It is difficult to determine the exact origin of smart casual. Website The Phrase Finder – as conclusive as it is – claims that smart casual was popularized throughout the past century but originated in the 1980s.
The first documented use of these terms dates back to a 1924 Iowa newspaper, The Davenport Democrat And Leader. However, it was about sleeveless gowns, which we don’t recommend wearing.
It’s not hard to believe that smart casual and business casual are related. The two are often interchangeable, even though they are different. One is for work, and one is for a casual wear at home.
Back in those days, smart casual was not just for going to work but also for all other occasions. Smart casual, which was quickly erected as a bulwark against all sartorial chaos, replaced the old dress standards.
Sims says that smart casual is a transitional period that allows men to dress up or down but still maintains the freedom and comfort that they desire.
The term suggests that there was panic among the ‘authorities’ (restaurant managers, event organizers) about managing the shift. They went to a halfway house. Dress casually but not too casually. What did you get? The result? Men in blazers or open-neck business shirts.” Don’t be one of those guys.
Tips For Smart, Casual Men’s Tyle
Here are some tips for dressing smartly in casual wear.
1. Change Your Attitude
Sir Hardy Amies writes in A-Z Style that “Smartness is more about the appearance of your clothes than it is about their style.” A smart appearance requires polished clothes, pressed trousers, and a properly tied tie.
These are not the words shoes or a ‘trouser’ or a ‘tie’. We’re talking about smart casual, so we don’t mean shoes or trousers (we’re not talking about shoes), but rather ‘polished’ and pressed. A clean T-shirt, indigo jeans, and box-fresh trainers by a minimalist brand such as Uniform standard can make you look more professional than a wrinkled shirt and stained trousers or scuffed shoes.
It’s not always appropriate to wear a T-shirt, jeans, and trainers. Smart casual is more about a person’s mood and attitude than a specific formula or combination. Debrett’s explains that “just because an event is informal doesn’t mean it requires you to make no effort.”
2. Play A One-two
It is nearly impossible to create a smart casual look, as we have seen. It is more practical and helpful to start with casual clothes and add one or two pieces to make them smarter.
Take, for example, a T-shirt, a jacket, and jeans. Do you think that all of this is very casual?
You can now swap out any following: blazer, shirt or trousers, chinos, shoes, or chinos. This should make you look smart casual. You should be able to swap in two. You might be too smart, depending on the situation. It’s not easy to find the right balance.
3. Twist Some Shade
To adjust an outfit’s casualness, you don’t have to swap pieces. You can dress up by simply turning the lights down, as darker colours tend to be more formal.
Take, for example, an olive green bomber jacket and a white T-shirt with stonewashed jeans.
You can swap out the olive bomber for one in navy or the stonewashed jeans to go indigo. It will feel more formal. This is especially true if the white T-shirt is replaced with mid-grey charcoal, and the trainers are replaced by navy or black.
Although the constituents are identical, the overall effect is quite different. The reverse is also true: Lightening up is a switch that allows for smartness.
4. Seek The Brutal With The Soft
The texture is another major factor that influences the casualness or smartness of a piece. Think about the most formal pieces in menswear, such as worsted wool business suits or barathea dinner coats. They are almost always smooth and shiny.
You can swap out the worsted wool in favour of a matte flannel or tweed. This will change the overall feel of the piece, both literally and metaphorically. The garment will appear larger, which can be a good thing, making the piece more casual. Smarter styles are often sleeker and more streamlined.
This is a useful rule of thumb and forefinger you can use to casually style any piece, including shirts, knits, and trousers.
5. Blazer Trail
To achieve a sophisticated casual look, a blazer can be worn over jeans, T-shirts, and trainers. Not all blazers can be made equal. To borrow a lovely phrase from Debrett’s, Gold buttons are a little “gin-and-jag” (AKA middle-class people who drive Jaguar cars and drink gin, tonics).
