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Michael 84: Mens Fashion & Lifestyle Blog

Smart Casual Dress Code – A Men’s Style Guide With Outfit Ideas For What To Wear

Monday, 9th March, 2020

What is smart casual style for guys?

The Smart casual dress code. It’s a style which every man can master, and usually only requires items you’ll find in your wardrobe.

But what is smart casual for men?

A smart casual dress code simply means dressing in clothing that’s smarter than your standard casual wear, but it’s not as formal as black tie or wearing a full suit. It’s somewhere between what you’d wearing relaxing on a film night, and something you’d wear to a formal dinner.

When it comes to styling, there’s a huge amount of different clothing in the middle.

So when it comes to outfits, where do we go from here?

Here’s everything you need to know about smart casual style.

Smart Casual Dress Code Rules

First of all I think it’s important to get an understanding of dress codes. So from most formal to least, we have:

  • Formal (Black Tie, White Tie etc.)
  • Business Casual (Shoes & Collared shirt required)
  • Smart Casual
  • Casual
  • Sports/Gym

There can also be other definitions and other forms of dressing. But for the sake of this guide, we’ll put smart casual as the 3rd one in the list.

There is no doubt that smart casual is my favourite way of dressing. Why? Because there’s virtually no rules.

You can wear almost anything you like, as long as it’s presented in a smart enough manner. There should also be an element of a relaxed attitude to your outfit too.

To pull off smart casual you should always air on the side of smart. It is all about mixing up your clothing to give yourself a smart look, using some casual pieces in your outfit.

It can be dressing something up, or dressing something down.

The key is that if it feels to casual, then it probably is, but if you’re feeling smart, then you’re probably on the right path.

Smart Casual Outfit Ideas - T Shirt And Chinos

Wearing a smart nautical t shirt with a pair of sand chinos

Smart Casual Clothing

Virtually all clothing can be considered smart casual. However, there’s certain styles of items which are too casual, and some which are too smart.

Smart casual is not about a single piece of clothing, but the whole outfit.

If you pull together the right couple of items, you can dress something like a T-shirt up, or dress a suit jacket down to pull them into the smart casual dress code.

T Shirts

Are T Shirts smart casual?

The most common and casual piece of clothing you’ll have in your wardrobe is the humble T-shirt.

You can wear a t-shirt as part of a smart casual outfit. You should choose something which has a very clean look to it. That means it should be plain in colour, or have tasteful stripes.

In the above picture, you can see I’m wearing a nautical T shirt which consists of navy stripes on a white tee. This is a simple and easy to wear piece, perfect for the summer.

You should avoid graphic t-shirts, or t-shirts with loud patterns or designs which really stand out. When it comes to your T-shirt, it should be understated. You can find out more in the ultimate t shirt guide.

Next up is the fit. This is important, and you should choose a fitted T shirt, and not a baggy or oversized option.

The Best Jeans For A Smart Casual Outfit

Smart Casual Jeans

Are jeans smart casual?

Jeans are fine to wear, as long as you wear the right type. I’ve already talked about the five pairs of denim you should own, so hopefully you have at least one of these.

If you’re wearing jeans, they should be:

  • Plain and solid in colour (not distressed)
  • Preferably a dark blue or black
  • Light coloured denim works best in summer (but can be worn in other seasons if paired correctly)

You should make sure you wear the correct fit of jeans for your body type. For most types, a slim cut is a great fit.

A pair of dark blue jeans, indigo as they’re know, are incredibly smart. You can wear black jeans if you want to go as dark as possible, which will bring out the colour in your other clothing choices.

Shirts

If you don’t want to wear a T-shirt, another good option is a shirt. There’s two different styles you can go for:

  • Plain Shirt
  • Patterned Shirt

When it comes to a plain shirt, you can opt to go for something classic such as a white or light blue shirt, or create a sleek dark outfit using black or navy. For more colourful options, pastel colours also work great too.

