How to Nail the Smart Casual Look

how to nail the smart casual look
PHOTO CREDIT: Harry Stedman

What does smart casual mean, and how are we supposed to pull it off? Are jeans smart casual? Are a pair of trainers matched with a suit an example of it? Not life changing questions, but still ones it would be nice to know the answers to. We’ve got the guide for you, covering all of the aspects of smart casual, and showing you the best ways you can incorporate it into your wardrobe.

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What is Smart Casual Men’s Dress Code?

We’re heading into an area where personal opinion plays a huge part. If men’s smart casual clothing was a trend created by a strict designer, there’d be rules and clear pictures on what it was exactly, but as it’s a style that’s been around for years, we have to be fairly vague. In simple terms, this is what it is;

It’s neat and professional — but still informal

-Business Insider

So clean, ironed, and well-fitted clothes put together in a relaxed and informal way. A shirt with slim fit jeans and a T-shirt with a neat pair of chinos are two examples of a simple, easy smart-casual outfit.

The best thing about men’s smart casual wear is that if you, for example, have an impromptu business meeting you won’t look underdressed, but you won’t automatically look like you’ve come straight from the boardroom if you fancy a trip to the pub after work. 

smart casual look men
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Men’s Smart Casual Jackets

Men’s smart casual fashion doesn’t have to be about little details or fits, and something as simple as jackets can actually make a big difference to your outfit. Throwing a tatty leather jacket over a smart business suit is something that even the most fashion confused man will tell you is a mistake. The same goes for matching a blazer with your best gym wear. There are limits. However, some pieces can really bring an outfit together and bring a casual or formal twist to an outfit, creating that key smart casual outfits for men that we’re after.

The Trench Coat

A trench coat is one of those pieces that’s just so effortlessly stylish and timeless that it really should and does go with everything. Throwing one over a T-shirt and joggers can really pull the look together and create an outfit that’s both sleek and with the right mix of casual and formal.

To ensure the trench coat works with more casual looks, make sure you keep the colour combinations on the neutral side. A bright graphic T-shirt won’t fit as well as a plain white one, so ensure you’re keeping things on the simple side.

smart casual men trench coat
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Harrington Jacket

The Harrington jacket isn’t anything new, but its popularity has grown over the last few years, making it a firm favourite in menswear and pushing its styling possibilities to new heights. With a slim fit, defined collar and cuffed sleeves it’s like the brother of the bomber jacket. The best thing about a Harrington is that it’s able to swap from both casual and formal looks with relative ease.

For a casual look, throw on some slim fit jeans, a button up shirt and your trusty Harrington and you’re all set. Something as simple as a classic Oxford shirt or slim fit white T-shirt paired with the outfit will keep things looking sharp and clean, but not overly formal.

harrington jacket smart casual look men

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Bomber Jacket

So the bomber jacket is usually associated with more casual styles, but there are a few ways you can take it to that smarter level with just a few small twists. The main thing to keep in mind is your colour scheme, and keeping a neutral black and white palette is a way to keep things simple and refined.

Of course incorporating more formal pieces into your outfit can also help to create a more balanced look. Something like a dress shirt or a neat pair of loafers can make all the difference and help to maintain that smart-casual balance.

Smart casual look bomber jacket men
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Smart Casual Shirts

You might have noticed that we’ve mentioned shirts a fair bit in this article. Although we might seem obsessed, we’re only really mentioning them because of just how versatile they are. You can really wear these with anything and they’ll give your outfit a clean smart twist.

You can keep it simple with a white oxford shirt, which can easily be paired with jeans and every fit of chinos, or go more experimental with grandad collar shirts in a variety of colours. Try mixing patterns and clean shapes together to balance out the smart casual vibe, and consider them when you’re putting together smart casual office wear for men. 

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Smart Casual Jeans

If you’re dressing up your outfit, but want to stay comfortable and with the option for endless outfits opportunities, jeans are a great choice. You can pair them with pretty much anything and create a variety of looks, and with the different fits available you’re bound to find the right style for you.

