DECODING THE ELUSIVE ‘SMART CASUAL’ DRESS CODE
So, you’ve been asked to attend an event or you’re starting a new role and the dress code is ’smart casual’. With its subjectivity in today’s day and age, even some of the fashion greats can puzzle over that throwaway term. While the almighty Google defines it as “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code”, it still leaves several very confusing loose ends. Does an ironed t-shirt cut it? How about the new pair of limited edition kicks you scored over the weekend?
Before you start seriously contemplating a bail-out plan, we’re here to help you demystify the smart casual dress code with a few good ideas and tips on what is generally accepted, what works and what doesn’t.
THE SECRET TO NAILING MEN’S SMART CASUAL ATTIRE
Here’s our most important piece of advice when it comes to deciding on a smart casual outfit – if you’re ever unsure, err on the side of caution and play up the smart side, rather than casual. As the saying goes “when in doubt, suit up”, arriving at a function slightly over dressed is always safer than rocking up in a wrinkled tee and jeans when everyone else is rocking a blazer.
Keep the location and occasion in mind when you’re considering your options - if it’s for casual Fridays at work, you can stay looking sharp and keeping your boss on the good side by sticking to your favourite oxford shirt, dark denim jeans and leather lace-ups. If it’s for an engagement party at a fancy bar, you’ll want to play it safe and throw on a blazer which can always be taken off if necessary.
While a smart casual dress code gives way to a versatile range of options, you can always go easy by keeping the palette relatively neutral and the silhouette clean with simple tailoring.
SMART CASUAL KNITWEAR + CHINOS
We’ve given you the low-down on how to style men’s knitwear, but here’s how to keep it looking smart casual. While it’s a look that’s been done to death by practically every male office worker, you can add your own touch by playing with the details, such as the buttons and the type of weave.
- Cardigan and buttoned shirt: A shawl collared cardigan worn open and layered over a neatly pressed shirt can serve as your stand-in blazer. Plain woven sweaters give a more a professional look, as opposed to a chunky rib pattern, while still adding a textural element to your outfit. Minimise bulkiness by ensuring the bottom hem of your cardigan sits at or just below your waistline and finish the look with slim fit chinos and a smart pair of leather loafers.
- Crew-neck jumper and V-neck sweater: Both these necklines will work in your favour if you smarten up the knitwear by wearing a crisp dress shirt. Stick to your navy, grey and cream jumpers if you’re unsure. Keep it looking fresh (and stay warm) by opting for a high-quality sweater made from more luxe materials such as merino wool. Depending on the occasion, you can keep your shirt tucked and add a belt for your chinos to create a streamlined look, or you can leave your shirt untucked for an effortless touch.
BLAZER + SHIRT + JEANS
While back in the day jeans may have been considering strictly weekend wear, modern times have seen jeans as a fresh alternative for smart casual occasions. Paired with a blazer or a classic tweed jacket, it’s a fool-proof combo that will go down a treat if you play by the rules.
- Keep it sleek: Opt for minimal, clean lines to avoid looking too casual or messy. Choose a tailored blazer and opt for slim fit jeans, refrain from anything that is too tight or baggy. We recommend going for raw denim jeans or styles in solid darker colour and avoiding distressed and faded styles.
- Darker on the bottom: As a safe bet, keep your denim darker than your blazer, this will give a more formal look. For example, a tan blazer with a chambray shirt, dark denim jeans and brown leather brogues, or keep it harmonious with a navy blazer over a white shirt and finished with indigo jeans. For a touch of interest and added proportion, consider cuffing your jeans to show a cheeky flash of the ankles or patterned socks.
PLAIN T-SHIRT + SUIT TROUSERS
A clean cut basic t-shirt is an essential item in every man’s wardrobe and can replace a collared shirt when the occasion calls for smart casual, if worn correctly.
- Focus on the fit: Make sure that you opt for a well-fitted t-shirt that sits properly, anything too baggy will look unkempt while if it’s too tight, it’ll look awkward. A plain crew neck will look best and go for a neutral colour such as black or white to keep it clean and smart. If you insist on adding a pop of colour or pattern, choose between the t-shirt or the blazer but not both, otherwise you’ll run the risk of it clashing and looking garish, rather than charming.
- Dress it up: The key to making the humble t-shirt work is by adding more formal separates and this will turn up the smart casual dial. Match your t-shirt with smart suit pants or tailored chinos that sit just above your shoes and top it off with a slim fit blazer. Finish your look with tassled loafers, brogues or monk straps and step out in style.
FOLLOW THE CUES – SMART FIRST, CASUAL SECOND
If all else fails, take it literally and stick to the smarter side of dressing. A neutral colour palette will always work in your favour if you want to tread carefully. Add an element of tailoring with either your blazer or pants to create a touch of refinement and most importantly, dress for your body. Be aware of how each item fits and keep your look balanced.