The term smart-casual defines an informal Western dress code that is generally casual but with proper and smart attire components.
Smart casual attire is a blend of trendy and aesthetic looks, often ambiguous but with a lot of sense and style.
Its sartorial elegance should make you feel clean and simple, reveling in the idyllic beauty of well-put-together pieces of attire.
Today’s clothing choices are more versatile than they have ever been, and the casual look allows you to create your style.
Good taste and dress sense aside, the only limit is your imagination.
What is Smart-Casual
Smart-casual is a dress code, usually a combination of less-formal, suitable, and well-fitted pieces of attire.
It’s slightly less formal than the business casual dress code; however, it is a lot neater and more serious than putting some random, casual items.
It consists of wearing finer-quality clothes that make you look elegant. The pieces are of good quality but still casual. The overall appearance manifests style, sharpness, and sophistication.
The very idea behind the smart casual is to look professional and fit for business occasions. Smart does, after all, imply no trainers or jogging shoes.
But the lack of any clear guidelines has meant that smart casual attire has become “carte blanche”.
So, smart casual isn’t only about combining different pieces of clothing from various degrees of formality.
A hoodie would be very casual. So you don’t want to match it with a pair of wool dress pants. On the other hand, chinos, combined with a nice polo shirt, hit the perfect smart-casual sweet spot.
Smart Casual vs. Business Casual
Business casual is a dress code that is intended to give a professional and business look but is slightly less formal than the traditional business look.
It’s usually achieved by removing the tie, substituting the suit jacket with a less-formal blazer, and suit pants with slightly casual dress pants.
You can also opt for less formal colors, such as brown, light blue, grey, etc.
Consider smart casual as an upgraded version of the casual business dress code in terms of appearance and style.
Keep in mind that smart casual is slightly less formal than business casual but offers more flexibility and freedom of improvisation.
In most cases, you will have to choose between the two. As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to learn about the company’s culture or the dress code of the event you will be attending.
Men’s Smart Casual Attire
Smart casual attire choices remain with the wearer.
The smart casual dress code also allows the use of multiple colors in one outfit. It also means you can combine items you otherwise wouldn’t.
The secret is to stay away from the extreme ends of the clothing spectrum.
It means no sweatpants or jeans and no hoodies and trainers. At the same time, full suits, pleated pants, and black Oxfords should also be avoided.
Jackets & Blazers
Blazers are a popular choice for smart casual attire, mainly because they can be easily paired with different types of clothing.
They will easily help you achieve that neat and sophisticated look. It’s best to opt for elegant colors like navy or grey.
However, any color for a blazer can blend perfectly if the other pieces are well-fitted for each other.
Unusual doesn’t mean strange, just that it doesn’t match the color of your pants. It doesn’t mean you should wear an orphaned jacket from your pinstripe suit with a pair of red pants. That would be just too odd.
If you’d prefer a more casual choice, feel free to go for a cotton or linen jacket in a pastel color. You could even wear a leather or bomber jacket if it compliments your overall outfit.
Dress shirts are fine for smart casual, but so are checked and striped shirts. If one thing is essential, though, it’s that the shirt is well-fitted.
Also, my suggestion is to make the color of your shirt diversify your demeanor. A solid pale or striped pink shirt can look playful and match any other smart-casual attire.
Although solid white or pale blue shirts are best for formal business wear, they are a perfectly excellent choice for a smart casual, too.
In case you go with a checked shirt, the best choice will be a pencil or plaid. Smaller checks like houndstooth work well too.
Bolder stripes like gingham are also good. Just make sure you have some contrast with color, and it’s not all too stiff.
Linen shirts are perfectly acceptable in warmer climates. Denim and chambray will be a good choice as well, especially if you want a more easy-fitting outfit.
Polo Shirt / T-Shirts
If you are aiming for the less formal spectrum of smart casual, then go for a simple polo shirt or t-shirt. Just make sure it is high-quality, well-fitted, and looks sharp on you.
Smart casual is not a set of formulas and guidelines. It’s merging a set of pieces to express your mood and attitude, fit for the occasion you’re attending.
Therefore, t-shirts can look equally good as any attire, as long as they are clean, non-wrinkled, and not worn at home.
Choose simple colors like white or gray. Dark polo t-shirts can look good too, especially dark grey or indigo. Whatever you choose, make sure you add some shade to the overall combination.
Jeans, Chinos, Corduroys & Trousers
Smart-casual pant styles for men typically include chinos, khakis, dress pants, or dark jeans.
Chino pants are practically the standard. These cotton pants are comfortable and can be dressed up or down, depending on what you wear on tops.
Just avoid too formal wool dress pants. These are office wear and far too extreme for smart casual.
Go with chinos or perhaps corduroys in colder weather. On the other hand, linen pants are great for the summer.
Choose pants with a subdued pattern and a bit more texture to stand out a little from the crowd.