Raw Denim Jeans

For a cleaner, smarter look go for a pair of raw denim jeans. They have less stretch to them and therefore fall cleanly, giving a more formal vibe. They’re also incredibly hard wearing and although we’re not saying they could stop a bullet, they’re as close to legwear armour as you can get.

raw denim jeans look men
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Slim Fit Jeans

Slim fit jeans are probably the most flattering fit of jeans that the everyday man can wear. Taking on the neat and stylish aspects of skinny jeans, but without the risk of looking like you’re about to break the seams, slim fit jeans are great for most shapes and are easily one of the most versatile fits as well. Pair them with a fitted shirt to give a smooth, streamlined look, and pin roll the ends for an easy, tapered look.

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Smart Casual Shoes

Footwear is important no matter what style you’re going for. Like we stated before, the right pair of shoes can help add a more formal look to a casual outfit, and vice versa, so pick your footwear wisely. There’s a whole range of designs that you can go for when it comes to smart casual shoes, and even the most casual sounding styles can be incorporated into a more formal look.

Smart Casual Boots

A good pair of boots are pretty much vital in menswear, and whether you stick the sleek Chelsea boots or go for a formal pair of brogue boots, you’ll easily be able to match them with a range of looks and outfits. It’s best to avoid anything too chunky as this will automatically make your outfit steer far too towards the casual side.

Opt instead for more streamlined, slim fit looks such as neat lace ups or desert boots. These can be paired with both jeans and chinos for smarter or more casual looks depending on what look you’re going for.

smart casual boots desert boots men
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Smart Casual Trainers

Trainers – not necessarily the smartest style of footwear, but that’s really only when you think of them in the standard way. As their popularity has grown so has their designs, and you can easily grab yourself a sleeker, smart-casual pair of trainers along with the chunky, gym ready ones. Choosing a pair in a neutral colour like black or white will help you incorporate them more easily into your outfits, and give you a versatile twist. Try slip ons as they’re slim fit and will easily match with both jeans and chinos.

Choosing a pair in a neutral colour like black or white will allow you to incorporate them more easily into your outfits and help give you a versatile twist. Try slip ons as they’re slim fit and will easily match with both jeans and chinos, as well as smart casual suits.

smart casual trainers men
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Smart Casual Loafers

Loafers are smart casual men’s summer saviours and are so easy to match with every kind of outfit. They’re one of the rare shoes that really does go with every kind of legwear from denim shorts to smart trousers, and their versatility yet unique style has made them a favourite in menswear.

Penny loafers are ideal for smart occasions, but we’re going for smart casual here so why not splash out a bit and grab yourself some tassel loafers. If you’re wearing them with jeans or chinos, give your legwear a bit of a cuff so you can really show off the unique style of your shoes. Loafers are not meant to be hidden, so make sure they’re the main part of your outfit.

smart casual loafers look men
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Smart Casual Work Clothes

So we’ve mentioned different smart casual pieces for men that you can fit together, but it’s always handy to have a few outfit ideas to go to, especially when it comes to work. On a Monday morning the last thing you want to be doing is standing in front of your mirror, wondering if your shoes go with your jeans. On the other hand, showing up in front of your boss wearing less than appropriate work wear isn’t such a great idea either.

Just remember, if you’re really getting stuck on what to wear then stick to the simple option of mixing a smart piece with a well fitted, simple casual piece. Something like a white T-shirt and some slim fit chinos is a failsafe option, and one that can easily be customised with anything from a suede bomber to a classic overcoat.

Smart casual look for men
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How to Nail the Smart Casual Look

  • Jackets and coats are great for layering a smart casual look.
  • Choose some casual shirts. Grandad collars are great for toning an outfit down.
  • Wear jeans or chinos. Try avoiding any overly formal trousers.
  • Boots are perfect for this style. Don’t wear anything too chunky, like Dr Martens.
  • Trainers are always a winner. Stick to simple colours like black and white.

On That Note

What is smart casual for men? It’s not something that’s immediately intuitive, but when you get your head wrapped around the style you’ll realise just how many looks you can achieve with it. You can even go for something like a slim fit suit and simple trainers for smart casual interview wear. There’s no one set rule on how to dress smart casual, and with so many outfit variations to experiment with you’re free to mix some personality into your look.

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