It might be the dress code that people don’t like to see the most. What even is smart casual? There is an actual definition, but most people just interpret it as they want. Smart casual can often be the dress code that is on an invitation almost anywhere.
Why? Because it isn’t too formal, and it isn’t too glamorous either.
The Oxford definition of smart casual is:
“neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code.”
Yet, it still has a lack of direction. Could you wear cargo shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt? Even if it looks ‘smart’ that is most likely a little bit too relaxed for smart casual.
- Smart is usually: clean, well dressed, and tidy.
- Casual is usually relaxed and unconcerned.
Certainly, opposites when you look at it like that!
It is thought that business casual and smart casual aren’t too distant in terms of when the term was originated and how people consider it. Although for business casual, you might be tempted to add a blazer and some shoes.
We should remember that in years gone by, and still for some people today, wearing a suit was the outfit of the day – every day.
With all the confusion about smart-casual, what could you, or should you wear to meet that dress code? Is it easy?
Smart Casual Staples
When you see or hear smart-casual on the invite, you will see that the general uniform will be:
Slightly open neck formal shirt, open blazer, jeans, and shoes.
There is nothing wrong with that; it is easy to wear staple outfits and meets the general criteria for smart-casual.
Here are some items that will pass the smart-casual requirements, even if it still feels vague to you.
A suit jacket is usually better matched to an entire suit and a more formal occasion. A suit blazer will be more structured and have shoulder pads. To master smart-casual, ditch the tailoring and opt for something unstructured. It is relaxed enough to wear comfortably and smart enough to meet the criteria.
A shirt is usually what is meant by smart casual. You can remove the blazer and still look chic. An Oxford shirt is usually the default shirt because it is structured, but the material usually gives it a relaxed edge. While most will opt for a white shirt, you can break ranks here and go for a color that you like. After all, you are still looking to add your personality to your outfit.
An Oxford shirt is a good investment in general and will make it out of the wardrobe more than just for those smart-casual events.
There is a big difference between well-fitting jeans and everyday jeans that you can do the gardening in. Well, fitting jeans are usually a little higher in the cost bracket, but they will last longer.
There are mixed opinions on jeans, but there is no reason that they can’t look crisp and clean when the rest of the outfit is well put together.
The preferred option when it comes to smart casual, and certainly one that is worth consideration. The best and most timeless option is a pair of chinos. Chinos will work with almost any style. You can turn up the bottoms, have a slim fit, or even a quarter break.
The most common choices are navy and beige because they go with so many other colors and means you can ditch black if you want to. A grey pair is also a great idea, simply because grey can work with most other color palettes.
You won’t get your Nike hightops to pass for smart-casual, but your Addidas Paul Smith’s will go. Trainers used to be more associated with sports, but now you will find most offices are accepting of trainers – so long as they have a minimalist, clean look—the least amount of logos, color, and excessive details, the better.
Just like trainers, there are levels to what can slide under the smart-casual radar. You aren’t likely to be able to wear a cheap or low-quality t-shirt. You could, however, get away with a crisp white, thick cotton t-shirt. Black and grey will usually work too. Try to think monochrome if you will be wearing a T-shirt.
If trainers aren’t your style, or the invitation specifically says no trainers, then your shoes are going to have to do the talking for you. Versace for men loafers, suede Derby shoes, or a high-quality pair of Chelsea boots is usually all you will need.
The color of your capsule wardrobe can make a big difference in what works and what doesn’t. Go for a core color. This means pick a color that you like, wear a lot, and you will use it as your pillar. It might be beige; it could be grey, it can be whatever you like.
Usually, a neutral color will work best because they aren’t overpowering; they let the rest of the outfit work too. As they aren’t overpowering, they don’t clash; they just work with everything.
Black, Grey, White, Tan, Ivory, Navy, Olive, Taupe, Charcoal.
The final piece of the puzzle is that you feel confident in what you wear. Even if your clothes are crisp, clean, and ready to go, you yourself can feel crumpled, and that will mean that your smart-casual fit doesn’t feel good.
Part of the smart-casual look is also part of an attitude. A relaxed and natural confidence will help your outfit speak even louder – in just the right way.
The smaller details will tie your outfit together and give you a full outfit. Hats, watches, handkerchiefs, rings, and even your glasses add to the overall look. Using a tan belt and tan shoes to tie up the overall look. Or a particular color glasses frame, and matching socks. These small details are perfect for feeling complete and confident in the smart-casual dress code.