The smart casual outfit for men is one of those styles that lets you truly express yourself. While it does require a certain degree of sophistication above casual wear, smart casual is nowhere near as formal as the business professional style.
As a result, you should carefully consider how to execute your smart casual outfit.
You want to make sure that your clothes help you communicate who you are and what you want to accomplish.
If you’re invited to an event that calls for smart casual wear and you wonder what it means, this guide is for you.
But you shouldn’t limit a smart casual outfit for special occasions. Smart casual can easily become your day to day attire if you want. It’s meant to be elegant and mature but also comfortable and fluid to adapt to different locations.
Ready to discover how to dress up smart casual with style? Let’s dive in!
Exploring the dressy side of casual wear
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: dressing smart casual doesn’t have to be expensive. While you can spend a lot of money on designer pieces and luxury items if you want to, you don’t necessarily have to.
You’ll see in this guide that with just a few well-chosen items, you’ll be able to look great whatever the occasion might be.
This article is part of a style series covering the 5 essential dress codes for men:
The modern smart casual look
Welcome to our 2019 smart casual look guide for the modern man. We’ve broken down this guide into several sections. You can skip to the part that’s most important to you right now if you want.
- What is the Smart Casual style?
- Smart casual men wardrobe basics: 15 essentials items to perfect your look
- 7 Pro style tips and basic principles to always get your smart casual look right
- 5 smart casual brands to know in 2019
- Smart Casual dress code: Frequently asked questions
- Resources and further reading recommendations about the smart casual attire
What is the Smart Casual style?
Smart casual wear is an ambiguous style. Its definition and meaning will vary based on the season, location and the people that you’ll be meeting. It can thus be complicated for men to know exactly how to dress smart casual appropriately.
In general, smart casual means neat chinos or a pair of dark-coloured jeans with a shirt, a blazer, and a pair of leather shoes. Your outfit should be well-fitting but slightly less formal than a business casual or business professional style. As Mr Porter’s Style Director put it, smart casual is “pretty much anything smarter than a tracksuit, but less formal than a suit.”
Smart casual is neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style.”
– Oxford dictionary
If you received a wedding invitation that calls for smart casual attire, forget the jeans and go with nice chinos instead. A tie might not be required, but you should pack one just in case and dress up your blazer or jacket with a pocket square.
On the other hand, if you’re going to a smart casual beach party, wearing a dressy pair of shorts with a tucked in shirt will be perfectly acceptable.
The golden rule is to always keep the location and occasion in mind when you’re preparing to dress up. If you’re going to an after-work party in the UK or the US, smart casual can be as simple as a pair of navy jeans and a blue checked shirt, for example. If you’re going to a destination wedding, opt for beige chinos with a blue blazer and a white pocket square and you should be good to go.
Smart casual on a summer weekend in Sardinia for a cocktail at the Yacht Club is different than smart casual in Toronto during the winter for an informal dinner. It is the knowledge and the good taste to understand the differences in terms of place, theme, people, weather and spirit.”
– Andrea Perrone, CEO of Italian luxury fashion house Brioni
If you’re unsure about the expectations, ask the event organiser if they could give you a few examples of what they mean by smart casual or check with other people who might have been there before. And when in doubt, go for the more formal option. It’s always better to slightly overdressed than underdressed. People rarely say that you looked too good.
Smart casual men wardrobe basics: 15 essentials items to perfect your look
Because the smart casual style is relatively conservative, it’s less influenced by short-lived fashion trends. It’s thus easier to future-proof your wardrobe with a few selected items that every man should own.
Smart casual wear revolves around a set of classic essentials that form the building blocks of your personal style.
From dressed up pants like well-fitted jeans or chinos to button-up shirts and shoes, we’ve round-up here those essentials that you can mix and match to maximise the potential of your wardrobe staples.
1. Denim jeans
The backbone of the informal outfit since the 1950s, great fitting jeans can easily be dressed up or toned down.
If you want to project a more polished appearance, opt for a quality pair of jeans in straight-leg styles and a dark wash.
