How to dress smart casual
27th July 2018
Smart casual has become a staple look for many of us – wanting to impress but keep things on the low key side. It’s the dress code for everything – from work to the weekend.
But if you’re struggling to nail the fine line between the two, we’ve got the lowdown on what smart casual means for guys and how to boss it.
What is smart casual for men?
Smart casual means taking both tailored and casual elements of your wardrobe and wearing them together. This dress code requires you to look neat and groomed but leans on the informal side of things. You’ll likely base most of your looks around a sharp blazer or tailored jacket.
Smart casual mashes together your formalwear and your kickback and relax looks – easily pairing your smarter pieces with your lounge or sportswear.
In this post, we’ll round up all the different types of smart casual outfits – from pulling together a look for work to nights out with your mates and everything in between. It’s the look for everything from that first date after swiping right or even for Mondays in the office – when you want to make an impression but not look too polished.
Business casual vs smart casual
Both of these terms can be thrown around but mean slightly different things. Business casual is all about embracing a toned down vibe in the workplace – still looking professional but relaxing some elements of your look. So this could mean simply pairing casual shoes with a strong suit or just ditching the tie altogether.
Smart casual is for workplaces that specifically adopt this dress code, as well as for the weekends and nights out. It’s a style for when you want to look good and make an impression, without looking stuffy.
What you need in your smart casual wardrobe
Get these on your wishlist.
- Blazer – A blazer is the staple jacket of the smart casual dresser. Choose a style that goes with anything – we’re feeling a navy or khaki blazer jacket minus the buttons. This is great for wearing open over a t-shirt for the office or pairing with a jumper and jeans for smart casual dressing at the weekend.
- Tailored jacket – If you prefer to let your outerwear do all the hard work, a trench coat can turn any outfit and make it smart. Otherwise, look for a jacket with a structured collar and sharp shoulders.
- Shoes – Smart casual shoes span across a range of styles. Loafers are great for business settings, in brown or tan shades. Opt for espadrilles in darker colours for the summer months and swap for leather boots in the winter. You can get away with trainers, but darker shades and leather materials are best instead of your usual gym shoe style.
- Shirt – Shirts are still a good call. Denim shirts are great for pairing with black jeans and leather boots for a smart casual vibe at the weekend or you could opt for a short sleeved shirt in a bright shade for summer weddings and long days in the office.
- T-shirt – You can swap a shirt for a t-shirt, if you’re wearing a tailored jacket or blazer. However, this needs to be plain and good quality to pass the smart casual test.
- Jumper – A plain jumper is a great alternative to a shirt. Don’t be afraid to dabble in colour – while navy and grey are great for smarter or business occasions, for everyday smart casual looks a bold red or a vibrant green are good choices.
- Shorts – When summer rolls around, you don’t want to be stuck in suit trousers. Chino shorts are ideal for pairing with a polo or a short sleeved shirt.
- Accessories – Your accessories can make or break a look. A sports bag can dress down a sharp blazer and trousers ensemble while a leather satchel, paired with a plain t-shirt, black jeans and shiny shoes helps nail a more professional vibe. Sunglasses are ideal for slipping into pockets or add a tan leather belt for a put together look.
Are jeans smart casual?
Sure, they can be. Just try to avoid jeans with rips or holes in. Skinny, black jeans are your best choice if you’re unsure but otherwise slim fit blue jeans will do the job.
Ensure your top half features some form of smarter wear – like that all important blazer or a short sleeved shirt. When it comes to shoes, if you’re donning jeans, go for leather sneakers in a darker shade or slip on loafers or brogues. Here’s a breakdown:
Black jeans = Good for the office, first dates and even an interview.
Blue jeans = Great for a party, the weekend and first dates.
Coloured jeans = Wear to a party, casual wedding or on holiday – ensure the top half is very smart.
White jeans = Great for summer, pair with a pastel shirt and loafers for a stylish smart casual look.
Slim fit or skinny jeans = The best choice for a smart casual outfit.
Ripped or distressed jeans = Probably best to leave these for lounging at the weekend.
Loose fit jeans = Stick to slimmer fit jeans when pulling together a smarter look.
How to dress smart casual – for the office
- Swap out shoes for loafers or espadrilles
- Wear a t-shirt instead of a shirt
- Roll up sleeves
- Leave the tie at home
- Dare to bare with shorts in summer
When it comes to dressing smart casual for the office, you want to hold onto to that professional air but keep some chill about you. You might want to think of this as business casual dressing. You’ll be comfortable at your desk and can still impress clients when they come in for a meeting.
1. Add espadrilles
Adding espadrilles to a suit is instant smart casual. Slim fit, shorter length suit trousers that bare a little ankle help you nail this look. Look for espadrilles in a darker shade to keep things semi-professional. Leave the holiday print for around the pool, guys.
2. Swap a shirt for a t-shirt
Ditch the collar and don a plain V-neck t-shirt under your blazer. Leave it untucked from the suit trousers. We’re feeling a strong grey suit, featuring a white t-shirt under the jacket. Always go plain, printed t-shirts just don’t work – but you can get away with a small logo.
3. Roll up the blazer sleeves
Nothing says chilled like a rolled up blazer sleeve. Leave it unbuttoned and either scrunch sleeves or neatly roll them up the elbow. Looks like you mean business.
4. Don’t worry about the tie
Ties are old news – unless you’re at a wedding. Ditch that neckwear and if you’re still wearing a shirt leave a couple of buttons undone at the top. Just avoid getting all that chest out at your desk.