Smart Casual Footwear
A pair of good quality, clean leather shoes always work just about anywhere and with any outfit.
Remember, you’re looking for a shoe style more casual than traditional business shoes.
Penny loafers or two-tone tassel loafers are great. Driving moccasins work well too. But they will wear thin when worn daily.
Your safest bet is probably a pair of quality boat shoes. They are leather, look relaxed, and you can even wear them without socks. In my opinion, sneakers, and trainers are a little bit too casual.
But a lot of men like designer or leather sneaker styles, so if you’re into that kind of thing, go for it.
When it comes to color, brown, navy, and tans are ideal. Even dark red, green, or off-white are entirely acceptable for most events.
Just avoid formal black unless you see they are a perfect choice for a particular outfit.
Smart Casual Accessories
To achieve the smart look we’re after, you can add a few accessories that are acceptable for both formal and informal dress codes.
Feel free to pair a watch with your smart-casual attire. Although steel watches are perfectly acceptable, I advise you to go for a nice and stylish leather-band watch to perfect the casual look.
A belt is another accessory that adds nicely to your overall appearance. Again, go for leather and a high-quality belt, preferably brown, if it matches the color of your clothing.
Smart Casual Outfits for Men
Getting down the basics of any dress code can take a bit of practice. However, the more outfits you put together, the better you get the hang of it.
Thankfully, smart casual is all about simplicity. So you don’t need to overthink this look. Still, if you’re having a bit of a block or are in doubt, check out this guide for ideas.
Navy Blazer and Dark-Colored Pants
Navy is one of the dressiest shades, so it’s the perfect shortcut for a smart casual dress code.
Adding a navy blazer is an effortless way to leap directly into a smart casual style; separates are less dressy than full suits.
Therefore, a blazer paired with pants of a different color is perfect for signaling a relaxed approach to dressing.
Charcoal pants are a wonderful complement to a navy blazer. You could incorporate a white dress shirt to gear your outfit toward elegance or a light blue dress shirt for a more relaxed look.
Or you can swap the shirt with something casual, like a turtleneck or sweater.
Chelsea boots or double monk strap shoes keep your style classy; avoid a full dress shoe for this smart casual image.
Grey Blazer and Navy Blue Pants
Flip the color palette of the outfit above for another version of a smart casual outfit. Keeping the dark colors of navy and charcoal maintains the dressiness of the outfit.
Again, a white dress shirt preserves the traditional, classic smart casual image. However, a white t-shirt gives this ensemble an unconventional spin.
Switch up your shoes depending on your mood.
For example, double monk straps are great for establishing a suave image; loafers signify a more leisurely approach, while white canvas sneakers add a final casual flourish to your outfit.
Blazer Over a T-Shirt and Slacks
A textured blazer stands out from other generic suit jackets. This is a creative way to elevate your standard plain t-shirt and make it a legitimately dressy piece.
For example, a dark blazer over a fitted white t-shirt stands out.
Dark chinos or slacks are incredibly versatile, so add those to your outfit. You can match them with many different blazer colors.
White fashion sneakers or dark loafers are the perfect shoes to add the finishing touch.
Navy Blue Blazer & White Pants
White pants are very daring and oh-so-right! They give a very upper-crust, leisurely vibe.
Boost their appropriateness with a navy blazer. The formal color legitimizes the white pants and lends a seaside feel to your outfit, which can be relaxing.
Embrace this playful feeling with boat shoes or sneakers.
Light Blazer Over a Black Dress Shirt
Black is a color that’s frequently associated with chic sophistication. Black pants and a black shirt can come across as very serious.
But tossing a light blazer over your outfit softens your look instantly and makes it smart and daytime worthy.
Relax this style even further by wearing loafers with the no-sock look.
Sweater Over a T-Shirt & Chino Pants
The secret to pulling off this style is choosing a thin and lightweight sweater, not a chunky knit.
Also, skip the collared dress shirt in favor of a more carefree style; this means styling a t-shirt to peek out from under your sweater’s neckline.
Khaki-colored or dark chinos can give your pull-over sweater a polished finish.
A dressier pair of shoes would be appropriate to incorporate a bit of formality in this ensemble. Brogues are the ideal mix of dressiness and modern flair.
Sweater Over a Dress Shirt & Jeans
This look is all about creating a balance between your jeans and dress shirt.
You need to pick jeans that don’t completely conflict with your dress shirt, so they should be a pair of dark, very well-fitted denim.
Your sweater should again be thin and not a heavy weight. The chunkier it is, the more casual it seems and less attractive to pair over your dress shirt.
This outfit is perfectly suited for a pair of Chelsea boots, which lend a modern urban chic appeal.
Wearing Polo Shirt & Jeans
Light-colored polo shirts are relatively informal, but steer toward a darker polo shirt for a new layer of formality.
