Smart-Casual Finally Defined By An Expert: Plus Three Tips To Help You Own It!

Smart-casual has long been the dress code that strikes fear into even the most sartorially superior gentlemen. Too formal, and you’ll be labelled the ‘posh one’; too casual, and you’re the slob who missed the memo. It’s certainly a tough nut to crack. To help, we’ve put together this definitive guide – listing what’s acceptable and what should be left at home. 

What is Smart-Casual?

As the name implies, smart-casual refers to an outfit that is not too smart but not overly casual; something dressier than a tracksuit, but less formal than a suit. Still confused? You’re not alone. Part of the reason that smart-casual is so difficult to define is because it can mean different things depending on the occasion – what is suitable smart-casual wear for work isn’t necessarily the same for a family party. The trick – wherever you’re heading – is to ensure your outfit has balance. For example, if you’re going to wear a blazer and smart shirt, lose the tie and pair them with chinos (rather than a pair of trousers). Alternatively, if you have been invited to a summer wedding, team a lightweight sports jacket with a crew neck T-shirt instead of a formal shirt. 

Upper Body

Starting with the top-half: plain T-shirts and shirts are essential. Unlike playful patterned versions, they’re safe, timeless and offer the right amount of casual without looking too relaxed. Tailored, Savile Row short sleeved shirts are great for summer, whilst polo tops can be tactically used to dress down a linen jacket. Ties are a no go, and you’ll definitely want to loosen the top button of any shirts that are a little formal. Blazers are key for hitting the smarter side of the scale, and lightweight knitwear is acceptable for adding an extra layer during the winter months. 

Lower Body

When it comes to your bottom half, tailored trousers and chinos are a great choice; as long as you remember to keep the rest of your ensemble balanced (see above). Jeans are fine, but they should be teamed with smarter separates such as button-down shirts, tailored jackets and roll necks. It’s also important to stay away from any distressed detailing and ensure they’re slim-fitting – rather than super skinny or baggy. On your feet, pretty much anything goes (except something you’d wear to the gym, beach or building site), but you need to make sure you choose a style that is harmonious with the top half of your outfit. 

Smart-Casual Tips

  1. In doubt? Go smarter

We’re not saying full three-piece suit, but it’s always better to be overdressed than under. A little trick is to layer – wearing a couple of items you can remove. That way, if you feel the need to tone things down, you can.

  1. Keep it Simple

Opt for minimal, clean lines to avoid looking too casual or messy. Rips or bold patterns should be avoided and everything should be perfectly fitted. A neutral colour palette is a safe bet for those wanting to tread carefully.

  1. Don’t Dress for the Office

This is your chance to shed the stuffy office attire your wear day in, day out. Why waste it? Leave your suit and tie at home and really embrace the smart-casual dress code.


Ready to start putting together your own smart-casual outfits? Below are just some of the items to bear in mind:

Acceptable Not Acceptable
Chelsea boots Bold logo T-shirts
Jackets Sports tops
Blazers Ripped jeans
Plain shirts and T-shirts Flip flops
Chinos/chino shorts Ties
Slim-fit dark jeans Oversized garments
Bomber jackets Running trainers
Derby Shoes Jogging bottoms
Brogues Hoodies
Smart trainers Tracksuits
Loafers Combat shorts
Cardigans Double cuff shirts
Button-down shirts Vests
Knitted jumpers Full suit
Trousers Sandals

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