For guys, there are two common situations that require a specific dress code: casual and formal. The former does well with t-shirts, jeans, chinos and the like, while the latter requires a suit, a tuxedo, a dress shirt, and some appropriate dress shoes.
But there comes a time when an outfit that blurs the lines between the two is your best bet: smart casual. ‘What does smart casual mean?’ is a question posed by many a man, with the answer being an outfit that is neat, clean, and conventional, yet relatively informal in style.
But while clothing may be easy to define, you’ve still got to think about your footwear choice. You don’t need to dig out your very best pair of leather Oxfords if you’re just teaming them with jeans, and neither do you want to wear a sharp blazer, shirt, and chino ensemble with a pair of bright white sneakers.
No. What you need is a pair of smart casual dress shoes. This very specific footwear category is pretty simple to master when you put some thought into it. You can take a pair of brogues, for example, but instead of choosing a fine brown calf leather, you would simply choose suede instead, and perhaps in a slightly less-common colour such as blue or grey.
It could very well be a shoe you’ve not given much thought to before, but get it right and your outfits will be upgraded to unrivalled heights.
Smart Casual Shoe FAQs
Can I wear sneakers to smart casual events?
Yes, you can wear sneakers to smart casual events, but they can't be just any old pair. You can wear minimalist sneakers in a dark colour such as black or navy, and you should also make sure they are leather, as opposed to canvas.
What is the difference between smart casual dress shoes and business casual shoes?
Not a huge amount separates smart casual and business casual. The two are essentially the same, however business casual commonly means anything worn to the office, while smart casual refers to everything worn outside of the office.
Business casual shoes will be more like brogues and oxfords, while smart casual dress shoes can include some sneakers.
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If you’re looking to add a versatile pair of smart casual shoes to your closet, these brands are the ones to check out; as they produce the best smart casual shoes for men.
They only have one shoe to offer, ‘The Original’, which is a smart-casual dress shoe available in four timeless colours. But this shoe is secretly a serious game-changer when it comes to men’s dress shoes. The soles of The Original are crafted with new, proprietary materials created by Amberjack that deliver comfort all day long! The shoes also feature heat-activated arch support made with foam (that’s more durable than memory foam) that when heated by your body warmth will mould to your foot for custom arch support.
Not to mention a dual-density outsole with high-performance athletic technology in the front for flexibility and strong hiking boot material in the back for support. Oh, and the sustainably sourced Italian suede used for the upper is water repellent, meaning you can wear these dress shoes in rain or shine, and the suede will stay protected and fresh.
Johnston & Murphy
The Casteel Plain Toe model takes on a more formal Derby silhouette, but its colour contrasting sole with fully visible stitching gives them a more casual appearance. Put together in Italy and made from a selection of fine leathers, they also gain a cushioned "sport sole" to help you endure long periods on your feet.
These Zerøgrand Wingtip Oxfords, for example, benefit from a sole that is made from a triple-density foam to provide incredible amounts of cushioning and comfort for easy all-day wear.
The company's desert boot is easily one of the most iconic boots of all time and is one of the absolute masters within the smart casual space. Helped by its crepe sole, these boots are about as informal as you can get, without going into sneaker territory. If wearing for a smart-formal event, we'd suggest looking at the full section of colours first.
The Pix lace-up is a prime example, arriving in either this safe all-black model or a number of more outlandish colour combinations, they're made from a full-grain leather and rock an EVA lightweight outsole for all-day comfort.
The Eizzg derbies are made from a brown suede with a leather heel piece, making them destined to be paired with jeans, while the two-tone colouring on the sole injects that little bit of aforementioned fun.
Grenson is best known for its Oxfords and Brogues, and this pair of Archie brogues is a perfect example of how this often formal shoe can be presented in a more casual way.
Duke & Dexter
Duke & Dexter’s range of loafers features shoes that are all perfect for smart-casual wear as they're a versatile footwear choice. Available in a variety of colours and styles, no matter which pair you choose, you’ll look effortlessly put together.
The Sperry boat shoe has long been associated with preppy style, which in itself is synonymous with smart casual. Made from a full-grain leather that is resilient to both salt and freshwater and they also retain the one-piece lacing system that can be customised in a variety of ways. And of course, they rock the Wave-Siping non-slip sole design.
Scarosso's Luigi Blu Scamosciato is a classic driving shoe, which, while it may be a divisive shoe style, works perfectly as a smart casual option. Certainly better suited to warmer weather situation, their blue colouring will add an extra layer of style (and pretentiousness) to your look.
They also make a damn fine espadrille, which may not be the first footwear style you'd associate with smart casual, but they're a suitable summer smart-casual staple. Able to be worn from the beach to a wedding to the bar, they're a quirky alternative to a loafer.
Their range of loafers, for example, does sit firmly on the fence between formal and casual, but being a slip-on design, any pair will look just as good with a pair of jeans (no socks, of course) as they would with a pair of suit pants.
This pair of chunky-soled loafers take a formal shoe style in the loafer and make it decidedly more casual with the addition of a chunky sole. Made from premium leather, they're sure to look good with a pair of cropped pants and a shirt. Embrace your inner Michael Jackson.
The Moc-Toe 6-inch work boot may be a work boot first and foremost, but we feel it has that certain je ne sais quoi that allows it to moonlight as an everyday boot that looks great with a pair of dark denim jeans, shirt and blazer. An ideal option for the colder months.
The Urban Turnout boot stands out within R.M's collection as being a slightly more casual offering compared to its more famous Craftsman cousin. Made in Australia from a single piece of Bovine leather, they also receive a Vibram EVA lightweight treaded outsole and a flat heel, which goes some way to supporting their casual credentials. A contrasting stained edge finish also helps to draw them away from more formal occasions.
These Capri Nero shoes rock a triple-black colour finish, making them suitable for camouflaging with suit pants, as others around you will barely take a second look to realise you're wearing sneakers and not a pair of Oxfords.
Allen Edmonds has a range of men’s shoes that perfectly merges the worlds of formal and casual together into pairs that will look great with chinos or some other casual pants, just as much as they would with a suit. Made with premium materials, no matter which stylish smart-casual shoe you choose from Allen Edmonds, they're certainly built to last.