You may have heard of smart casual and aren’t sure of how to pull it off. Learn how to perfect the smart casual dress code.
What’s smart casual?
The smart casual dress code lies between casual and business attire. It’s appealing because you can combine pieces of clothing that are in style, so you look and feel good about what you’re wearing.
Related: How to wear a suit jacket with jeans
You’ll also be able to wear more colors than normal business attire.
It originated in the early 1920s and was first mentioned in the Iowa newspaper The Davenport Democrat And Leader, May 1924.
Although it’s more relaxed than business attire, don’t make the mistake of mixing different formalities, such as wearing sweatpants with a blazer.
Aside from mixing clothes, you need to be careful with your level of formality. Generally speaking, t-shirts and hoodies are too casual, while suits are too formal.
With the smart casual dress code, t-shirts should be worn underneath a jacket, instead of being worn on its own.
If you decide to wear a t-shirt, wear one that’s a neutral color and without wrinkles.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, it’s “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code.”
The goal is to find the perfect middle ground that makes you look great and feel confident.
Smart casual vs. business casual
It’s common to mistaken one for the other. That’s why making sure the dress code is smart casual instead of business casual is important.
Business casual says no to jeans and sneakers, while smart casual, welcomes them.
Smart casual includes casual button-ups and chinos, while business casual mainly sticks to dress shirts and trousers.
Related: How to wear chinos
If you’re ever in doubt, it’s better to dress up than to dress down.
When to wear smart casual
If you have a casual occasion, wear smart casual because it’ll make you stand out in a good way.
The goal is to look dapper and presentable without being too formal.
It’s the perfect blend of casual and formal. You can wear smart casual attire to the following occasions:
- Work, if permitted.
- Dinner plans.
- Business meeting.
- A wedding.
- Work functions.
- Weekend events.
What to wear
Buy clothes that fit and if you can’t find the right size, get your clothes tailored. The right fit will make you look incredible and give you confidence.
If you wear clothes that are too tight or loose, you won’t look good, and it’ll ruin your outfit.
Smart casual is all about neat and well-fitting clothes. Focus on how something fits more than the brand or cost.
The following items are excellent choices for the smart casual dress code:
Your jeans should be well-fitting and in good condition. Dark jeans will give you a more formal look, while lighter jeans are more casual.
The following are the jeans from left to right:
- Left: Levi’s 511 jeans (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: rag & bone Fit 2 Slim Fit Jeans (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Paige Transcend – Lennox Slim Fit Jeans (opens in a new tab).
If you want the perfect pants for any occasion, chinos are it. Chinos are a step above jeans and look incredible with sneakers or dress shoes.
The following are the chinos from left to right:
- Left: Everlane The Performance Chino (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Nordstrom Non-Iron Chinos (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Bonobos Stretch Washed Chinos (opens in a new tab).
Any collared shirt is a great choice. During the colder seasons, wear a long-sleeve button-up and look for shirts made of wool.
When it’s warm, wear a short-sleeve button-up or a polo shirt.
The following are the collared shirts from left to right:
- Left: Everlane The Slim Fit Japanese Oxford (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Nordstrom Dress Shirt (opens in a new tab).
During the fall and winter, sweaters are functional and comfortable. When you’re wearing a sweater, solid and neutral colors look best.
The following are the sweaters from left to right:
- Left: Vince Cashmere Donegal Crew (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Reiss Caine Merino Wool Rollneck (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Theory Crewneck Sweater (opens in a new tab).
Blazers or Sport Coats
Blazers and sport coats will immediately elevate your outfit.
If you want to look more formal than casual, wearing one of these jackets on top of a button-up is a great choice.
The following are the blazers and sport coats from left to right:
- Left: Bonobos Jetsetter Stretch Wool Blazer (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Oliver Spencer Solms Slim Fit Jacket (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Bugatchi Sport Coat (opens in a new tab).
If you want to look more casual, wear a denim or chore jacket. A leather jacket with an oxford shirt looks great, too.
The following are the jackets from left to right:
- Left: Everlane The Chore Shirt Jacket (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Schott NYC Leather Jacket (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Everlane The Denim Jacket (opens in a new tab).
