If you’re looking to build a wardrobe that pairs casual style with elements of classy business casual attire, it’s important that you explore smart casual. A smart casual dress code can mean different things, but most fashion experts define it as upscale casual wear that is stylish, sharp and universally flattering. This elegant yet comfortable look is meant to be easy to wear and versatile, allowing men to wear much of the same clothing day-to-day in the summer and winter alike.
Smart casual attire can be denim jeans with a button-down shirt, blazer, and white sneakers. Smart casual dress can also be dark chinos with a t-shirt, bomber jacket, and boots. Simply put, smart casual outfits mix and match formal and casual clothes to create a unique blended aesthetic that will leave you looking fashionably well-dressed. For inspiration and ideas on how to pull off this fashion trend, we’ve compiled a complete guide to smart casual for men.
What Is Smart Casual?
Smart casual is taking your casual aesthetic and adding some refined details to show that you put some thought and effort into your outfit. When dressed properly, a smart casual dress code for men can work well as casual, business casual, and dressy attire. To be specific, casual wear is the relaxed clothing you might wear to do your laundry or grocery store shopping, such as jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. When you want to look smart, you’ll need to dress up your style with higher-end pieces.
Smart casual is a men’s fashion trend that embraces the movement of eschewing traditional roles of formality and strict dress codes. It encourages playfulness and experimentation within a mature and sophisticated style. Smart casual is the balance of being able to make people compliment how sharp you look without overdressing for an occasion or event.
As the dressy side of the casual look, you’ll want to invest in essential quality pieces. Smart casual in New York for the summer can look very similar to smart casual in California during the winter if you have the right clothes. A few fashion items to perfect your look include denim jeans, chinos, button-down shirts, polo shirts, blazers, boots, sneakers, sweaters, jackets and coats.
Smart Casual vs Business Casual
While business casual implies some rules about not dressing too loud and maintaining an air of professionalism, smart casual is meant to be expressive and unique. Smart casual outfits can be more relaxed than business casual, but they can also be more formal. Business casual is narrower and more limited. Smart casual allows you to try to mix in some things that typically would not do in the office. Use your office staples as a starting point and try them in different ways. Take your favorite gingham shirt out of the office and pair it with a cardigan and jeans for your next night out.
Smart Casual Outfits
Blazers work well for smart casual dress codes because they are can be worn in a variety of ways. They are great in simple looks but can be layered with sweaters or coats for more visually complex outfits. For smart casual, stay away from blazers that are too formal. Look for blazers that are lightweight and made from relaxed fabrics, like a chino, tweed, or linen. You will want a blazer that lacks shoulder pads and less structure overall. This will keep the smart essence of a blazer without looking out of place with the rest of your outfit.
When dressing smart casual, you have great latitude with your choice of shoes. You can start with business casual classics like brogues, boots, and Derby’s and try to dress them down. Use these shoes in alternative fabrics like suede to keep them from looking out of place. This is a great opportunity to mix in different shoes with some pieces you might not have tried before. Throw on your favorite moc-toe boots with a navy blazer or maybe try a suit with sneakers. In recent years, sneakers have become more and more commonly paired with more formal pieces. You can find minimalist sneakers in leather that can pull their weight with a linen suit as easily as with a pair of jeans.
Because smart casual attire still calls for touches of traditional formality, a button-down shirt will always work. Use your tried and true colors like crisp white, black, blue, and navy, but feel free to incorporate sharp shirts in less traditional colors. Take another look at that olive shirt that caught your eye or mix in a yellow or salmon during the spring. Polo shirts and short-sleeve button-down tops that are typically inappropriate in work settings lend themselves well to smart casual styles. Camp collar shirts are an on-trend option for a look that pairs well with a mojito in your hand. Incorporate a chambray shirt with boots for a polished take on American workwear.
