Men’s key style tips to master the ‘smart casual’ look
The invitation lands in your inbox and it says unhelpfully: ‘dress code – smart casual’. What on earth does this mean? It’s as vague as saying smarter than a tracksuit and less formal than your work suit!
Jacket or blazer? Chinos or jeans? Sneakers or lace-ups?
So, you go online to search for smart casual style guides that cover everything from shorts, which don’t seem especially smart, to cravats and ties that don’t come over as particularly casual. As smart casual is destined to be one of those terms that is set to confuse, then here is our guide to help you get through this tricky phrase with effortless style and elegance.
It goes without saying that pressed, clean and pristine will always stand you in better stead than wrinkled, scuffed and stained, so whatever your outfit choice, put some consideration into the end result.
Smart Casual Style Tips
As smart casual is nigh-on impossible to define, a more helpful and practical approach is to start with a casual outfit and then change one – or better, two – pieces for smarter alternatives.
For example, take a bomber jacket, t-shirt, jeans and trainers. All very casual, right? Now swap the bomber for a blazer and we are getting close to smart casual, or keep the bomber jacket, trainers, t-shirt and swap the jeans for chinos.
Swapping two or more pieces puts you bang on target. Perhaps swap the t-shirt for a classic shirt, or linen knit t-shirt for a smarter option.
If you wear shoes that aren’t trainers and trousers that aren’t jeans, you’ll sidestep most smart casual pitfalls. A beautifully cut blazer will make you practically bulletproof.
Smart casual is also about how you wear it. Take the formal edge off by rolling up your sleeves and the hems of your chinos to expose a touch of flesh.
You don’t even have to change pieces to alter how casual an outfit looks. Darker colours tend to be more formal, so smartening up can be as simple as switching colours. A navy chino and dark grey t-shirt looks instantly smarter than beige chinos and a white t-shirt, so perhaps a colour switch is all you need.
While both styles are exactly the same, the overall effect is very different with the reverse also being true; lightening up is a dimmer switch for smartness.
The Magic Touch
Another factor that affects how smart or casual a piece is relates to texture. If you think about the most formal items in menswear – wool business suits or dinner jackets – they’re almost invariably smooth and shiny.
Swap the wool for a matte flannel or linen. Swap fine cotton work shirts for a loose linen weave. Swap a jersey cotton t-shirt for a linen knit t-shirt to upgrade the look, or switch a round neck sweatshirt for a fine knit, linen and silk jumper.
7 Key Smart Casual Pieces
Throwing a blazer over t-shirt, jeans and trainers is an easy way to nail smart casual, although not all blazers are created equal; gold buttons are a bit of a no-no. Stick with linen or lightweight wool and perhaps try an unstructured style. Blazers also lend themselves beautifully to a variety of options underneath – jersey knit t-shirts, linen knit t-shirts, pool’s, fine knits, and linen shirts – to give you multiple smart, yet elegantly casual looks.
For it to fly as smart casual, the blazer should be made from a more textured fabric than an average suit jacket, cut slightly shorter and constructed less rigidly.
The Havana Blazer in French Grey is the Club 826 perfect blazer and the hero piece in the Ultimate Voyage Capsule
The bomber jacket style comes from the uniformed armed forces, so packs a certain formality, but for it to pass inspection as smart casual, the bomber jacket should be much slimmer than military issue, and made of a more luxurious material than the standard shiny nylon. Wool, linen, jersey waffle, or even a chic, summery, seersucker stripe will make for a smarter and more sophisticated option. For informal smart casual missions, this is your wing-man.
Chambray and Linen Shirt
Even although it’s not the same as denim (which is woven in a twill rather than alternating warp and weft) a chambray looks similar and can come in a variety of weights and finishes. Generally, though, it will make a smart outfit more casual, or smarten up a casual one – but not too much either way. Linen shirts are the easiest ‘go-to’ for smart casual. Long sleeve, button down with collar in classic white or elegant navy or black will ensure you are on the right side of smart casual.
Club 826 Antigua linen shirts ensure you are turning heads for all the right reasons.
The bottom half
Chinos are one of the building blocks of business casual and can be extended into smart casual. Easy to wear with a variety of tops, they are a great option. As previously mentioned, darker colours will be smarter, or team a beige pair with a chambray shirt and linen blazer and you are good to go.
For the most part, jeans are perfectly acceptable – even in a business context – as long as they’re dark and show no signs of distress. Now is not the time for holes, rips and faded blues. You don’t have to go indigo though; black jeans can look just as smart, if not smarter.
Tailored trousers in flannel or linen can also be smart and can be made less formal by teaming with a simple t-shirt and blazer, or bomber jacket.
A t-shirt can qualify as smart casual, provided it’s plain, good quality, well-fitting and not washed to death. No over large logos or slogans though. For a smarter alternative, opt for a linen knit t-shirt, which offers a more considered look.
For your new favourite T-shirts look no further than the Club 826 Laid-back Pack .
Upgrading to a polo shirt will instantly smarten a casual look. The buttons and collar put it further along the spectrum towards a shirt, but it’s still sporty. As with t-shirts, avoid logo and bright garish colours. Traditional cotton piqué in a bright colour will perhaps look a tad casual, so opt for a linen, silk or cotton fine knit version in a darker colour.
The Club 826 Saint Martin Linen knit polo, a step back to 50’s Riviera glamour, can be found among his stylish friends in the Ultimate Voyage Capsule.
Sweat it out
A jersey sweatshirt or hoodie just won’t cut it in the smart casual stakes, but substituting your favourite sweatshirt for a fine-gauge knit in merino, cashmere, or even linen knit can lend a little added sophistication, while still remaining thicker and keeping the sporty vibe. Pull a plain jumper or cardigan over your t-shirt and maybe swap the trainers for shoes and you’re getting close to a great look.
Toe The Line
How can a smart shoe become more casual? Answer: colour and material. Black is smartest, brown is more casual, and tan even more so, while matte suede is more casual than smooth, shiny leather.
Where trainers are permitted, the recommendation is typically a classic style, such as Converse, Adidas, Stan Smiths, or Common Projects in white. A more formal dark colour is smarter in more ways than one; they’ll be less likely to draw the eye – and disapproving glances – or show dirt. Kurt Geiger always has a great selection of casual, dark leather trainers with white soles, which will do the job nicely.
In terms of fabrics, should it be leather for sandals? Sometimes. Flip flops and gym trainers? Never.