WHAT IS SMART CASUAL? Smart Casual Dress Code For Men

Trying to figure out what the word “smart casual” really means can rapidly turn into a nightmare. It is defined as “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially when dressed to comply to a specific dress code” by the Oxford Dictionary. However, smart casual is now the most popular dress code.

So you go online and look for smart casual style guides, which advise you on everything from shorts, which don’t strike us as particularly smart, to Ascot ties, which don’t strike us as particularly casual. And, as the latter implies, many of these instructions appear to have been carved in stone shortly after the ten commandments.

Whatever smart casual means today, it’s not likely to be the same as it was in the starched-collared nineteenth century.

“Smart casual is destined to be one of those expressions that history will not be kind to,” argues Josh Sims, author of Men of Style. “Thankfully, the current growth in non-designer-y firms selling considered, very wearable clothing is making moot the second guessing of whatever the phrase means. Because, in fact, everything is fairly smart now – yet in a comfortable way.”


Before we go any further, let’s address the lingering question: “What precisely is smart casual?” Here are some examples of smart casual for men in action:


Smart casual means nothing, thus it can imply anything. The smart casual category includes “very much anything smarter than a tracksuit, but less formal than a suit,” according to Mr Porter’s Style Advice page. Mr P, on the other hand, adds, “An excellent response is a blazer, white shirt, clean pants, and brown shoes.”

However, there is no single answer. Debrett’s Guide for the Modern Gentleman distinguishes between “formal smart casual” and “informal smart casual,” which ironically complicates matters even more.


A jacket or blazer, flannels, needlecord trousers or chinos (not jeans), a shirt with a collar (not a T-shirt), and smart shoes (not necessary lace-ups, but not trainers or sandals) constitute formal smart casual dress.


An informal smart casual dress code remains ambiguous, though, beyond authorization for “smart, clean, dark-coloured trousers”, a proclamation that “polo shirts are better than collarless T-shirts” and an admonition to “change from what you have been wearing at home”.

But, while it may appear cryptic, this last point is likely the best place to start. One of the reasons smart casual is so difficult to define is that it can signify quite different things in various circumstances. It’s a mental condition as much as it is a physical appearance.


When it comes to the distinction between casual and smart casual apparel, consider the latter to be a step up. While casual attire can be as easy as jeans and a t-shirt, smart casual can mean wearing a collared polo instead of a plain tee or deeper wash denim.

Another distinction is that smart casual leads to a more polished appearance. Casual might come out as slouchy or lazy (baggy pants, for example), whereas smart casual conveys professionalism, or at the very least, care behind your attire.

Having said that, casual wear can be a terrific starting point for obtaining the perfect smart casual outfit. Begin with items from your everyday clothing and then add some more posh or flashy items. if you were in the city of Los Angeles, and you would like to be in the city of Los Angeles, and you would like to be in the city of Los Angeles.


The specific origins of smart casual are as enigmatic as its definition. Website The Phrase Finder – as conclusive as that is – asserts that the term is “considered to have originated around the 1980s” but was in “frequent use throughout the last century”.

In reality, the terms were first used in a 1924 edition of the Iowa newspaper The Davenport Democrat And Leader (albeit in regard to sleeveless dresses, which we strongly discourage wearing).

Whatever the truth is, it’s a reasonable assumption that smart casual is related in some way to business casual, and the two are frequently used interchangeably, despite the fact that they’re not.

But back in the day, you didn’t just dress up for the office; you dressed up for everything. As conventional dress standards deteriorated, smart casual became a hurriedly created bulwark against utter sartorial disarray.

“Smart casual implies a transitional time between dressing up – that is, more formally – and dressing down with the comfort and self-expression that more and more men seek,” Sims adds.

“The word also conveys a kind of panic among ‘authorities’ – restaurant managers, event planners – as to how to handle the transition, so they’ve gone for some midway house: dress casually but, you know, not too casually, please. The end result? Endless bewilderment. Alternatively, males wore blazers and open-neck business shirts.” Don’t be those people.


Here are some pointers to help you get started when it comes to dressing in smart casual attire:


“Smartness is more a matter of the appearance of your clothes than than their style,” argues Sir Hardy Amies in A-Z of Style. “A smart appearance requires polished shoes, pressed trousers, and a correctly tied tie.”

The crucial words here aren’t ‘shoes’, ‘trousers’ or ‘tie’ (we’re talking about smart casual, after all), but ‘polished’, ‘pressed’ and ‘correctly’. A wrinkled shirt, discolored trousers, and scuffed shoes from a minimalist company like Uniform Standard can look dressier than a spotless T-shirt, indigo denim, and box-fresh trainers.

T-shirts, tapered jeans, and sneakers aren’t always acceptable. But smart casual is probably more a vibe or attitude than it is a precise formula or collection of components. waging the waging the wag of the wag of the wag of the wag of the wag of the wag of the wag of the wag of the wag of the wag and


As previously stated, a smart casual attire is nearly impossible to define. So, a more useful and practical strategy would be to start with a casual ensemble and then switch out one – or better, two – pieces for sharper alternatives.

