smart casual dress code

How to nail a smart casual dress code

We’ve got the formula to getting it right every time

Smart casual is a dress code that, while easy and relaxed on the face of it, can actually be very difficult to get right. It’s a frustrating invite to decode – which side of the spectrum do you lean? Smart or casual?

Pulling off this divisive dress code is about creating the perfect balance – you want to blend into the crow, without getting lost but, equally, you want to stand out without looking out of place. So let’s start with the don’ts. In general, it’s better to err on the side of smart so you don’t end up spending an entire event feeling underdressed and disrespectful. With this in mind avoid jeans, T-shirts and casual accessories such as baseball caps.

That said, the art of perfecting smart casual is all in the execution. It’s about creating balance and the easiest way to do this is to mix and match smart pieces with more casual designs. With this is mind we’ve created the ultimate smart casual capsule wardrobe – all you need do is build your outfit as the situation demands.

The overcoat

An overcoat is an essential part of every man’s winter wardrobe and instantly adds a more formal edge to any outfit. But not all coats are created equal and, given the investment involved, you’ll want to choose designs that work with more than just your two-piece suit.

Smart: A thick wool overcoat is a necessary addition to your workwear wardrobe – but, invest wisely, and your coat will also be perfect for smartening up your casual attire. Look for something in a versatile navy, grey or black with clean lines and a lightly tailored cut like this design from Mr P.

Casual: Waterproof, minimalist and crafted from a durable organic cotton twill, Asket’s timeless car coat is the lightweight, layering piece your smart casual wardrobe has been crying out for. It’s also less formal than a heavy wool number so won’t look out of place at a bar or weekend event.

mr p coat

Mr P double-faced virgin wool-blend coat

£725

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The jacket

In warmer weather you can drop the overcoat but a decent jacket is still a must. Your smart option here should be a tailored blazer or sport coat while a suede jacket is a more casual investment you won’t regret making.

Smart: A good blazer instantly smartens up any outfit and you can’t go wrong with navy wool. The light windowpane check on this tweed number from Walker Slater is enough to add a sporty, less formal edge without being over-the-top.

Casual: If your Casual Friday look requires outerwear that can take you from the office to the bar or a weekend away then a suede jacket, like this one from A.P.C., is the piece you’ve been looking for. Stick to navy, black or a dark neutral and pair with chinos, a sweater and loafers or sneakers.

walker slater jacket

Walker Slater Martin tweed jacket

£285

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apc jacket

A.P.C. Frene suede jacket

£1050

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The shirt

In the interests of keeping the smart in smart casual, opting for a shirt is always a good choice. It’s instantly smarter and slicker and essential for getting that balance right – but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with your styling. Untuck, roll your sleeves and loosen your top button – this is smart casual after all.

Smart: You can never really go wrong with a white shirt and we’re big fans of New & Lingwood’s timeless designs. Crafted from a lightweight, breathable linen, this one will look great with chinos and trainers but can also be worn under a suit for dressier occasions.

Casual: A smart casual dress code is the perfect time to introduce a little colour to your wardrobe. A pastel-hued shirt in light blue or pink is far more versatile than you think. Luca Faloni’s signature version works under sweaters in the winter or untucked with rough-rolled sleeves in the summer.

new lingwood shirt

New & Lingwood tailored fit linen shirt

£145

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luca faloni shirt

Luca Faloni Portofino linen shirt

£140

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The sweater

If you’re not entirely sure what an occasion calls for, adding a layering piece like a sweater allows you to easily tone things up or down. Make sure you keep the shirt collar inside the neck of the jumper and keep your knit plain. Alternatively wear a lightweight knit on its own as an elegant shirt alternative.

Smart: If you’ve opted for chinos and trainers then you’re going to need to smarten up on top – and the easiest way to do this is with a crisp shirt under a cashmere sweater. Artknit Studios’ classic round-neck design is knitted in Italy from pure Grade A cashmere.

Casual: If tailored trousers with a shirt feels like a little too much for your smart casual event, simply swap your shirt for a lightweight knit. In the colder months a high-neck sweater makes for an effortless ensemble that exudes European elegance – William Lockie’s wool rollneck goes well with both light and dark trousers.

artknit studios sweater

Artknit Studios round-neck cashmere sweater

£171

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william lockie jumper

William Lockie virgin wool rollneck sweater

£195

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The trousers

Chinos are the ultimate go-between for both smart and laid-back affairs as there’s basically nothing they won’t go with. However, you don’t want to be that guy who turns up in the same pair of beige chinos time and time again. Choose the right pair of tailored trousers and they’ll fit seamlessly into your smart casual looks.

Smart: Whatever the dress code, a great pair of trousers is all about the fit. With a slim leg, medium rise, brass side adjusters and internal brace buttons, Sirplus’ formal trousers are as customisable as it gets without enlisting the help of a tailor.

Casual: As we said, chinos are a smart casual staple as they can be easily dressed up or down depending on the occasion. If in doubt, start your outfit with chinos. New & Lingwood’s versions come with a contemporary tapered leg and are available in sand, navy and white.

sirplus trousers

Sirplus linen formal trousers

£165

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new lingwood chinos

New & Lingwood cotton chinos

£175

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The shoes

The final and arguably most important addition to any outfit. A loafer is ideal for meeting that halfway point between smart and casual while the smart, minimal trainer has made its way into the style conscious man’s wardrobe and can act just as well as the aforementioned options in this scenario.

Smart: Loafers and driving shoes perfectly tread the smart casual line and, given the appropriate level of Scotch Guarding, it is possible to wear suede year-round. Aurelien’s elegant driving shoes are crafted soft nubuck with a calf leather lining and padded insole for supreme comfort.

Casual: Provided the rest of your attire is suitably smart, a pair of well-constructed leather sneakers can absolutely form part of your smart casual wardrobe. We’d recommend an all-over white in a classic tennis-style silhouette – Oliver Cabell’s Low 1 sneakers are a case in point.

aurelien loafers

Aurelien suede driving shoes

£150

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oliver cabell sneakers

Oliver Cabell Low 1 sneakers

£241

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Now we’ve got that sorted, it’s time to invest in the best long sleeve shirts…

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