‘Smart casual’ is a widely used dress code description but has a tendency to leave room for confusion.
In today’s society, men’s ‘smart casual’ can be interpreted to include trainers and t-shirts when teamed with the right things, but, whilst jeans definitely can qualify, track pants are almost certainly out.
Ripped or artfully faded denim is a more risky choice, though not always a definite ‘no, no.’ For a stylish, fashionable event, particularly with a modern-minded crowd, this style of jean can be included when matched with smarter tops, shoes or a stylish Chelsea boot, but if in doubt leave them out.
Darker and one-toned denim is less likely to offend. In fact, that type of denim is the cornerstone of smart casual. ‘For best’ denim matched with a collared shirt and shoes is one of the ultimate definitions of ‘smart casual’ fashion ideas.
Part of getting it right is not just in the items chosen but in the presentation of those items – gleaming white sneakers can set off a ‘smart casual’ look to perfection. Scruffy and grubby trainers are a definite ‘no’.
A pressed and collared shirt will definitely work with a ‘smart casual’ outfit, but if teamed with polished shoes and suit trousers it leans closer toward ‘smart’ and less to ‘casual’. For a more formal occasion, where the dress code is ‘smart casual’, this may still be the way to go to avoid under-dressing. Leaving out a tie and, perhaps, the suit jacket will help ensure you don’t feel overdone.
Whilst pattern is fine and in itself can add a more playful feel to an outfit, and perhaps insert a bit more casual into something that would otherwise verge closer to plain smart, logos are not the way to go. Logoed or heavily branded garments are firmly for your casual only, informal events.
MEN’S SMART CAUSAL IDEAS:
An easy tip for getting the ‘smart casual’ look right is in starting with a mental image of a traditionally formal outfit then swapping out one or more items with a more casual alternative to adjust the tone.
If you were to start with a shirt, tie, suit jacket, trousers and shoes, try the same outfit with indigo jeans instead and drop the tie. For a more relaxed look try swapping the shoes for a slick, clean trainer.
To make it even easier, we have collated this bullet point checklist and, below, looks and further details to illustrate each point.
A CHECKLIST TO MEN’S SMART CASUAL OUTFIT IDEAS:
- Trainers will give an otherwise smart outfit a casual feeling.
- Give a suit the smart casual treatment by dressing it down with a t-shirt
- Make an otherwise casual look a little smarter with a collar either on a traditional shirt or long or short sleeved polo shirt
- Logos and overt branding are a ‘no no’ for smart casual dressing
- Almost any coat will be fine with a ‘smart casual’ outfit
- Layering a jacket, such as a one-button jacket with lapels, is a great ‘smart casual’ outfit idea that will lift any look
- Tailored shorts are a bold and interesting smart casual fashion idea you could try in summer with a shirt
- A light coloured trouser or chino will give a more casual look
- Tuck in a t-shirt or top to dress up a casual outfit
- Matching a sweater with trousers or chinos is a simple and effective smart casual outfit idea
- You can still wear a tie with a ‘smart casual’ outfit – especially with a sleek shirt and blue denim
GET THE SMART-CASUAL LOOK RIGHT WITH OUR LOOK-BY-LOOK GUIDE
TRAINERS WILL GIVE AN OTHERWISE SMART OUTFIT A CASUAL FLAVOUR
Darker colours are likely to lean an outfit immediately toward a more smart feel, especially if you match the top and bottom half.
Whilst jeans are a part of the look featured here, partly because the tones are all navy, the difference between this style of denim and a trouser is so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable.
A slight turn-up on the jean allows the exposure of the lighter shade of denim and makes the look a little less stiff. Similarly, the flash of ankle also relaxes the outfit.
If you’re uncertain how heavy on the ‘casual’ your ‘smart casual’ event is, this look can be worn with a smart shoe, but a trainer modernises and relaxes it further.