A blazer with texture will look great with jeans, as we have already mentioned. One will also look great if it is cut shorter and has slimmer lapels. Similar to the ‘cazh, patch pockets look like they are stitched on.
You can also remove the padded shoulders, canvassed chest, and sleeved collars found in smart blazers to make them more casual. N.B.
6. Button Up
A T-shirt is considered smart casual if it’s plain, of good quality, and well-fitting.
A polo shirt can instantly make a casual outfit more stylish. It’s sporty, with its collar and buttons. It was worn originally for playing polo. The button-down collar was also used to keep it from flapping around.
This brings us to the button-down shirt. It is less stiff than a shirt with a rigid collar or cuffs. You will also find it in fabrics like Oxford cloth and chambray that are more shiny and smooth.
There’s also the grandad shirt. More casual is better than collarless. Capiche?
7. Get Off Your Finery
Our example outfit didn’t include a jersey sweatshirt or hoodie. These thick, sporty and casual pieces can be replaced with a fine-gauge knit in cashmere, merino or cotton. You can weave by wearing a simple jumper or cardigan with your T-shirt or even swapping the trainers for sneakers.
A chunky knit won’t achieve the same effect. However, a shawl-collar jacket instead of a jacket can still look stylish, even if it doesn’t have toggles and a huge moose. Knitted blazers are somewhere in between.
8. Pocket The Difference
Legwear is a common smart-casual staple. Jeans are generally acceptable, even in business settings, as long as they are dark and untattooed. There is always a chance of something going wrong. There are failsafe chinos, with the emphasis on “safe”.
Pins can be used to formalize an outfit but also allow you to move freely. Recalling the example of the T-shirt, bomber jacket, jeans, and trainers, a change in the jeans can make you look smart and fashionable.
You can pull off casual trousers with a textured fabric such as linen or flannel, but it is not an entry-level option. This is why most men stick to jeans and chinos.
9. Toe The Line
Trainers can be worn in casual settings, just like jeans. If you are unsure, play it safe. Debrett says that the right shoes can save even the most severe fashion disasters. The reverse is rarely true.
What makes a casual shoe more casual than a smart? Black is the most sophisticated, while brown and tan are more casual. Silhouette: A round or almond-shaped toe, along with a chunky sole, is more casual than one that is pointed. Texture: Matte, nubby suede is more casually than shiny, smooth leather.
10. Get Your Kicks
Although many smart casual guides would rule out trainers, that is a bit old-fashioned.
If trainers are allowed, the recommendation is to wear a classic style like Converse Jack Purcells or Adidas Stan Smiths. A more formal, dark color is smarter in many ways. They’ll draw less attention, which can lead to disapproving glances or show dirt.
Shiny, smooth leather looks better than matte, coarse canvas. Suede is somewhere in between. Even though knitted trainers look great if they are dark, they can be a little too modern for certain situations and far too different from formal shoes.
5 Key Smart Cassual Pieces
These are the five essential pieces that every man should have in his wardrobe for smart casual occasions.
1. Unstructured Bloze
How many times can we recommend a blazer to others? There are at least two more. A tailored jacket is the best way to look smart casual. It’s also the most versatile business casual piece. A blazer that does both is ideal.
The blazer should have a softer fabric than a standard suit jacket and be cut shorter. It is also much easier to put it on.
2. ‘blazer Bomber’
A blazer is the king of business casual and smart casual. What about those occasions when a tailored jacket is too smart? The ‘blazer Bomber’ is here.
This style is a result of uniform-wearing soldiers, and therefore packs a lot of formality. The bomber jacket must be thinner than a military-issue to pass inspection and be considered smart casual.
3. Chambray Shirt
Oxford button down shirts look equally good in casual. Except they would be at work, unless you work remotely, in which case, you won’t need to dress at all. In the interest of variety, the smart casual endorsement for the chambray top is the chambray shirt.
4. Dark Jeans
Chinos and ‘khakis’ are similar to the polo shirt. They can also be used as a building block of business casual.
