If your holiday party invitations have already started pouring in then you’ll know that reading the words ‘smart casual dress code’ are likely to strike fear into the heart of any man.
The problem is that the words ‘smart casual’ are so ambiguous, and are often interpreted differently by each wearer, that it’s likely that you will turn up to the party feeling either too overdressed or too underdressed, but with no idea of where you went wrong!
What Is Smart Casual?
The problem with the phrase smart casual is that it’s a dress code with an ambiguous definition. The smart casual concept incorporates aspects of both formal dressing and casual, more everyday pieces.
That doesn’t mean that you can simply wear your scruffiest tennis shoes with your favorite dinner suit: nailing this code requires a little more subtlety than that!
The combination of smart casual should not be taken literally: pairing your smartest pieces with your most casual is likely to be a recipe for disaster.
There are certain pieces that are universally acknowledged to be perfect for a smart casual dress code. These pieces include chinos, Oxford collar shirts, and polo tops.
The good news is that the smart casual dress code allows you to experiment with color, meaning that there are plenty of different ways you can inject your personality and your personal sense of style into your look.
When confronted with a smart casual dress code, you should avoid anything that looks too smart or too casual.
A three-piece suit, a tie, or your favorite black dress shoes would all be too formal, leaving you looking out of place. Equally, sweatpants, shorts, round neck tees, and hooded tops would all be far too casual and would show a lack of respect for the invitation.
Still not sure where to start? Here are some of our favorite ways to interpret the smart casual dress code and ensure you look bang on trend (and have the appropriate outfit) for almost any occasion:
Smart Casual Wardrobe Essentials
There are three pieces that every man should have in his wardrobe in order to ensure he’s always dressed appropriately for any smart casual occasion. You don’t have to wear all of these pieces together, but just one of these three pieces would be the perfect centerpiece for any outfit:
A Statement Jacket
A suit jacket or blazer is considered to be a formal piece of clothing and fits under the smart side of the smart casual heading. The key to picking the perfect smart casual jacket is to avoid playing it too safe: a plain black blazer isn’t going to turn heads.
Instead look for unusual details, such as unexpected buttons or an unusual fit (an updated take on a double-breasted jacket, for example).
If you are passionate about fashion and have the confidence to wear a bolder style then why not look for a colored or patterned jacket? Bold stripes in 1970s-inspired shades and modern Prince of Wales checks are bang on trend for A/W 2018, and are the perfect choice for the modern, fashion-forward man.
A Checked Shirt
The simple shirt paired with jeans in the quintessential smart casual uniform. You can choose almost any shirt to make this look work but, if you want to inject personality into your smart casual outfit whilst still conforming to a classic look then a checked shirt is a perfect choice.
The smaller the check, the more elegant it will look, whilst big and bold checks tend to be better suited to more casual events (think family BBQs or beach parties).
If you choose to wear a checked shirt then keep other patterns to a minimum, to avoid your outfit looking too busy. You should only ever wear one bold pattern at a time.
Your favorite kicks may be perfect for a day of shopping in the city or heading to your favorite bar with your friends. But they are unlikely to conform to anyone’s definition of a smart casual dress code!
It is an old cliche, but it’s true that you can tell a lot about a man by the shoes that he wears.
Ensure that you are creating a great first impression by wearing high-quality leather shoes that are clean, polished, and that will make a real statement. We love suede loafers (like the ones above), a classic brogue or even a simple leather Oxford shoe.
Navy blue, oxblood or plum, and minimalist grey shoes are all bang on trend for this season and are a great way to inject your own sense of style into an otherwise conventional outfit.
Style it Like Beckham
When it comes to smart casual celebrity style, David Beckham is the perfect celebrity to emulate.
He has a knack for mixing casual pieces loaded with style with a more formal accent to create the perfect smart casual look. Here are our top tips for nailing a smart casual style like Beckham:
- Tone your outfit. You might have noticed that when it comes to dressing for his downtime, Beckham tends to favor black.
Steal his style by picking just one tone or color palette for your off-duty, smart casual style. Black is a safe choice, and an easy color to wear.
But if you want to inject a little more cool, why not experiment with shades of grey, navy blue or even olive green instead?
- Invest in a blazer. Beckham knows that one of the easiest ways to smarten up almost any outfit is to add a well fitting blazer or sports coat.
If you don’t already own one then don’t worry, you could simply use your business suit jacket instead! Wear it as a separate (don’t wear it with matching suit pants) and pair with dark jeans or light chinos, a well-fitting tee or a button down shirt.
- Pick one statement piece. Whether it’s a high-quality brogue shoe, a brightly colored fine knit scarf, or a patterned shirt, you should always wear one fashion-forward piece that will attract attention and show off your fashion credentials. Let your personality shine through!
- Focus on grooming. David Beckham is well-known for never having a hair out of place. If in doubt, focus on good grooming and ensure that your hair has been well-styled, that you’re wearing the right hair and grooming products.
As Beckham himself knows only too well, if your grooming is on point then people probably won’t notice what you’re wearing anyway!
- Create a signature style. David Beckham dresses in a way that is immediately recognizable. Certain pieces have become his trademark and there is security to be had in having your own fashion-focused uniform in this way.
If you can create yours then getting dressed for smart casual occasions will be much easier and more straightforward than you might think.
Jeans or No Jeans?
One of the questions we are most frequently asked about interpreting a smart casual dress code is whether or not it is appropriate to wear jeans.
However, times have changed. And we think that it is more than possible to wear jeans to a smart casual event, you just have to choose to wear them with the right pieces.
Because jeans are inherently casual, the rest of your outfit should be formal to satisfy the smart casual criteria.
Opt for jeans that are fitted and in a dark hue: one color blue or black jeans are a good choice. Avoid jeans that have rips or tears in them or anything that is too distressed: these simply look too casual, and wouldn’t look good paired with smarter pieces on top.
If you’re going to wear jeans then they should be paired with a smart button-down shirt, or with a t-shirt and fitted blazer. You should also pair them with a formal pair of leather shoes.
Finally, think carefully about the length of jeans that you choose: slightly too short is better than slightly too long, as long jeans will become baggy and form unsightly folds that will make them look far too untidy and casual.
Denim jeans might be OK, but denim shorts are not. A line has to be drawn somewhere! If you want to wear shorts for a smart casual event during the summer month then opt for linen shorts or chinos that are tailored and fall just above the knee. Leave the denim shorts for a day at the beach!
Dress Up or Dress Down?
Finally, if you have any doubts about a dress code and aren’t sure whether you should dress up or dress down then we would suggest that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed for an event.
After all, if you’re going to be judged for misinterpreting a very ambiguous dress code then it is much better for people to think you look too stylish than that you’re dressed like you’re ready to go to the gym!
Dressing up is always fun, so if you’re not sure then wear something a little more formal than you predict will be needed. That way, you get to have fun with your wardrobe and showcase a selection of your very best pieces. And you’ll be turning heads for the right reasons, rather than for the wrong ones.
Think about it like this: would you rather be judged for wearing sportswear when everyone else is in business suits. Or for being in a killer jacket when everyone else is in sportswear? I know what my first choice would be!
The smart casual invitation may be ambiguous, but it no longer needs to be something that you fear!
Getting it right doesn’t have to be a headache: simply focus on core pieces that fit you well and that make you feel confident. And if you have any doubts about what to wear?
Always wear more towards smart than casual. After all, dapper never goes out of style!