Of all the questions to keep us up into the early hours of the night, it’s the eternal quandary of just what the hell ‘smart casual’ means. And to be honest, our anxiety isn’t unfounded: the Macquarie Dictionary defines smart casual as “well-dressed in a casual style” (whatever that means).
Oxford defines it as “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style”. Urban Dictionary gets warmer, offering the incisive description that smart casual is a “nonsensical dress code that people slap onto events, parties, and workplace which always causes confusion and often spectacular results”.
So yeah, it’s safe to say no one really has a clue, but that doesn’t stop guys from asking the age-old question.
So what’s a guy to do? Instead of surrendering to looking like duds, we’ve decided to break down this nebulous term and demystify it for the public (and our own) good. Here, we go through the common elements of smart casual piece by piece, so you can get at least one thing right in 2019.
What Is Smart Casual
Smart casual might be meaningless, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook entirely. This confusing no-mans-land is about finding the middle of both ends of the formality spectrum. Like what those affluent private-school snowflakes who go to yoga eight times a week say – everything here is about balance.
In true cluey form, our team figured it out based on the name alone: smart casual. Smart first, casual second. When in doubt – and this should apply to all areas of your life – play it safe and dress on the smarter side.
People say it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed for a bloody good reason. Now that we’ve cleared that up, we’ll break down the wardrobe staples to give you an idea of what will and won’t look the part for the smart casual dress code.
Smart Casual Blazers & Jackets
It’s better to be overdressed than under, but suits are a no-no. Blazers, however, should be a staple if you want to lean on the smarter end of the spectrum.
Cotton-linen blends are the thinking man’s option for the warmer months (linen on its own can be fragile), while wool or wool-silk blends should be worn in winter. Go for unlined, soft-shouldered jackets with patch pockets, and functioning buttons to roll the sleeves a little if it’s hot.
Bomber jackets and trench coats are also totally acceptable when it comes to smart casual too. Perhaps a striped t-shirt underneath and neat pressed trousers. Yes, now you’re talking.
You’ll get more mileage out of plain colours, but don’t be afraid to experiment with bolder shades of blue, burgundy, tan or the odd pattern here and there. Just don’t go overboard with novelty colours, neon, or obscene statement prints someone could spot from the other side of the bar.
RELATED: The Best Blazers For Men Right Now
Smart Casual Shirts
A single-colour shirt in a traditional hue is a safe option, but it certainly isn’t your only option. Patterned (stripes or fine houndstooth) shirts bring personality to a look and can be balanced out with more classic pieces elsewhere if you’re concerned about going over the top. Hell, even printed shirts are totally okay these days. Just don’t do too many colours.
Do you need to tuck it in? If it’s designed with long shirt tails, yes. If not, then no. But if you’re wearing a jacket, you should always find a way to keep your shirt tucked in, unless you want to resemble a fourth-rate DJ from the mid 2000’s.
Smart Casual Tees
Lazy? You can also ditch the button-down entirely.
A t-shirt is a perfectly acceptable part of a smart-casual wardrobe, but be sure you stick with the basics only. Go for a crisp, fitted tee with a crewneck. Avoid thin, wispy fabrics, because no one is interested in the dimensions of your nipples. If you only take one thing away from this, remember to avoid V neck tees unless you are committed to the idea of being known as one of ‘those guys’ at the pub.
Smart Casual Pants & Jeans
Don’t try to sneak in your pilling, shiny Myer suit pants and hope anyone will notice. It’s better to scrap anything over-tailored, and go for denim or chinos instead.
Keep them fitted, in a subdued colour or a neutral, and keep them on the shorter side to prevent any ugly folds over your shoe. And while there’s some casual leeway, that doesn’t extend to anything ripped – you’re not in a Pearl Jam cover band or going to a music festival.
And jeans? Yes, avoid rips to ensure you keep with the ‘smart’ part of the casual. Ideally, pair your denim with a shirt or t-shirt with blazer.
Smart Casual Shorts
With shorts, it’s probably just easier to tell you what to avoid. Boardies, cargo shorts, anything below the knee, and anything you could be seen playing sport in should be firmly ignored.
Go for something tailored, to show you’re putting in a bit of effort, in a cotton or cotton-linen. Chuck in a pattern if the rest of your outfit is plain, but otherwise keep it simple with navy, grey, or cream. And we did say keep them tailored, but they shouldn’t look like retro footy shorts where beans contour reigns supreme.
RELATED: The Best Shorts For Men
Smart Casual Shoes & Sneakers
Unlike cocktail dress (smart casual’s older, aloof brother) shoes are less of a problem. You can get away with a lot, but not quite everything. The rule is to keep them harmonious with the top half of your outfit. Don’t wear oxfords with shorts and a linen oxford shirt.
RELATED: Best Casual Shoe Brands For Men
And you might want to think about avoiding Converse All-Stars with chinos and a blazer. Anything from tennis shoes and suede derby’s to monk straps and loafers all fit the ticket – provided they’re clean and not scavenged in a frenzy from the bottom of a clearance tray.
You probably know better already, but remember that shoes make or break the outfit and you’ll be judged on their merit even if you’re wearing a Rolex and shouting everyone beers.
Smart Casual Accessories
Ties are optional, but to be honest, we can’t foresee a smart casual event that ever screams out for one. Leave it at home and bring a pocket square instead to add some colour. Coordinate it with your shirt, ensuring you avoid hankies that are too bold or contrived.
Sunglasses for the daytime are a must (especially if your conversation partner is a bit dull and your eyes wander). Tortoiseshell is the best pick for individuality, but conservative black or brown frames are fine if the rest of your outfit has plenty of colour.
And remember, lads, a good smile and courteous attitude are the best accessories you can bring (besides free molly and tickets to Robbie Williams).