We’re not going to repeat ourselves, so we’ll be choosing plain, dark-selvedge jeans without any bells or whistles.
We don’t have to nominate trainers. You probably already own one. Shoes that aren’t too casual for work can be a useful addition to your smart casual collection.
Brogues can be a smart casual choice, but they are not as versatile as Chelsea boots. Chelsea boots can hit a more rock ‘n roll note. We’re arguing for Derbies.
Smart casual dress code dos & dont’s
Are you unsure if smart casual is the right approach? These are the key do’s and don’ts that will help you succeed with your style.
Cover your bases
You can avoid most casual mistakes by wearing shoes other than trainers and pants that aren’t jeans. A blazer can make you virtually bulletproof.
Do not expose your arms.
Short sleeves can be attached to a shirt or polo shirt. Actual shorts are more casual than short sleeves. Before you unholster the guns, make sure it is safe.
Do not: Lose the tie.
Smart casual is a smart-casual style that doesn’t require a tie. You won’t be confused or give the impression you forgot your neckwear with a grandad shirt or polo.
Do not forget to tie your shoes.
If you aren’t sure and attending a formal event or job interview at a casual company, you won’t regret wearing a tie.
Do: Get your coat
A neatly cut overcoat can be worn in place of a jacket for casual smart-casual events.
Do not sew yourself up.
You might prefer to wear your blazer for formal events. A removable overcoat might be a better option than a knit under it.
Do it correctly
Patterns make shirts and blazers look casual and less formal, except for corporate pinstripes.
Do not be afraid to try to be a legend.
T-shirts are already casual. Avoid logos, slogans and (shudder!) jokes on your T-shirts. “Liquor in the front, Poker in the rear” is a way to advertise that you have nothing upstairs.
Keep it tight
Silhouette is also a key factor in informality, as we have seen. It is important to ensure that casual clothes fit properly to communicate smartness. We meant casual, not sloppy.
Do not cut off the supply.
There is a distinction between “fitted” and “clingfilm”. Too tight clothes can make smart casual clothes look sloppy and unprofessional.
Do: Get a sweat on
A hoodie? It is irredeemably casual. You can also have a blazer made from the same material. You got game. You can also use a plain sweatshirt as a substitute for a knit underneath a casual tailored jacket.
Trousers and chinos with sporty drawstrings and cuffs may be one thing. But jersey sweatpants can only be worn casually as casual wear. It’s smart casual.
Do: Accept it.
Smart casual is about how you wear it. To give your outfit a more formal look, roll up your sleeves and hems on your chinos.
Don’t let it all hang out.
It’s okay if your shirt pokes out of a casual jacket, like a bomber jacket. If your shirt is protruding from underneath a blazer, that’s a problem. It would be best if you got tucked.
Do: Give it a little more.
Your leather dress watch can be switched for a sport with a metal bracelet, nato strap or a metal belt. You can also switch your leather belt to a woven one in a different colour.
Don’t: Sock it to them.
Many online style guides will help you express your style through patterned or coloured hosiery. This is a terrible idea. Don’t.
Men’s smart casual attire
Faqs for smart casual dress code
Are you still unsure about the smart casual dress code? These are the last words of advice.
Are jeans suitable for smart casual wear?
Jeans are generally acceptable for smart casual dress codes. However, you will want to choose a darker wash without distressing or rips. You don’t want to look too casual in jeans so that you can wear chinos.
What is smart casual work attire?
Smart casual in business can refer to a pair of jeans or chinos with a collar, a shirt and a blazer. Add subtle but elegant accessories such as a belt or a colour to make you stand out in the boardroom.
Are sneakers suitable for smart casual wear?
For smart casual, sneakers are better than derbies or casual dress shoes. Smart sneakers can bring life to an otherwise dull outfit. So make sure you get a pair of smart sneakers for dressier occasions that aren’t scuffed or marked.