For patterns, there’s a huge array to choose from. There’s everything from pinstripe to regular stripes both vertical and horizontal, and various check patterns such as gingham and buffalo check.

When it comes to picking a pattern, it’s all about taking a subtle approach for a smart casual outfit. It should be contemporary, so choose one which only contains 2 or 3 different colours at the most.

Whichever shirt you’re going for, all shirts should be long sleeved. Short sleeve shirts are a much more casual way of dressing, so ensure that you’re wearing long sleeves.

Chinos/Trousers

A good alternative to jeans are a pair of casual trousers or chinos.

If you’re always wearing denim, a pair of cotton chinos are going to be a welcome break. Chinos look smart, and one advantage they have over jeans is that they are available in a large number of colours.

Colours such as ecru, white, beige and sand provide a nice light base for your lower half. You can experiment further with pastel hues if you really want something that’s going to be different and stand out.

Smart Casual Outfit - Black jeans, blue cardigan, white shirt and black leather jacket

Wearing A navy cardigan, black jeans, black leather jacket and white shirt

Knitwear

When the weather is cooler, you might want to think about wearing some smart knitwear. The main choices are:

  • Jumper
  • Cardigan
  • Roll Neck

Jumpers and cardigans, especially solid colours look smart without looking too formal, and will keep you warm as well as looking good.

There’s two main styles of jumper, V-neck and round neck. Both can be layered with an undergarment, with a shirt being preferable.

When it comes to a V-neck, part of the top of your shirt will be showing, whereas only the collar will show if you layer a round neck jumper with a shirt.

You should think carefully about the shirt and jumper colour combinations.

Another option would be a cardigan. I have always loved cardigans, I think they look smart.

You can also wear them a number of ways, buttoned up or left open. Once again you have to consider what to layer with the cardigan to keep the smart casual outfit looking good.

Finally and perhaps the smartest option is a roll neck, or turtle neck. Whatever you call it, a roll neck is stylish. You can layer this with a good jacket or coat and you’ll look effortlessly fashionable.

Close up of the blazer check pattern

Blazer

When it comes to throwing a jacket over everything, there’s no smarter option than a blazer. Whether that’s a light or linen blazer in the summer, or a darker wool option in the colder months.

You can instantly smarten up by wearing a blazer with a T-shirt, and create a really cool smart casual outfit.

You can of course wear it with a shirt too, which will always be on the smartest side of the dress code.

Massimo Dutti Overcoat In Navy

An overcoat with a sweatshirt make a great option for your winter fashion essentials.

Overcoat

When the winter hits and you need to wrap up, wearing an overcoat is going to be the go to coat.

I have a couple of overcoats now, including a camel coat, and I love it. Wearing this stylish piece means you can wear almost anything underneath and you’ll still look on point.

My latest one is a navy blue colour you can see above. I’ve paired it with a plain grey sweatshirt. Otherwise a chilled and relaxed item, the overcoat makes the sweatshirt look as smart as ever.

Smart Casual Footwear – Shoes & Trainers

When it comes to smart casual footwear, virtually all shoes will be OK. If you’re going for trainers, you’ll want a pair of smart trainers.

What are smart trainers? They’re ones which are clean, simple and look the part. A pair of white minimalist trainers can work, and you should avoid sports trainers.

Your footwear is important, and you should dress for the occasion. If a smarter outfit is required, wear a pair of brogues or other shoes. If you can go more casual, a nice pair of smart trainers will do the job.

Check out the guide on shoes every man should own, which covers plenty of footwear options for your smart casual outfit.

Watches & Accessories

You should never forget the small details. Utilising watching and other accessories in your outfit could be the key to making you stand out.

I have a minimalist watch which I think looks very good with almost everything. It’s the perfect watch to wear with this dress code, and it really looks the part.

Other items you can wear to add a touch of class can be a simple pocket square. If you’re wearing a blazer, add this in, and it creates a talking point.