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

Change into a blazer, shirt, trousers, or chinos, and shoes. You should be approaching smart casual territory. Swap in two and you should be bang on target. If you add three, you can be too smart, depending on the circumstances. It’s a narrow line to walk.


To vary the casualness of an ensemble, you don’t even need to replace elements. Darker tones skew more formal, so smartening up can be as simple as turning down the lights.

Consider an olive green bomber jacket, a white T-shirt, stonewashed trousers, and white sneakers.

Now switch the olive bomber for a navy one, and the stonewashed jeans for indigo. It suddenly feels more formal. Even more so if you replace the white T-shirt with something like mid-grey or charcoal, and the sneakers with navy or black.

The constituent styles are exactly the same, yet the total impact is very different. And the opposite is true: lighting up is a smartness dimmer switch.


Texture is another (important) characteristic that influences a piece’s relative smartness or casualness. If you think about the most formal garments in menswear – worsted wool business suits, perhaps, or barathea dinner coats – they’re nearly typically smooth and shining.

However, swapping the worsted wool for a matte flannel or tweed changes the piece’s feel both literally and conceptually. This will also often make the clothing seem larger in size, which further contributes to the more casual vibe, given that better outfits are usually sleek and streamlined.

This is a useful guideline of thumb and forefinger that can be used to casualize almost any piece: shirts, knits, pants, and even shoes.


As previously stated, placing a jacket over a T-shirt, trousers, and sneakers is an easy way to achieve smart casual wear. But not all blazers are made equal: gold buttons are a little “gin and Jag,” to steal a lovely phrase from Debrett’s (AKA the sort of middle-class people who drive Jaguar cars and drink gin and tonics).

As previously stated, a jacket with some substance will look great with jeans. As will a somewhat shorter cut, possibly with slightly slimmer, more contemporary lapels. Patch pockets, which appear to be sewed on, are also ‘cazh’.

Finally, removing the padded shoulders and canvassed chest featured in smart blazers will make them feel more casual, if not comfortable. N.B. Don’t shred your blazer; instead, look for the word ‘unstructured’.


A T-shirt can be considered smart casual if it is plain, of decent quality, well-fitting, and has not been washed to death.

A polo shirt, on the other hand, instantly dress up a casual outfit. The buttons and collar make it further down the spectrum towards a shirt, but it’s still sporty. Indeed, as the name implies, it was initially worn for polo, as was the button-down collar to keep it from flapping around.

That brings us to the button-down shirt, which isn’t as stiff as one with a stiff collar and cuffs. It’s also available in less smooth and sparkly fabrics like Oxford cloth or chambray.

Then there’s the grandfather tee. Collarless equals more casual. Capiche?


Our example outfit did not include a jersey sweatshirt or hoodie. However, replacing these bulky, casual, and sporty garments with fine-gauge knits in merino, cashmere, or even cotton can add a soupcon of refinement. Pull a basic jumper or cardigan over your T-shirt (and perhaps switch out the trainers for shoes) and you’re ready to weave.

Obviously, a thick knit won’t have the same impact, but a shawl-collar cardigan instead of a jacket can look smart if it doesn’t have toggles or a huge moose on it. A knitted blazer is midway between the two.

A word or 23 on roll necks: too thick and they’re not smart, too fine and they’re about as casual as Hemingway’s drinking.


Legwear is frequently a source of contention in smart casual settings. Jeans are generally appropriate, even in work settings, as long as they are dark and undistressed. However, there is always a risk. Then there’s failsafe chinos, with a capital’safe’.

Your pins are an often-overlooked opportunity to not only formalize but also flex an outfit. Going back to the bomber jacket, T-shirt, jeans and trainers example, switching the jeans for tailored pants might not only appear smart, but also stylish.

A textured, non-shiny fabric, such as flannel or linen, can help you pull off the casual trouser, but it’s not an easy move. Which is why most males stick to jeans or chinos.


Trainers, like jeans, can be worn in a variety of casual contexts nowadays. But if you’re in any doubt, then play it safe. The worst-case scenario is that the worst-case scenario is that the worst-case scenario becomes a reality.

What makes a smart shoe more casual? Color: black is the most formal, brown is more casual, and tan is even more casual. A round or almond toe, as well as a chunky sole, are more casual than a pointed toe. In terms of texture, nubby, matte suede is more casual than smooth, shining leather.

Wingtips, Derbies, loafers, Chelsea boots, and chukkas are better options than office-appropriate Oxfords for these reasons. But some instances can be quite smart, some very casual. So proceed with caution.

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Many smart casual guidelines rule out trainers entirely, however this is a little out of date.

Where trainers are permissible, a traditional style such as Converse Jack Purcells, Adidas Stan Smiths, or Common Projects in white is often recommended, and this is not incorrect. A more formal dark color, on the other hand, is smarter in more ways than one: they are less likely to grab the eye, and hence judgmental glances, or to display dirt.

In terms of textiles, shiny, smooth leather is smarter than matte, gritty canvas, and suede is somewhere in the center. Knitted trainers can also look smart if they’re dark, but they’re a little too modern for some situations – and a step too far away from actual shoes.

Sandals made of leather? Sometimes. Flip flops? Never.