Smart Casual Dress Code

The Stylish Man’s Guide to Mastering the Smart Casual Dress Code

Even fashion insiders struggle with mastering the smart casual dress code. Oscar de la Renta, the couturier who dressed Jacqueline Kennedy and designed for major French fashion houses, admitted it was beyond him. He once said that he didn’t know “how to do casual clothes“.

The term ‘smart casual dress code’ is full of hazards for the stylish gent. It’s hard to know how far to go in either direction. Here’s how to meet the brief.

When to Wear Smart Casual Dress Code

There are rarely clear instructions about when to wear smart casual in a given situation. When they are given, such as on an invitation to an event, you have the green light to follow this guide. When the opportunity to wear smart casual dress code is not clearly signposted you might have to look for more subtle signs.

While there is a distinctive business casual style, for most purposes the wide spectrum of smart casual options will probably be a useful guide. The dress code of an organization may not be explicitly stated but it’s part of the cultural norms and if you watch and listen enough, you’ll get the message. It describes how we dress as much as the relationships people have with the top managers and how participative decision-making is.

Some events you attend have an inherent formality together with signs that a more relaxed tone is being set. For example, a special birthday party for an elderly relative may not be as formal as a classy wedding but nor is it a casual kids party. There’s a style somewhere between formal and casual that is perfect for that event.

What Is Smart Casual Dress Code?

How is wearing a pair of chinos, and a patterned shirt together with a blazer, smart casual? Perhaps the best way of understanding this concept is to appreciate how each of the choices says as much about what is not worn as what is worn.

In this ensemble, chinos rather than jeans or dress pants have been chosen. They clearly aren’t as smart as the dress pants but they are tailored and smartly pressed. Even if jeans can make it into a smart-casual wardrobe, the would not be the most distressed of jeans available.

Chinos sit somewhere to the middle of the smart to casual spectrum. A checked shirt might never be the right choice for a formal dress event but partnered with a smart blazer it is lifted out of the realms of the workwear you might see on a construction site. Modern dress shirts for men can work well with this look too.

So, smart casual is made up of items that are towards the center of the formal/relaxed spectrum and those combinations of smarter and casual items that moderate the look. It’s these combinations more than anything that provides the opportunity for flashes of style and impact. The smart notes create a sharpness and the casual ones look confident and bold.

What Are the Alternatives?

Understanding smart casual dress code fully means understanding the territory around that concept. There are times when you need to be casual and others when you need to be more dressed up.

Special occasions call for a special uniform. Getting dressed up for these occasions says to everybody around you that you share their norms about what is appropriate dress for the occasion. It’s a social bonding exercise.

Whether it’s a job interview, a funeral or a wedding there are clear references for what are appropriate clothes. The norms might vary from society to society but within your family, culture or business they are clear. In these cases, a formal dark suit would almost never be wrong.

Business casual could create a little more challenge. It really depends on what is the norm in your workplace. In the absence of reference points, a business casual style tends to mean you don’t wear a suit and you probably don’t wear jeans, even smarter jeans.

Business casual can be sharpened up with the inclusion of a blazer or a button-down shirt. A tie is probably not appropriate but smarter shoes are. Business casual is not sportswear except polo shirts which have become synonymous with the business casual look.

Getting It Wrong

You might think that smart casual is impossible to get wrong so long as you avoid the most casual clothes. You’d be mistaken. There are fashion faux pas that the smart-casual fashion police will notice a mile off.

In-your-face branding, so often the main feature of casual clothes, is not appropriate for smart casual dress code. Avoid big brash logos. Let your style be the message rather than the fashion brand.

If you want to wear a jacket make it a blazer. Leaving your suit jacket on and partnering it with more casual trousers is lazy. A blazer is designed to be worn as a stand-alone jacket.

All your clothes should be clean and cared for. Pressed or at least free of wrinkles is the minimum standard.

Watches and Jewelry

Watches and jewelry are statements that you should consider when putting your smart casual look together. A sophisticated watch can work to harmonize an outfit. For example, it can balance a more casual choice of pants.

By the same token, a more casual watch choice can work to create a more relaxed look. The outdoors feel of an adventure watch can work with a smart casual look when it would look out of place with a business suit.

Smart casual also means you can wear jewelry that doesn’t work well with more formal clothes. The bead bracelet your kids bought you at the beach can add a touch of character and charm. An open neck shirt allows you to display a subtle gold chain.

The Spirit of Smart Casual

Once you start putting a look together you can improvise with new combinations. Get into the spirit of smart casual dress code and it will become second nature. It can be a great opportunity for you to express your personality.

For ideas about watches to go with your style, browse our blog.