Adding a blazer over your polo can add another dimension to this smart outfit.
Again, your jeans should be dark indigo denim. They shouldn’t be loose; tighter jeans look cleaner, but you don’t need to go as far as skinny jeans.
Monk strap dress shoes can be pretty chic with this outfit, while chukka books are a modern twist.
White Polo Shirt & Dark Slacks
Dark is typically king in terms of formality. The exception to this rule is white shirts.
A white dress shirt is always the most dressy color you can opt for, especially when you pair it with dark pants. It’s a classic color combination that’s always elegant.
You can stabilize the balance of dressy with casual by adding white sneakers.
Light Pink Shirt & Khakis
Typically dressier garments in lighter colors make your outfit less intense.
That’s why a pink dress shirt is a beautiful compromise. And it feels like a natural fit for a pair of khaki chinos; the colors nicely complement each other.
Dark brown loafers add a bit of conservative appeal without feeling formal.
Blue Checkered Shirt & Khaki Pants
I love a playful gingham print. It’s exceptionally effective at making a dress shirt feel less stuffy.
Blue and khaki are also colors that belong together. The khaki pants are a nice way to prevent the checkered shirt from feeling too relaxed.
Again, loafers are a great choice. However, white sneakers are a comfy way to lean into the casual aspect of this ensemble.
Brown Leather Jacket Over a White Shirt
Feeling like it’s a t-shirt and hoodie kind of day? As comfortable as that outfit is, it’s not very snazzy. However, you can substitute a leather jacket for your hoodie for an instant upgrade.
You have some flexibility in your shirt’s neckline. You can remain conservative with a crew neck shirt, but a V-neck adds a slight rakish appeal.
Naturally, leather boots that match your jacket are the cherry on top of this outfit.
White Dress Shirt & Jeans
This outfit is so simple that it’s often overlooked. It’s easy to forget how chic this style can be.
A white dress shirt brings a fresh sensibility to jeans, making them feel fresh and updated. To keep this style carefree, leave your dress shirt untucked.
Depending on how conservative or rugged you wish to appear, you can opt for loafers or Chelsea boots. Either way, I recommend brown leather; black would feel too severe.
Smart Casual Faux Pas
The smart casual dress code’s objective is to remain as simple and clean as possible.
And although the smart casual dress code is entirely open to interpretation, there are some things you should avoid.
Going too casual is one of them. Remember, we want to add formality to our casual appearance.
It usually means blending casual attire with pieces from the other side of the formality spectrum.
Avoid using a single color scheme for all clothing pieces. They might be of different shades but are still of the same color.
The same applies to the opposite. Choosing colors from every side of the color spectrum will make you look too flashy and shining. Not at all clean and simple.
Finally, wearing way too complicated and hard prints and patterns is something you should avoid.
The point is to “execute” a neat and clean look that will make you sharp and approachable.
Where to Wear Smart Casual Attire
The truth is, you will encounter this look everywhere. On cruise ships, at vacation resorts, and in restaurants, the goal is to avoid appearing over-stuffy and look neat and presentable instead.
What about interviews, offices, and other work events?
Parties & Non-Formal Events
A smart casual dress code is great for cocktail parties and other non-formal events, especially if you’re going with colleagues from work.
Let’s assume you work in a white-collar environment, and your boss invites you to a casual after-work event. He usually sees you in pinstripe suits, dress shirts, and ties.
Going for smart casual attire can bring a complete change of presentation. This way, you will still look smart but casual.
Tones of brown, dark red, dark green, or navy can help create a more comfortable outfit. Remember, your look should not be as stuffy or boring as you usually wear in the office.
Is Smart Casual Good for Office?
Office, too, is a suitable place for resembling a smart-casual look, especially if you intend to go to other events after work.
Offices worldwide are becoming more open-minded when it comes to clothing nowadays.
And the purpose of the smart casual dress code is to look friendly and approachable.
At the same time, your look should be clean and straightforward, appropriate for most office jobs.
Dressing Smart Casual for an Interview
The attire depends on the company you are applying for a job interview.
As we’ve stated earlier, a good rule of thumb is to check the company’s dress code. Then, dress one level above the mean formality.
Many companies, especially in the IT sector, prefer a casual dress code. So a smart-casual outfit will correspond perfectly with their attire expectations.
Dress Up Or Dress Down?
Just as with any other dressing code, the rule of thumb is always to dress up rather than down. This way, you may look a little overdressed, but you certainly won’t embarrass yourself.
Keep in mind that the smart casual dress code is not appropriate for a lot of office jobs, such as banking, corporations, politics, etc.
If you’re not sure whether your company allows a dress code, contact their human resources department.
Hi, I’m Alex, and I’ve studied and specialized in styling in Rome. Through my writing, I want to help men dress well and learn the purpose and significance of suits and other formal attire. My final goal is to make men more confident in their wardrobe choice and life in general.