1 – Understand what ‘smart casual’ means in practice
In our well-trained eyes, smart casual means that you look put together, but not so much that people say “Oooh – you dressed up today”. (Although this may mean you need to up the ante with your casual wardrobe too!)
The perfect smart-casual outfit needs to be comfortable and reflect your personal style without going too far in either the casual or smart direction. Here’s a simple litmus test to see if your outfit has the balance right:
- If you'd wear it around the house, it's too casual.
- If you'd wear it to a wedding, funeral or to the Queens garden party then it's too smart.
The importance is in feeling comfortable
Essentially, if you’d feel comfortable going to work in it, or if you ran into your boss in the street, you’ve probably got it right.
The key is to think about where you are going, thing like what time of day your event is, what season it is and whether the event is inside or outside and then tailor your outfit accordingly. A smart-casual outfit for a daytime wedding in summer will be different to a smart-casual outfit you’d wear to a 50th birthday dinner in winter.
2 – Get your wardrobe organized and have outfits ready to go
The easiest way to ace smart casual is to have several pieces in your wardrobe ready to go. Pick a colour palette to shop for and stick to it so that you can mix and match according to the occasion. (We can help you with this during a wardrobe consultation).
These are what you’ll need in your smart/casual toolbox:
A sports jacket or blazer is the one item that genuinely defines smart casual, so we recommend that you have an assortment of sports jackets to choose from that range from classic to fun. Don’t be afraid to play with colour and texture here – the jacket can be a point of interest as long as you can keep the look balanced with plain shirts and trousers. Ensure that you have lighter options (both in colour and fabric) for daytime and summer events, and darker, warmer options for evenings and winter events.
A word of warning though: the biggest smart casual mistake I see people make is using their suit jackets as their sports jackets. A sports jacket is a roomier, more relaxed fit as it’s designed for layering. Splitting up your suit and wearing the jacket on its own rarely looks good. This is because suits are cut in a particular way to be more rigid, so they tend to look jarring against jeans or chinos.
If you need inspiration, take a look at our range of sports jackets and find one or two to suit your style.
Smart casual usually calls for collared shirts. Business shirts won’t do as their cut and fabric are constructed to be stiffer and more tailored.
Oxford shirts are a great choice if you prefer to tuck your shirt in and like a more formal look. Or consider a patterned shirt in cotton.
For occasions that fall more towards the casual end of the spectrum, a high-quality plain t-shirt or a merino wool polo top can work well too.
Smart casual is all about layering, so for colder months have a few merino wool knit sweaters (like these chunky versions) on hand in neutral colours like navy and grey. Knitwear will keep you warm and, if you choose an interesting knit, it will add texture and depth to the outfit.
Yes, you can wear jeans, but make sure they are a dark wash in a slim fit but not tight. Before donning them, ensure there aren’t any signs of wear and tear.
Most importantly, have a mix of weights (cotton drill, twill) to cover the seasons. Chinos are the preferred option for summer, so ensure you have both a dark and light coloured pair in your wardrobe.
If you are worried about getting this item wrong, we have a range of trousers just perfect for smart casual in our online store.
While some people can get away with very clean, white fashion trainers, we recommend playing it safe with leather derby shoes or loafers, and a Chelsea boot for winter.
Don’t forget your accessories as they will help you add interest and polish to your outfit. Start with a well-kept leather belt, keeping the colour tonal with your shoes. Then add a sleek and simple dress watch (leave the diamonds at home!) and a classy pair of sunglasses for daytime events.
If you suspect the weather might turn (and let’s be honest, when doesn’t it?), a tailored rain mac is a stylish and practical investment that you can wear every day to work as well. We’ve created a limited- edition raincoat made from waterproof ventile, a natural 100% cotton, initially developed for Spitfire pilots. With hand-edged stitching and fun, patterned lining, you’ll wear it year after year.
Most importantly – every item you have MUST fit perfectly! Looking smart comes down to fit and quality.
3 – Find smart casual inspiration online from those you admire
If you want to update your smart-casual wardrobe but aren’t sure how to weave in your personal style, or what your style should be, take some time to take a virtual stroll around Instagram and through online versions of publications like GQ and Vogue for inspiration.
I also recommend taking a leaf out of certain celebrities books as well, in particular Idris Elba, Ryan Gosling, Hugh Jackman, David Evans or Oliver Peyton (check out our Man of the Month blogs for details).
If in doubt – overdress slightly and always wear a blazer. It’s really the pivotal point that bridges casual and smart.
If you’d like help curating a smart-casual wardrobe, we offer a personalised wardrobe service. We create a unique clothing collection just for you that caters to your lifestyle and needs, with a colour palette that works for your skin tone. We recommend the best designs and the finest quality fabrics that give you a wardrobe that’s perfect for every occasion. Learn more about our personalised wardrobe service.