Whether you’re here to learn a new definition, or here to spice up your personal style, this guidebook is going to deep-dive smart casual dress for men so you can implement it in your own life with ease.
What Is Smart Casual Attire?
First things first what exactly defines smart casual dress attire for men? If we want to get down to the basics, Cambridge Dictionary defines it as clothing that is “neat and stylish, but not too formal.” The common frustration with figuring out smart casual dress is navigating the fine line between neat and formal wear.
If you’re looking to dress smart casual, the best approach is to elevate casual pieces with neat, put-together pieces or pair formal wear with casual elements to tone it down. You’re going for something more put together than jeans and a t-shirt, but not so formal as a full-on suit and tie. Think, a pair of nice dark jeans with a collared shirt and blazer, no tie. That’s the essence of smart-casual wear.
While this kind of attire would have seemed out of place at work decades ago, smart casual is quickly becoming the norm for professional settings and events around the world today. Back in the day, people dressed formally to go nearly anywhere, especially for the workplace. There was a time when working in a busy office building meant committing to wearing a full suit and tie every day. But as our workplaces evolved, so have our dress codes, and now it’s entirely common to see your boss in a pair of jeans.
Though casual dress is becoming the norm, the word smart still indicates a certain degree of neatness and professionalism. By embarking on this style, you’ll come across as neat, smart, and stylish without looking too overdressed.
General Smart Casual Dress Code Tips
While there are tons of tips for specific clothing articles that we’ll dive into later, there are a few general tips and tricks one should remember when attempting smart casual dress. Here are some general notes to consider when trying out this new dress code:
Prioritize the Fit
If you really want to up your smart casual wardrobe game, don’t be afraid of the tailor! Most men don’t think to take clothing to get fitted at a tailor but doing so can seriously make your outfit pop. A key element in smart casual dress wear is clean, tight-fitting, tailored pieces, which can be hard to achieve when wearing things directly off the rack.
When shopping for wardrobe pieces, always keep in mind that you can get items like blazers and pants better fitted later on. You can also go through some of your old wardrobe pieces to update them for this new look. Have a slightly oversized suit jacket? Take it in for some adjustments, and now you have the perfect fitted blazer!
Make sure you prioritize your comfort when looking for new clothing. Though a tight fit is part of the process, make sure you like what you’re wearing and you’re comfortable wearing it. The biggest key to pulling off a new look is confidence, and it’s hard to feel confident when you’re struggling with the clothes you’re wearing.
The largest appeal of smart casual dress is the comfort anyhow, so take advantage! Look for fashionable ways to add comfort to an outfit- a soft sweater, a good slip-on shoe, and comfortable jeans can make smart casual dressing a breeze.
Develop a Color Palette
When building a new wardrobe, it’s good to keep a color palette in mind. Having key items in neutral colors- white t-shirts, blue jeans, black jackets -can make building outfits a lot easier. Buy things that you know will match together in complementary tones so you can mix and match your items easily.
In general, smart casual clothing should be in neutral colors and stylish patterns. Avoid shopping for anything loud and flashy, unless, of course, that’s your personal style! A bold piece can always look great when paired with the other neutral items.
Remember the Occasion
When going for smart casual, always keep in mind what sort of setting you’re dressing for. Being casual can be great, but there may be some instances in which you have to step it up. For example, if you get invited to a smart-casual wedding, maybe swap the denim for chinos, and throw a pocket square into your blazer. When in doubt, always dress up! It’s better to be overdressed for the occasion than underdressed.
Smart Casual Dress Code Clothing Recommendations
Now that you know a little bit more, it’s time to build your new wardrobe! Below we’ve outlined some of the key pieces to incorporate into a smart casual wardrobe, with tips for the ways you should approach each item:
Shirts: Button-Ups & T-Shirts
Both button-ups and casual t-shirts can work great in smart casual dress, but there are a few key points to keep in mind. Remember that the shirt you choose to wear depends entirely on the context of the event. While many men may think smart casual dress codes are a free pass to wear their favorite graphic-shirt under a blazer, this isn’t always the right choice!
Button up shirts are a great choice for the office or a more formal event. Be sure to get these fitted, and shop for neutral colors- white, navy, and powder blue are great starting places. You could always opt for more interesting textures and patterns like a nice gingham, tartan, or denim if you want to mix it up. To keep the look smart, always tuck in your buttoned shirts in with a belt.
For t-shirts, it’s best to invest in some plain neutral colors. A classic, well fitted white t-shirt can be used in a multitude of outfits. (In fact, it’s best to have 2-3 if it really becomes a wardrobe staple for you.) Look for other neutral colors- blue, black, and grey are best if you’re looking for something easy to match with most other basics. While a nice plain t-shirt is great, don’t shy away from patterns if you’d like to spice up a look! Graphic t-shirts can also look great in the right context.
