What is the Smart Casual Dress Code?

How to Dress Smart Casual

How to Dress Smart Casual

If you’re finding yourself a bit confused about what smart casual is exactly, then you came to the right place. The phrase “smart casual” itself is an oxymoron. That being said, there is no exact definition for smart casual. It’s actually considered to be more of a dress code to follow because it’s not always the time to be formal.

Believe it or not, a gentleman can still be a gentleman and dress casually if he follows the smart casual dress code. Pulling this off requires the right combination of sensibility and aesthetic relaxation. Even if it sounds intimidating to you, you’ll be happy to know that it is actually not that hard to get it right. To help you out, we created this guide to help you get the perfect smart casual look.

What is Smart Casual?

Smart casual is a combination of two dress codes. The smart part refers to being dressed-up and formal. On the other hand, casual attire is your classic t-shirt and jeans. When you put the two together in the right way, this is when you get the smart casual look. But it’s more than just combining some formal clothes with some casual clothes because the style is a bit more complex than that.

As you go through our guide, you will notice that smart casual is noticeably more casual and quite relaxed compared to your typical formal attire. The smart casual look actually deconstructs formal wear, resulting in sort of a contemporary result. There is actually quite a bit of freedom in regards to materials, textures, colors, and shapes.

Keep in mind what your own strengths are in terms of colors, cuts, and don’t stress the “rules” too much. That might actually sound funny since this technically is a smart casual guide, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll know what we’re talking about! At the end, we will finish off with smart casual outfit ideas for any occasion.

The Differences Between Smart Casual and Business Casual

Now before we dive into the ins and outs, it’s important to define the difference between smart casual and business casual. They’re both similar because they combine both formal and casual styles, but each one has a different outcome. To put it simply, business casual is smart casual for work while the other is for…well, outside of work.

Business casual is more formal and should utilize elements from typical office wear. Think a crew neck sweater, business shirt, and trousers – no jeans. Blazers, chinos, and collared shirts are very fitting for this realm. Smart casual is less formal than business casual. Jeans are okay and must be dark colored. Polo shirts are always better than t-shirts with no collar.

Smart Casual History

If we were to try and pinpoint the origin of where smart casual started, it would be impossible. Some claims say that the use of the phrase smart casual began in the 1980s. But if we go back to the first recorded use of the term smart casual, it actually goes back to a 1924 issue of Iowa’s newspaper, “The Davenport Democrat and Leader”.

In traditional days, the dress code was to dress smart all the time no matter where you were going. As smart casual started to become more common, the confusion started setting in. Figuring out the perfect median between dressing up and dressing down can easily be done incorrectly. When it all comes down to it, you do not want to end up as one of those guys in a blazer with the top of your business shirt unbuttoned. Just…no.

How to Dress Smart Casual

Dressing smart casual is not done in just one particular way. It can’t be defined and is actually more of a code or mindstate. Smart casual can be as simple as a white shirt, blazer, clean jeans, and a classy pair of loafers. On the other hand, there are so many different ways to pull off smart casual. It depends on the occasion, what you’re dressing up, what you’re dressing down, and your own personal preferences.

General Guidelines for Dressing Smart Casual

It’s More About the Look, Less About the Clothes

Keep in mind that smart casual should be focused more on how your clothes look rather than the specific style. You should always make sure your shoes are polished, jeans are clean & pressed, all of those necessities you are already aware of for a clean look.

To emphasize the look over the style, think of this: a clean, pressed T-shirt paired with indigo jeans & new trainers will look better than a wrinkled shirt, light wash jeans, and worn out sneakers.

They are essentially the same if you think of it in a shallow sense. The difference is one look is “polished” and can pull of being on the extreme casual end of smart casual – though you’ll probably want to be a little bit smarter.

Find a Balance, It’s an Aesthetic – not a Puzzle

Like we mentioned earlier, smart casual can’t be puzzle-pieced together so simply. Think of what type of occasion you need to dress for and make your end result suit the mood. Informal events don’t mean remove formality all together. Figuring out your very own way to dress smart casual (it will be different for different men) will be dependent on how you balance your formal pieces with your casual pieces.

Start Casual, then Swap Out One or Two Pieces

A practical approach to the smart casual dress code is by following a one-two rule. Start off with a casual outfit to begin. Let’s say you have a T-shirt, jeans, trainers, and a bomber jacket to top it all off.

Switch out any of those with a blazer, shirt, chinos or trousers and some shoes and you should be just getting into the smart casual realm. Choose two casual pieces to replace with two smart pieces and you are ideally spot on. Three swaps may end up with you looking too smart…yes, that is possible.