Smart Casual Outfits

Here’s some smart casual ideas for you to try yourself, or get inspiration from.

Smart Casual - Check shirt with white t-shirt

Smart Casual Outfit – A great idea for summer, layering a t shirt with a check shirt and wearing with black jeans.

  • White, green & Blue Check Shirt
  • White T Shirt
  • Black Jeans

Smart Casual Outfit - Roll Neck, Camel Overcoat, Black Jeans And Brogues

For this outfit, I have paired a cream roll neck with a camel overcoat.

These two colours work perfect for an Autumn smart casual outfit.

On the lower half I’ve gone for black jeans and a pair of brogues, and finished off the look with a scarf.

Summer Smart Casual Outfit - Linen Blazer, Nautical T Shirt, White Jeans

For this summer smart casual outfit, I’ve gone for a nautical t shirt with a pair of white jeans.

These are layered with a blue linen blazer, perfect for the heat of the summer.

Ideas for smart casual clothing

  • Outfit 1 – Black shoes, green trousers, light blue shirt, navy blazer.
  • Outfit 2 – Smart navy trainers, blue jeans, light blue shirt, blazer.
  • Outfit 3 – Smart trainers, navy trousers, check shirt, leather jacket.
  • Outfit 4 – Smart boots, dark grey trousers, grey knitted jumper, blue shirt

Ideas for smart casual outfits for men

  • Outfit 1 – A red check button-down shirt with navy casual trousers, a light zip-up jacket with some casual trainers
  • Outfit 2 – A light paisley pattern blue shirt with slim fit cotton chinos, a slim fit cardigan and more formal style shoes.
  • Outfit 3 – A yellow-blue gingham style patterned shirt with a slim fit leather jacket, stretch jeans and smart trainers.
  • Outfit 4 – A grey sweater with white pattern shirt, grey wash jeans and sand suede shoes.

me-10-july-2015-3

In this outfit I have paired a white shirt with a pair of slim fit denim. I have a linen blazer over it, adding to the smart look. To keep things casual, I wore a pair of grey Converse which works well in the colour scheme.

Smart Casual: Clothing You Should Avoid

No Sportswear

First thing’s first, let’s talk about what not to wear. No tracksuits or sportswear.

Track bottoms and tops are strictly super casual, no matter if it’s high street or luxe sportswear, these are casual items and would look sloppy for smart casual.

No Suits Or Ties

Just like a tracksuit is too casual, a full suit is far too smart.

There should be no need for a tie either, and although there’s casual ways to wear a tie (such as with a casual shirt) I would not bother considering a tie for a smart casual occasion.

Smart Casual Dress Code Checklist

With all of that said, here’s a nice list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to the smart casual dress code.

DO:

  • Embrace wearing smarter, plain pieces
  • Wear jeans, as long as they’re a dark wash
  • Layer in the colder months with smart knitwear, or plain sweatshirts
  • If wearing a T-shirt, ensure it’s plain, and perhaps throw a blazer over the top
  • Choose smart trainers or casual shoes for your footwear
  • Keep the colour palette neutral or colours to a minimum

DON’T:

  • Wear a tie
  • Wear anything super formal, such as a suit
  • Wear anything super casual, such as sweat or tracksuit
  • Wear large logos or graphics

Verdict

When it comes to a smart casual dress code, there’s a huge number of options. The key is to combine the right pieces together, and not focus on a single item of clothing.

You should always dress for the occasion, and can swap out items when you need to go smarter or can afford to go more laid back in your choices.

The principles are that you look and feel smartly dressed, without being over-dressed.

As long as you stay away from the extremes of the stuffy-smart and sloppy-casual, you’ll should be able to create many smart casual outfits with your wardrobe.

Smart Casual Mens Fashion Ideas And Outfits


Michael Adams

About Michael

Michael Adams is the founder and editor of Michael 84, blogger and T-shirt designer from Newcastle, UK. Sharing men's fashion tips, style advice and lifestyle information for all guys.

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