Men’s Style Tips: How To Dress Smart Casual

If you are looking for a style where you can truly express yourself, the smart casual outfit is the choice for you. It does require a level of sophistication that is above your everyday casual wear but isn’t as formal as the professional business three-piece suit style.

If you have ever received an invitation that says smart casual and wondered what they mean, this article is going to help you execute that smart-casual style. You will want to make sure that the clothes you have match the look you are going for and you may find this style becomes your default style.

When trying to think about smart casual, you want to look elegant without it looking like you are trying too hard, but you do want to look stylish enough for your efforts to be noticed.

Don’t think that you need to rush out and buy a completely new wardrobe to make a smart casual look. You also don’t need expensive designer clothes to pull off the smart casual style either. You would be surprised what you already have in your wardrobe that when matched correctly, will give you the style and image you need to waltz into a smart casual event and still turn heads.

There are five essential dress codes for men, and smart casual sits at number two.

You have the following:

1) Casual

2) Smart Casual

3) Business casual

4) Business professional style

5) Cocktail attire style…yes, Miss Moneypenny!


What is smart casual style?

Like everything the seasons play a part in choosing your clothes but to give you an idea of smart casual think about neat chinos or a dark-coloured pair of jeans with a shirt, blazer and leather shoes.

If you get invited to a wedding that calls for smart casual attire, don’t wear the jeans but do go for the neat chinos instead. On the other hand, a smart-casual beach party would call for a dressy pair of shorts with a tucked in short would be perfectly acceptable.

If you are unsure about the event, ask the organiser to clarify or better still give you a few examples. If you are still in doubt, it is better to go overdressed than be underdressed.


Smart casual men wardrobe basics: 6 Essentials for the perfect look

1) Denim Jeans 

These are not the ones you painted the garage in last Sunday nor the ones with holes in that you think make you young and trendy. These should be sharp, dark and polished in appearance. Straight leg words better than a skinny jean or a bootleg as they side towards casual.

2) Chino’s 

Chinos are excellent trousers that are versatile in dressing up or down a little for any occasion. Chino’s come in several colours such as Khaki, Navy and beige, so they are easy to match. Comfortable and stylish, chinos also can help you achieve a smart casual look. If ever you are not sure if the event is casual or smart casual pull out the chino’s and you won’t go wrong.

3) Shirts 

A few well-fitting shirts in your wardrobe and you are already halfway to the look. When you are buying new shirts, try and spread out the colours so you can mix and match with jeans or chinos. Keep an eye on your collars and under the arms as they are usually the areas that display an old shirt more than anywhere else.

4) Blazers

If anything can elevate your look from casual to smart casual, it is a blazer. Start with a classic unstructured blazer that will be easy to match with any other items in your wardrobe. Blazers are timeless and an item worth investing in quality materials and design.

5) Shoes

You will be surprised how a nice pair of shoes will draw compliments from both sexes at any event. The shoes that you wear when dressing up smart casual will have a big impact to finish up your look. A pair of high-end trainers can dress you down while a pair of classic Oxford leather shoes will dress you up.

6) Accessories and accents

Accessories are where you can add your personality but be careful, too much, and you lose the effect. It is a balance, so think about accessories such as a pocket square, watch and belt.

Style tips and basic principles for the perfect smart casual look. 

1) Start with your goals.

Do you want to project an air of assurance?

Do you want to show that you care about an occasion, and dressed up accordingly?

Or do you prefer to prioritise comfort first and foremost?

2) Dress accordingly.

Pick an outfit that will help you achieve your goals.

3) A few timeless items are worth investing more in

Some items in your wardrobe will not last for more than a season. You should not spend too much on those. But others will stay with you for years. That is the case with a designer blazer, your high-end sneakers, or a luxury watch, for example. Decide which pieces you want to keep and invest in quality over quantity.

4) Cover your bases.

When starting to build up your wardrobe, begin first with neutral colours such as black, white, navy, tan, grey and brown for your outfit. Those are all easy to mix and match and will never go out of fashion.

5) Elevate and personalise your look with a one or two items.

Once you have the foundations of your style in place, you can add your personality to your outfit by playing with luxurious fabrics such as silk or cashmere and bolder colours. These should be reserved for your accessories such as your belt, watch strap, socks, etc.

6) Consider the occasion before selecting your smart-casual outfit.

Whatever your style is, you should always pay close attention to your environment and social context. Understand what is expected and then design your outfit according to your goals.

7) Always look for the right fit.

There is nothing more saddening than seeing a man pulling out the right style with the wrong fit. It will completely ruin your efforts if your clothes are overly tight and uncomfortable or too baggy and sloppy. If you invest time defining your style, make sure that the execution is right.


Smart Casual Style Tips

Change Your Attitude

Sir Hardy Amies in A-Z of Style writes, “Smartness is more a matter of the appearance of your clothes rather than their style. Shoes polished, trousers pressed, and tie properly tied are necessary factors in a smart appearance.”

The operative words here are not ‘shoes’, ‘trousers’ or ‘tie’ (we’re talking about smart casual, after all), but ‘polished’, ‘pressed’ and ‘properly’. A pristine T-shirt, indigo jeans and box-fresh trainers can look dressier than a wrinkled shirt, stained trousers and scuffed shoes.

A T-shirt, jeans and trainers won’t always be appropriate, mind. But smart casual is arguably more a mood or attitude than it is a set formula or combination of pieces. As Debrett’s says, “Just because an event is informal, it is not synonymous with making no effort.”

To texture or not too texture?

Another (major) factor that affects the relative smartness or casualness of a piece is texture. If you think about the most formal items in menswear – worsted wool business suits, say, or barathea dinner jackets are almost invariably smooth and shiny.

Swap the worsted wool for a matte flannel or tweed, however, and you both literally and metaphorically change the feel of the piece. This will also often make the garment seem larger, which only adds to the more casual vibe, given that smarter looks are usually sleek and streamlined.

This is a handy rule of thumb and forefinger that you can apply to make any outfit casual: shirts, knits, trousers, even shoes.

It’s Mix and Match time

As we’ve established, smart casual is nigh-on impossible to define. So a more helpful and practical approach is to start with a casual outfit and then change one – or better, two – pieces for smarter alternatives.

For example, take a bomber jacket, T-shirt, jeans and trainers. All very casual, right?

Now swap in any one of blazer, shirt, trousers or chinos and shoes. You should now be verging on the smart-casual territory. Swap in two and you should be bang on target. If you now swap in three and, depending on the circumstances, you might even be too smart. It’s a fine line.


The Meaning of Smart Casual style

Trying to find the true meaning of the phrase smart-casual can quickly turn into a nightmare. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code”. But these days it’s quite common for smart casual to be the dress code.

So you go online to search for smart-casual style guides that variously counsel everything from shorts, which don’t strike us as especially smart, to Ascot ties, which don’t come over as particularly casual. The latter indicates many of these guides feel like they were set in stone shortly after the ten commandments. Whatever smart-casual means, it’s likely to be something different today than it was in the starch-collared 19th century.

“Smart casual; is destined to be one of those terms that history will not be kind to,” says Josh Sims, author of Men of Style. “Thankfully, the recent explosion in non-designer-y brands offering considered, very wearable clothing is making moot the second-guessing of whatever the term means. Because actually, it’s all quite smart now – but in a comfortable way.”

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