Are you a man of taste and sophistication? Do you want to look smart and fashionable without sacrificing comfort? Are you looking for pieces and outfits appropriate for the boardroom, the bar, and the deck of a yacht? Then the smart casual style is for you.
“Smart casual” is a style of men’s dress that combines elements of formal and casual attire – think jeans with a blazer, moccasins, and button-down shirt or chinos with a sweater and a pair of high-end leather sneakers. Smart casual is a conservative, timeless style that allows men to future-proof their wardrobes with an assortment of classic pieces. With a few simple tips and a few foundational pieces, you’ll soon look like you walked out of the pages of a men’s fashion magazine.
Elements of the Smart Casual Style
It can be hard to put your finger on exactly what pieces and outfits fit into the smart casual style, this men’s dress code is subjective. Unlike other men’s dress codes like black tie or morning dress, the “casual” part of “smart casual” introduces some leeway for men to blend more informal pieces into their outfits, like jeans, sneakers, bomber jackets, and even T-shirts. This style of dress allows you to use some creativity, and show some personality, in the way you dress.
The classic smart casual outfit consists of well-fitting jeans; an unstructured blazer or suit jacket; a well-fitting, high-quality, and plain white T-shirt; and a smart pair of shoes – Oxfords, brogues, or loafers are the usual suspects. You can mix up this template to dress it up or down, or for different seasons or situations. You could wear a button-down shirt or polo shirt instead of a T-shirt, or choose a darker T-shirt for a more formal look. You could wear a cardigan instead of a blazer, or opt for a tasteful sweater over a button-down shirt. The idea is look like you made an effort, while still dressing comfortably. Follow these general rules of thumb:
- Wear a lightweight blazer during the summer, and a wool blazer, cardigan, or sweater during the winter.
- Choose dark-colored, undistressed jeans, chinos, khakis, linen trousers, or needlecord trousers.
- Sneakers can be worn, but they should be high in quality.
- Avoid sandals; choose espadrilles, moccasins, boat shoes, brogues, or Oxfords.
- Brogue boots, work boots, ankle boots, or Chelsea boots are acceptable.
- Dress shirts, sweaters, cardigans, polos, and neutral T-shirts are acceptable.
- Darker colors look more formal, while lighter colors look more casual.
- Choose neutral colors and stylish patterns – avoid loud or brash colors and patterns.
- Avoid athletic jackets, windbreakers, sandals, shorts, and flip flops.
- Bomber jackets are acceptable, especially when dressed up with slacks and smart shoes.
All pieces should fit properly – save your loose, baggy T-shirts for the gym, the couch, or for totally informal occasions. Shoes should be properly polished, if they’re of a style that can be and is usually polished, and sneakers or espadrilles should be clean and free of scuffs. All pieces should be of high quality, and certain pieces, like joggers and athletic shorts, should be avoided altogether. Shirts should be tucked in, and accessories like belts and watches should be worn. Get blazers, trousers, and shirts tailored to fit properly if necessary; choose fitted men’s stretch jeans and other pieces with slim, sleek lines.
Basic Pieces to Build Your Wardrobe On
Its timelessness means that a smart casual wardrobe is less vulnerable to the whims of changing fashion, so you’ll be able to wear the same high-quality pieces for years to come. Basic pieces for a smart casual wardrobe should include:
- At least two tailored, unstructured blazers, one for winter and one for summer;
- High-quality T-shirts and dress shirts in neutral colors;
- A few pairs of trousers, including at least one pair of jeans, chinos, and khakis;
- One pair of more formal shoes, like lace-up Oxfords or brogues, and one pair of high-quality, neutral-colored sneakers;
- A quality men’s wristwatch; and
- A good leather belt.
As you get more comfortable with the smart casual style, you can add cardigans, neutral and stylish sweaters, a bomber jacket, and more shoes and boots. While ties are not required for smart casual outfits, you may want to occasionally wear one to dress up a smart casual outfit in the workplace or elsewhere.
Men’s smart casual dress lets you look good and feel comfortable, but its nebulousness can make it hard to master. Don’t stress too much about whether your clothes look too formal or not formal enough. Smart casual is as much an attitude as it is a manner of dress – it’s not just about the clothes you’re wearing, but how you wear them, that makes your personal style distinctive.