SHOP THE LOOK…
DRESS DOWN A SUIT WITH A T-SHIRT
Dressing down a suit with a pressed and logo-free t-shirt is an old classic as far as ‘smart casual’ outfit ideas are concerned.
This same look would easily be made the ultimate in a formal dress if you were to switch the t-shirt for a more traditional collared shirt and tie.
Making the switch to a t-shirt leaves a well-coordinated, sleek and respectful outfit for a ‘smart casual’ event. The ability to shed the jacket creates the option to easily make this ensemble more laid-back still.
A grey two-piece suit is a great staple for any wardrobe and will work for almost any occasion. Grey trousers are a very versatile and reliable garment to have to hand whether worn as a suit or on their own.
A brown or tan shoe has the effect of lifting any look and giving it a more individual tone. A black shoe has less impact, but will never fail to create a stylish, polished finish.
And remember not all t-shirts were created equal – choose a slimmer line look for a smarter feel and a good quality item with higher end fabric will look good wear-after-wear.
SHOP THE LOOK…
KEEP IT SIMPLE WITH A COLLAR
A sure-fire way to inject ‘smart’ into an otherwise casual look is to add a collar. Buttoning it up high is a fashion idea that strikes a more modern and trendy note.
A collar need not mean a pressed shirt though. A long or short-sleeved polo-shirt softens the outfit a stage further and pushes it certainly into the ‘smart casual’ category.
The relaxed cotton t-shirt style fabric of a polo shirt has a naturally more casual feel. Be cautious about making this look too informal if matching with denim. A safer option is to choose relaxed tailored trousers or chino.
Adding a pair of shades exudes assured style.
SHOP THE LOOK…
ENJOY LOTS OF LEEWAY WITH YOUR OUTERWEAR
A smart casual event is one where you can fall back on your favourite coat or jacket without the need to invest in something specifically for the occasion – providing it’s still in good order.
Whereas a more formal occasion calls for a coat to match, a ‘smart casual’ event allows a lot of leeway with your outerwear. Providing what you have underneath is suitable, a more relaxed coat can be perfectly acceptable. A padded or wax jacket, leather coat, even denim is just as acceptable as a timeless woollen longline.
Logos or heavy branding on your coat are unlikely to quite fit the occasion, however.
Bear in mind that if your coat is on the more casual end of the scale, ensure at least one of the items you have underneath is more formal, such as, a collared shirt.
Matching a checked shirt with similarly toned trousers provides a pulled together look that implies a level of respectful effort.
SHOP THE LOOK…
ADD A JUMPER TO TONE DOWN A SMART LOOK
A no-fail fashion idea to tone down an otherwise smart look and give it a more relaxed vibe is to layer a jumper over the top.
Create a more interesting twist on the classic ‘collar poking out of a v-neck or round-neck jumper’
by picking a sweater with a crew neck and zip instead. Unfasten it a little to reveal a structured shirt underneath and pair it with either trousers or denim.
Again, a bit of thought to matching the colour pallet will add sophistication to the look. A patterned shirt, with a hint of colour to match your sweater, adds additional interest and polish.
Finish the look with white trainers for the highest degree of dress-down charm, choose a dark trainer for something in between or pair it all with a shoe for a more conventional flavour.
SHOP THE LOOK…
A JACKET AND A ROLL NECK ARE A SUREFIRE WIN
A classically cut, a one-buttoned jacket will lift almost any outfit into the realms of a successful ‘smart casual’ look. Matching it with a roll neck (otherwise known as polo neck or turtleneck) is an age-old device to create a suave style.
Taking a bit of risk with texture will add a contemporary and individualised twist on this old favourite. A sumptuous velvet jacket alights a wry nod toward images of masculine smoking rooms – cheeky and charming. Either match the jacket with a roll neck in a different tone of the same colour or match with a complementary but differing shade for a strong contrast.
Team with trainers to give an important contemporary note to a vintage-inspired ‘smart casual’ outfit idea.