For both button-ups and t-shirts, look for clothing made of nice quality fabric, and again, make sure that these shirts are fitted. Since layering is a key aspect of smart casual dress, buying things a little too big may end up looking bulky in your final outfit.
Pants: Denim, Chinos, & Shorts
The pants are the foundation of a great outfit! There is a ton of flexibility when it comes to pant options in smart casual dress. Much like shirts, a key factor here is making sure you have a great fit. Don’t be afraid of the tailor!
For denim, a great fit is essential if you want to pull them off in a more formal setting. Avoid anything baggy or distressed; go for a straight leg fit. If building a new wardrobe, a dark wash jean is best, though investing in black and light blue are also worth your while.
Chinos are a smart casual wardrobe staple and can easily be elevated or dressed down depending on the occasion. Invest in some classic chino colors such as khaki, beige, or navy to easily mix and match. These pants will be your go-to pick for anything with an ambiguous dress code, allowing you to look smart and stay comfortable.
Shorts can be a struggle for many men, but they are a breeze once you find the right fit! The best fit for shorts is something that hits you above the knee. There are a multitude of fabric options here-denim works great, but linen-cotton shorts can give you premium coolness and comfort. Neutral cream, navy, and grey color tones work great here, but a fun pattern can really make a summer outfit fun and fresh.
Outerwear: Blazers and Jackets
A blazer is one of the key pieces you’ll need if looking to dress smart casual. This may be repetitive, but we have to say it- the fit of your blazer will be essential. Take your blazer to the tailor to make it a timeless piece in your wardrobe. A blazer is very versatile- pair it with jeans to elevate a casual look, wear a t-shirt underneath it to tone a formal look down, or even add a pocket square if you’re feeling fancy. The possibilities are endless.
When shopping for a blazer, look for something lightweight and relaxed. A classic navy will work wonders, but other colors, including black or grey, can match well and be easily paired with a ton of pieces. Layer your blazer with buttons downs, t-shirts, or a colored shirt and sweater combo to create a multitude of smart casual looks.
While blazers are a staple, you’ll need other jackets for this dress code, depending on the season. If looking for a light coat, try going for a classic back leather jacket or a fun bomber jacket to add an element of casual cool. If you’re in a colder climate and need something for the winter months, a nice black, grey, or tan trench coat can be a classic statement and easily elevate even the most casual outfit.
In general, try to keep your coat color palette as neutral as possible. As coats can be a bit of an investment, it’s best to choose one that can pair well with even your most eccentric pieces and be worked with for any occasion.
Shoes: Oxfords, Sneakers, and Boots
The fun thing about smart casual wear is that you can get away with a ton of different shop options. Especially with the increasing popularity of designer sports shoes, just about anything goes these days when it comes to your shoe choices. However, it’s good to have your bases covered with a few staple pieces.
A dressy oxford shoe can be worn in formal and informal settings, making them a breeze when outfit planning. Go for black or brown here, with a matching belt for outfit building.
For more dressy-casual moments, a nice loafer or a neutral slip-on works great. A good pair of boots, either leather or Chelsea style, can also be a good option, especially for the colder weather. For summer, look to invest in a pair of espadrilles or nice brown sandals. Remember to keep them clean!
When it comes to sneakers, try to avoid anything that looks too athletic. A nice white leather sneaker is easy to pair with many different color palettes. Alternatively, the classic converse sneaker is pretty versatile but go for the classic black and white coloring or an all-white version.
Men might not often think about accessorizing but investing in some accessory pieces can really elevate your smart outfit choices.
The first investment you should consider making is a nice watch. Go for something straightforward, sleek, and stylish- nothing too bulky or flashy is needed. A clean watch face with a brown or black leather strap works nicely.
A belt is also a must-have for elevating your smart casual looks. A button-up shirt or sweater can instantly be elevated once tucked in with the inclusion of a nice leather belt. Look to invest in brown or black leather belts, but make sure you have a dress or oxford shoe to match! A little known style tip is to always make sure your belt matches your shoes.
A pair of good sunglasses is also worth your while. Tortoiseshell is an on-trend color choice right now and would be easy to match with nearly anything! You could always go for classic black or brown frames as well, but eyeglasses are an area where you can really go for personality. Don’t be afraid of a unique shape or color.
Finally, it could be worth investing in some pocket squares for your more formal leaning smart casual moments. In instances where you would normally wear a tie, opting for a pocket square instead can add the spark of formality you need without going over the top. Be sure to color coordinate your pocket square with your shirt and jacket, but don’t be afraid to go for a fun pattern to bring some personality to the outfit.
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