Coats are great for colder weather and will make you look more elegant. Neutral colors or subtle textures will look best.
The following are the coats from left to right:
- Left: Nordstrom Plaid Overcoat (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Bonobos The Wool Car Coat (opens in a new tab).
- Right: John W. Nordstrom Overcoat (opens in a new tab).
Sneakers are great for smart casual. However, make sure you wear dress sneakers instead of athletic sneakers.
The following are the sneakers from left to right:
- Left: Greats The Royale (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: KOIO Capri Triple White
- Right: Givenchy Urban Knots Low Top Sneaker (opens in a new tab).
Derby shoes are perfect for attaining a more classy look. They pair well with chinos and a button-up.
The following are the derby shoes from left to right:
- Left: Allen Edmonds Barnett Split Toe Derby (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Magnanni Muxia Lace-Up Shoe (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Mezlan Coventry Moc Toe Derby (opens in a new tab).
Slip-on shoes are comfortable and easy to put on and take off. Leather and suede are great options for slip-on shoes.
The following are the slip-on shoes from left to right:
- Left: To Boot New York Alexander Loafer (no longer available).
- Middle: Salvatore Ferragamo Grandioso Bit Loafer (leather style).
- Right: Magnanni Hiro Monk Strap Shoe (opens in a new tab).
Boots are perfect for colder weather, and a sleek pair will give you a polished look. Lace-up boots are more casual, while leather Chelsea boots are more formal.
The following are the boots from left to right:
- Left: Trask Lawrence Cap Toe Boot (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Aquatalia Adrian Chelsea Boot.
- Right: Tod’s Polacco Chukka Boot (opens in a new tab).
A nice watch is the perfect finishing touch. Depending on what you’re wearing, make sure your watch matches your belt and shoes.
The following are the watches from left to right:
- Left: Daniel Wellington Classic Bayswater Watch (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Shinola The Canfield 43mm Watch (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Tissot Everytime Leather Strap Watch (opens in a new tab).
Bracelets are great accessories that can complement your watch. Wear your bracelet on the opposite side of your watch.
The following are the bracelets from left to right:
- Left: Caputo & Co. Clean Metal Cuff Bracelet (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: David Yurman Cable Classic Cuff Bracelet (opens in a new tab).
- Right: David Yurman Box Chain Bracelet (opens in a new tab).
Nothing says cool more than a nice pair of sunglasses. Not only will they protect your eyes, but sunglasses can also make you look more confident.
The following are the sunglasses from left to right:
- Left: Ray-Ban Aviator Classic (opens in a new tab).
- Middle: Gucci 56mm Sunglasses (opens in a new tab).
- Right: Ray-Ban New Wayfarer Classic (opens in a new tab).
Celebrities wearing smart casual outfits
The following are several celebrities who have nailed the smart casual look:
Frequently asked questions
What are the different levels of the smart casual dress code?
With there being so many clothing combinations, there are different levels. An unconstructed blazer will look more formal than a t-shirt with a bomber jacket. If you just got a new job that requires smart casual attire, look at how other people are dressing to get an idea of how you should dress.
Can I wear patterns?
Yes, different patterns and textures are acceptable as long as they’re in good condition. In fact, patterns and textures are a great way to make your outfit look more interesting.
What are good colors for smart casual?
Smart casual dress codes allow you to wear more colors than business or formal attire. However, the goal is to look in-style and put-together, which means you don’t want to go overboard. Rather, wear neutral colors when you can because they’re versatile and pair well with each other.
Are black jeans smart casual?
Black jeans are smart casual when they’re in good condition without any distressing. It works because they can look more like trousers or chinos.
Does smart casual require a jacket?
No, smart casual attire doesn’t require a jacket. However, jackets and coats are great ways to elevate your formality.
The goal of the smart casual dress code is to wear neat, well-fitting, and high-quality clothes that are in-style.
It’s more formal than casual but less formal than business casual. Aside from work, it’s a great way to dress if you can’t decide what to wear.
Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash.
About David Em
David Em is the founder of Next Level Gents, the ultimate destination for tips and advice about style, grooming, fitness, and success.