Whereas button-downs might be your go-to option, you can get away with mixing in some T-shirts with your smart casual wear. Especially when trying to elevate an inherently casual piece, the fit is king. You have to make sure that your T-shirt is well-fitted with refined details. Well-fitting for T-shirts does not necessarily mean that the shirt hugs you tightly, but it should match the overall tone of your attire. For example, a slub tee that drapes freely might work better with your slimmest jeans while a Pima cotton shirt that accentuates your arms will look better with khakis and boots. You should opt for simple, solid, or color-blocked T-shirts so that they can be incorporated into many outfits. Look for subtle variations on the traditional template to add memorable details. High collars or scalloped hems can make a regular T-shirt a standout piece if worn correctly.
Besides blazers, you can lean on a multitude of different jackets to round out your smart-casual style. A brown leather jacket is a timeless piece that can be worn with a button-down and chinos, while a black moto jacket can be worn with a white T-shirt and Chelsea boots for an edgy look. A chore jacket is a transitional piece that gives you some layering while maintaining a refined appearance. Bomber jackets work well with smart casual attire, provided you layer it on top of well-chosen basics. There are dozens of variations of standard men’s jackets: Eisenhower jackets, mechanic jackets, Harrington jackets, the list goes on. Find a style that works well on your body and in your wardrobe, then wear it all year round.
A staple of fall and winter layering, sweaters can help you nail a smart casual dress code. A slim merino wool sweater over a button-down with denim and sneakers will give you just the right amount of refinement. Try a chunkier fisherman’s sweater to add some personality to your outfit while keeping you warm. Cable knits are more suited to winter but are a nod to tradition that will work well with casual accents. Turtlenecks or mock turtlenecks look great layered under a simple open jacket or chino blazer. Cardigan sweaters are a great option when looking to sub in a piece for your jackets. Wear a cardigan over a simple T-shirt for a casual look that still imparts a bookish elegance. There are roll-neck sweaters, ribbed sweaters, shawl-collared sweaters, quarter-zip sweaters, waffled sweaters, and buttoned sweaters; the possibilities are endless.
Jeans work well with smart-casual looks. A pair of well-fitted jeans in a traditional dark wash is a very versatile piece. Lighter washes are great for the summer, but you sacrifice some choice with your outfits. Stick to the darker, simpler washes for more elevated outfits and lighter washes for more casual occasions.
Chinos are the ultimate building block for a smart-casual outfit and come in a variety of styles and cuts. Chino pants can be dressed down for a casual look or up to create a semi-formal style. Get khaki, black, grey, olive and brown chinos as starter pieces and you can pull off the smart casual dress code anywhere. Mix in some pastels like soft pink to nail a trendy look that can still be dressed up.
Shorts should be worn with caution when dressing smart casual. Any pair of shorts that are going to be sharpened up to smart casual needs to be properly fitted to end above the knee without being baggy or misshapen. They should be made of chino or linen, with simple construction and timeless shapes. Shorts are inherently casual, but they can lend themselves well to some smart casual events. Outdoor drinks with friends is a good time to try this; throw on some stone shorts with a powder blue cotton button-down, sunglasses, and sneakers with no-show socks.
Accessories help set your smart casual look apart from your everyday wear. A great leather belt can help elevate style without being too dressy. Jewelry like a watch or a simple leather bracelet is great finishing touches. Ties tend to come across as overly formal, so try styles that are fun or less formal. Though originally reserved for suiting, you can try adding a pocket square to a blazer or even a vest for a fun take on a traditional piece. Sunglasses are a great way to add some personality. Whereas muted colors like brown and black are encouraged most of the time, try a vivid blue or yellow with your smart-casual wardrobe.
Smart Casual For Men
- Dress your more formal pieces down but be careful not to make them appear out of place
- Find the fit that looks best on you
- Button-down shirts are versatile and fit in well with smart-casual
- Use the versatility of chinos to your advantage
- Mix up your layering pieces with blazers, jackets, and sweaters
- Finish your look with pieces that impart your personal style