Chinos are excellent to mix things up from time to time. The same upper outfit worn with chinos instead of your jeans will instantly change your overall appearance.
Invest in the right cut in classic colours such as khaki, navy and beige which are easy to match. Comfortable and stylish, chinos also can help you achieve a smart casual look. Chinos are perfect for occasions with ambiguous dress codes, especially the smart casual and business casual styles.
A few well-fitted long-sleeve shirts are absolutely essential to your wardrobe. For a more relaxed look, you can roll up the cuffs.
Start building up your shirt wardrobe with easy to match colours. A white classic shirt is a foundation. Make sure that the collar looks good when left open to the third button but also when fully buttoned up.
A blazer is arguably what will set your smart casual look apart from any other casual wear. Start with a classic navy unstructured blazer that will be easy to match with any other items in your wardrobe.
A blazer a timeless piece that should remain with you for years so it’s worth investing in quality materials and design.
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 sneakers can dress you down while a pair of classic Oxford leather shoes will dress you up.
6. Accessories and accents
Accessories are perfect to add a touch of personality to your outfit and enhance your overall look. You can stay consistent with accessories that support your look or go in the opposite direction to create your own unique style.
Here are a few suggestions of accessories that you can keep for years to elevate your smart casual look.
7 Pro style tips and basic principles to always get your smart casual look right
We’ve reached out to a panel of expert stylists and fashion advisers to ask for their recommendations on the smart casual dress style. Here are their tips to help you look great when dressing casually:
- Start with your goals. This will form the backbone of your style. 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?
- Dress accordingly. Pick an outfit that will help you achieve your goals.
- A few timeless items are worth investing more in. Some items in your wardrobe won’t last for more than a season. You shouldn’t spend too much on those. But others will stay with you for years. That’s 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.
- 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.
- 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 own 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.
- Consider the occasion before selecting your smart casual outfit. Whatever your own personal 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.
- 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.
5 smart casual brands to know in 2019
When shopping for new clothes, you should always decide first what you want and then look for the best items to complete your look. We don’t recommend that you start by picking a brand and then aimlessly browse through their collections.
That said, there are a few selected brands that our style editors tend to favour over others. Those are the brands that offer superior quality for the right price and never seem to disappoint us.
It’s important that you know which brands you can trust when shopping online so you don’t waste time or money. Check also our list of the 15 most popular luxury brands of 2019 for more inspiration.
Here is our selection of the 5 best casual attire brands for men.
1. Polo Ralph Lauren
2. Tom Ford
4. Hugo Boss
5. Tommy Hilfiger
Smart Casual dress code: Frequently asked questions
- Question: Can you wear jeans in smart casual?
Answer: Yes. Denim jeans are acceptable most of the time for the smart casual look. Go with dark-coloured well-fitted jeans. Just stay away from casual ripped jeans.
- Question: How should I dress for a smart interview?
Answer: It depends on the industry and the company that you’re going to do the interview with. Most of the time, the smart casual look will be too casual for a business interview. You should instead aim for a formal business style or at least a casual business look.
- Question: How can I dress smarter?
Answer: Start by deciding how you want people around you to perceive you. Follow the simple steps highlighted above and always consider the occasion before dressing up. That will set you on the right path to dressing smarter for every occasions.
- Question: How to dress semi-formal for men?
Answer: Semi-formal is very ambiguous. It sits between smart casual and business casual. If you’re unsure about the expectations, err on the side of caution and go with a casual business look.
Resources and further reading recommendations about the cocktail attire
We used several authoritative sources to help us write this guide to men’s cocktail attire. We recommend that you read them if you want to learn more about dress codes in general. These are also great resources if you want to understand a particular aspect of men’s fashion or want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends:
- The Journal, by Mr Porter, is an excellent source of inspiration to execute your style with class.
- Wikipedia has an interesting in-depth article on the history of the modern cocktail attire for men. It’s valuable to understand why you are expected to wear a particular type of clothes.
- The London College of Fashion and the Parsons New School for Design both offer excellent courses if you want to learn more about fashion design.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum can also help you explore the history behind men’s dress codes. It ranks number one on our list of the best museums in London.