It Can be as Simple as Switching to a Darker Shade

Sometimes you don’t need to swap out any of your actual pieces to achieve a smart casual look. Switching to darker shades of the same piece of clothing can be all you need to dress up for an occasion. If you start off with the outfit we mentioned earlier and opt for a dark pair of jeans, a charcoal T-shirt, and black trainers, you will end up with a smarter look.

Add Some Texture for an Easy Tone Down

Most formal menswear is smooth and shiny. If you swap out some wool for tweed or flannel, then the entire look and feel of your attire changes. Follow this rule for shirts, trousers, knits, and shoes to help “casualize” any of your smart outfits and achieve a smart casual result.

Shoes

A great thing with smart casual attire is that you get a lot of freedom with the type of shoes you can wear. A polished pair of boots, loafers, or Oxfords are very reliable and can smarten up any outfit. Going for a pair of suede shoes will add some texture. A fresh pair of sneakers can work perfectly, just keep in mind they should be minimalist and clean. A basic option that almost never fails is Converse. Leather sneakers work great as well.

Blazers

Putting a blazer on over the right set of T-shirt and jeans is a simple way to nail a smart casual look. Keep in mind, the right blazer is needed for this. When choosing a blazer, you’re going to want something that is lightweight and not too formal. Look for something unstructured since shoulder pads are more suitable for formal settings. Textured blazers work perfectly for the smart casual look and pair great with jeans.

Shirts & T-Shirts (Yes, T-Shirts are Allowed)

White, powder blue, tartan, and gingham button-down shirts are perfect for the smart casual look. Remember that slimmer fits will usually dress an outfit up. If you want to tone down the formality, then a looser fit in a denim or chambray material can help.

When it comes to T-shirts, simple is better. Classic white or grey T-shirts are a great place to start and can be the base of any smart casual outfit. When choosing patterns, horizontal stripes in darker tones add dimension while staying classy. Always make sure the fit is right and the material is high-quality.


Shorts

If you must put on a pair of shorts, make sure they are made from high-quality material, are fitted, and cut above the knee. Choosing shorts should be done cautiously though you can easily be underdressed when used for the wrong occasion.


Jeans

A pair of black or dark blue jeans is always a safe choice when it comes to smart casual. Make sure they aren’t baggy or too distressed as it can take away from the formality you need to look proper. Ultimately, chinos are a perfect choice and are a staple in any gentleman’s closet.


Jackets

While blazers are perfect for achieving a smart casual look, sometimes you’re going to want something a little bit different. A sleek leather jacket or bomber jacket are great alternatives. Clean, dark shaded denim jackets can also work as long as you’re not wearing denim jeans as well.


Accessories

Every gentleman has his accessories to add the finishing touches to any outfit. Choose accessories that are chic to keep from dressing up too much. A belt is absolutely necessary – with brown leather being a great mix of sophisticated yet relaxed. A tie is optional, though if you choose to go without one, then a pocket square can help dress you up a little. A stylish watch and sunglasses finish off any smart casual look perfectly.


Smart Casual Outfit Ideas

Conjuring up the right smart casual outfit can be done in several ways. Dress down a pair of slacks, dress up some jeans, throw a blazer over a clean T-shirt and jeans, utilize parts of your favorite suits, etc. In reality, there are infinite combinations that end up with the right result.

While there are endless possibilities, pulling out a smart casual outfit still takes a little bit of practice. To help you out, even more, let’s go over some smart casual outfits men can wear for different occasions.

A Summer Look

Looking Sharp!

Classy but “Informal”

  • Blue denim jeans

  • Dark chestnut boots

  • Dark blue, patterned button-up shirt

  • Brown suede jacket

Smart Casual Outfits for Dinner

  • Tan Slacks

  • Blue Chambray button down

  • Light grey crew neck sweater

  • Sparkling white sneakers

    Or

  • Dark blue jeans

  • Red and blue flannel

  • Grey crewneck sweater

  • Light brown derby shoes

    Or

  • Light, patterned button down

  • Navy blazer

  • Autumn pants

  • Brown oxfords

Smart Casual Attire for a Party

  • Dark blue blazer

  • White T with a clean & simple geometric graphics

  • Light grey chinos

  • Clean white sneakers

    Or

  • Black button down

  • Light tan blazer

  • Blue jeans or dark blue jeans

  • Cream oxfords or loafers

    Or

  • Turquoise blazer

  • Light grey T-shirt

  • White chinos

  • Two-tone sneakers – White & navy

Now That You Know How to Dress Smart Casual…

We shared with you all of our smart casual tips and now it’s time for you to try it out yourself. As long as you keep in mind the advice we shared, you should have no problem pulling off the smart casual look!

And if you’re in doubt, remember that it’s always better to dress up than dress down. Being clean and polished is the absolute key. Even if your attire may seem simple, if it’s polished and presentable, you will usually be able to pull off the smarter side of casual.

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