5. Legs for days
You’ll see plenty of smart casual guides telling you to never wear shorts but these days you can definitely get away with tailored chino shorts over trousers. Don’t be afraid to get those pins out in the office in the summer months – as long as they reach the knee and you’re pairing them with a smart, short-sleeved shirt you won’t get any HR emails.
Get the look
What to wear to a smart casual party
Parties with a smart casual dress code basically = jeans and a blazer. This ultimate pairing works for all events – you’ll be nailing it on the night.
- Jeans – Your trusty skinnies will definitely do, wear black jeans if you want to keep things a little extra smart.
- Printed shirt – Opt for a button down shirt but have a little fun with print. Palm print, floral print, polka dot – choice is yours.
- Blazer – Don’t button it up and throw it on when you’re heading to the next bar or just getting some air.
- Trainers – Parties are no place for stiff shoes. Grab your cleanest pair of trainers and finish your look. Go for a retro style sneaker instead of your gym trainers.
It’s a look that you can also embrace during the summer months on your next trip abroad with the guys. Just swap jeans for shorts and you’ll be getting served first in all the bars.
Get the look
How to dress smart casual for a first date
When it comes to impressing on that first date – go classic. Opt for a firm favourite when it comes to smart casual dressing – the checked shirt and blue jeans combo. This looks great with boots for winter or slip on trainers in warmer months. Roll up the jeans a couple of times to bare some ankle – show off sports socks if an urban, athleisure look is more your vibe.
It’s a look that isn’t too try hard but will definitely get them booking in for a second round of your company. Whether you’re meeting at a bar or have a table booked, you can’t go wrong with this outfit choice.
Get the look
Business casual inspiration for a job interview
Got a meeting with that potential new boss? Stuffy suits and ties don’t always go down well with newer, up and coming companies.
Instead, you want to throw together a look that suggests you’re a professional but you don’t take everything too seriously. Before you pick out this outfit, do a little research on the company – just to check you’ve got it right.
- Embrace the shirt – Your Mum would be impressed. A proper, long sleeved shirt is still the best call for those real professional situations.
- 2. Swap suit trousers for chinos – Dark coloured chinos are a good call when pulling together a smart casual outfit for an interview. Paired with a shirt, you’ll be nailing those professional vibes. Plus, chinos mean you don’t need to worry about finding a matching trouser suit.
- Don a blazer – A blazer nails that business casual vibe every time and always looks smart. A tailored jacket is another good call.
- Wear aftershave – Nothing gives off a good impression like a great smelling scent. It also makes you seem put together, when you really want that interviewer to think you’re right for the job.
- Take a leather bag – It doesn’t have to be full of stuff but there’s something about a leather messenger bag that shouts sophisticated – great if you’re donning a smart casual style but still want to appear professional. A leather bag looks great with a fitted shirt, dark chino trousers and loafers.
Get the look
Should you stick to certain colours when dressing smart casual?
It all depends on the occasion but here’s a quick break down –
Darker colours – For the office
Black, navy and khaki always look smart when teamed with a white shirt or t-shirt. Plus, dark coloured trainers can definitely pass for smarter shoes, so you can don your fave sports pieces for work without the risk.
Prints and colour – For those big nights out
Don’t be afraid to introduce colour to your smart casual look for a night out – ready for when the drinks are flowing and the dancefloor is waiting.
Reds and pinks – Everyday smart casual
Looking to keep things low key but still a little sharp when you’re just out and about? Reds and pinks are bold but pair them with black jeans or chinos and you’ll tone things down.
How to finish off a smart casual outfit
Got all the key pieces in place? Add the finishing touches:
- Leather look belt – A faux leather belt screams style and smartens up any look. Black is a safe choice but go for tan or dark brown for something a little different.
- Watch – Choose a good looking watch, with a leather strap and analog face, for a sophisticated accessory to help tie together your smart casual outfit.
- Pocket square – Pairing a blazer with a plain t-shirt and worried it’s actually a little too casual for that event? Add a pocket square in a bold colour and you’ll be impressing everyone you meet.
- Sunglasses – You don’t have to wear these, instead if you’re wearing a button up shirt tuck them into the top to add a little casual to a smart top half.
The dos and don’ts of smart casual
Keep these tips close and get it right every time.
Do double check the dress code – You don’t want to turn up too formal or too dressed down. Check if you need to meet things in the middle.
Don’t forget the tailored jacket – Blazer or jacket with strong structure, you can’t go wrong when it comes to business casual dressing for work or an interview.
Do wear pattern but be careful with occasion – Prints look great on shirts but if you’re ever unsure reserve these for nights out or weddings.
Don’t wear anything loose – Smarter wear is tailored to fit, so baggy trousers or an oversized jumper won’t help you achieve a smart casual look. Stick to slim fit jeans or trousers and ensure shirts sit close to the body.
Do ditch the tie – Even when it comes to business casual, ties aren’t always necessary. If you’re ever unsure though, take one along in your pocket that you can throw on later if you feel like you need it.
Don’t be blazen with sportswear – Weekend smart casual looks allow you to introduce some sportier elements but leave things like sports jackets or joggers in the wardrobe. You can get away with trainers in darker materials but that’s about it.
Do try harder with accessories – Reserve a good looking watch or designer sunglasses for a smart casual outfit, they won’t go unnoticed.
Don’t forget to roll up those hems – Simply rolling up blazer sleeves or tucking up jeans to bare some ankle can introduce a more casual vibe to a smarter look. Try this first, then if it needs to be more casual start swapping things out.
Smart casual looks are all about nailing that line between mixing casual wear with formal wear and simply looking scruffy. With these tips you’ll appear laid back but like you’re ready for business.