Smart Casual Dress Code For Men: What It Is And How To Wear It

Mastering the art of the smart casual, a dress code many men get wrong.

Smart Casual Dress Code For Men: What It Is And How To Wear It

Image: Velasca

When it comes to men’s dress codes, none are more confusing than ‘smart casual’, sometimes known as ‘business casual’. Keep reading to learn how to master this most mysterious dress code…

Of all the questions to keep us up into the early hours of the night, it’s the eternal quandary of just what on earth smart casual dress code means for men. Frankly, this anxiety isn’t unfounded, with sources across the web offering a wide range of different but doubtlessly vague definitions.

Ultimately, this vagueness is the best and worst thing about smart casual because you can adapt the dress code to suit your own sense of style, comfort, and common sense. Below are some quickfire answers to your most burning smart casual questions, while a more detailed look at this enigmatic dress code awaits further down the page…

Short For Time? Here’s What You Need To Know

Are Jeans OK for smart casual?
Yes, but be sure to go with a dark blue wash or black jeans. Ripped or “distressed” denim is a no-no.
Can you wear a T-shirt for smart casual?
Yes, but opt for a good-quality, fitted tee. Avoid baggy tees and thin fabrics.
Are sneakers smart casual?
Most of the time, yes. If the occasion veers more formal — a wedding, for example — then opt for dress shoes.
Can I wear a polo shirt for smart casual?
Yes, polos are perfect for smart casual.
Is a long-sleeve t-shirt smart casual?
Yes, but as with any t-shirt it needs to be good quality and fit well.
What is the difference between casual and smart casual?
The difference is that you need to look like you’ve made an effort, whatever that means for your sense of self and style.
What shoes are smart casual?
Sneakers, Chelsea boots, loafers, and dress shoes are all appropriate. If in doubt, go smarter.
Are chinos smart casual?
Yes, they’re perfect.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth, detailed breakdown of what smart casual means for men, scroll down…

What Does Smart Casual Mean?

The Macquarie Dictionary defines the smart casual dress code for men as “well-dressed in a casual style”.

Other definitions of smart casual dress vary, such as the Oxford Dictionary’s view. This defines ‘smart casual for men’ as “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style”.

Ultimately, this confusing no-mans-land is about finding the middle of both ends of the formality spectrum. Mr Porter’s style advice page pretty much nails it:

“Anything smarter than a tracksuit, but less formal than a suit.”

Mr Porter

While they go on to provide a template for the quintessential smart casual look — “An ideal answer is a blazer, white shirt, neat jeans, and brown loafers” — we’re still stuck with a pretty broad spectrum.

In short, it’s about adapting these definitions to match your personal style.

Two men wearing great examples of smart casual dress for men: One man wearing a light green blazer, light blue Oxford shirt, chinos, and Converse sneakers. Another man wearing a black polo shirt, navy chinos and white trainers.

More Formal

As the name of the dress code implies, it’s usually safest to assume that the ‘smart casual’ dress code means smart first, casual second. As such, you’d be well advised to play it safe and dress on the smarter side.

People say it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed for good reason. You’d hate to turn up to an event wearing a t-shirt, tailored shorts and some crisp white sneakers when everyone else is wearing chinos, a shirt and a blazer, for example.

Less Formal

However, that doesn’t negate the existence of a somewhat less formal version of smart casual. If your gut feeling tells you that a blazer and chinos might be a little too much, but you’re still not exactly sure what to wear, here’s our advice…

Dark-coloured jeans and polo shirts are your friends. A slick black or white tee may also suffice, but you’re in dangerous territory. In short: if you’d wear it while relaxing at home, it’s a no-go.

Smart Casual vs. Casual

Sometimes it’s easier to define ‘smart casual’ by defining what it’s not: casual. And, if we’re being totally honest, this can be a matter of minor but important differences.

For example, dark-coloured, straight-fit jeans are a good option for an informal smart-casual look. However, light-wash baggy jeans are absolutely not. A patterned tee shirt is a no-no, but a plain black or white tee can, if paired with smarter bottoms, be a go-go.

In essence, it needs to look like you’ve made an effort to appear put together. Rather than focusing on looking professional, focus on perfecting an outfit that you’re comfortable wearing; take a favourite piece and then upscale it using a smarter garment or two.

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 and nailing your next outfit.

Blazers & Jackets

A man wearing an off-white blazer with a white t-shirt underneath, demonstrating a smart-casual look.
Blazers, bombers, and blouson jackets all classify as smart casual.

With smart casual outfits, it’s better to be overdressed than under, but a work suit jacket is a big style no-no. They’re too structured and just scream corporate attire. Save these for proper formal events.

A smart casual blazer or unstructured blazer, however, should be a staple if you want to lean on the smarter end of the spectrum.

Jetsetter Unconstructed Italian Wool Blazer

Jetsetter Unconstructed Italian Wool Blazer

The definition of effortless sophistication. Minimal bulk, maximum attention to detail.

Cotton-linen blends are the thinking man’s option for the warmer months (linen on its own can be fragile), while merino wool or wool-silk blends should be worn in winter. Go for unlined, soft-shouldered jackets or an unstructured blazer with patch pockets, and functioning buttons to roll the sleeves a little if it’s hot.

Two men, one wearing a black trench coat with white chinos and leather shoes. The other wearing a bomber jacket and black jeans. Both are smart casual dress code examples.

Bomber jackets and trench coats are also totally acceptable style options when it comes to smart-casual. Perhaps a striped T-shirt underneath and neatly pressed trousers. 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.

Two men. On the left is David Beckham wearing a leather jacket with a shirt and tie. On the right is a model wearing a lined leather jacket with a knit jumper, shirt, and tie.
For daring men, try a leather jacket with a shirt to spice things up.

Casual Shirts

Two men wearing casual shirts that are good for a smart casual dress code. One wears a loral pink shirt with black trousers. The other wears a navy shirt with black jeans.
Keep it crisp or add some colour.

When it comes to shirts in the context of smart casual, a single-colour shirt in a traditional hue is a safe option, but it certainly isn’t your only option…

Patterned casual shirts (stripes or fine houndstooth, for example ) or even printed shirts, bring personality into your style and can be balanced out with more classic pieces elsewhere if you’re concerned about going over the top. Even printed shirts are totally okay these days, just don’t combine too many colours.

If you do want to throw on a printed shirt, then pair it with a neutral blazer and chinos if you want to show you’re here to party, but do so sensibly at the same time.

Two men, both wearing light blue, button-down shirts. One is tucked in to sandy chinos, the other wears his untucked with white trousers.
Down to button-down town.

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 DJ from the mid-2000s.

Hot tip: The button-down shirt is a no-brainer for men when it comes to smart casual shirts. If you’re wearing one in summer, then try a lighter or brighter smart casual shirt.

Light Blue Slim Fit Shirt

Light Blue Slim Fit Shirt

Natural Stretch Egyptian Cotton by Albiate, Italy


A male model wearing a beige linen blazer, light brown tee, and white trousers with shades.
Just add a crisp t-shirt

This is where the smart casual dress code can work in favour of men who like to be a little lazy with their style or just don’t like the idea of wearing a button-up shirt. T-shirts can most definitely be considered smart casual, but there are some rules to follow.

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. This will help accentuate your broad shoulders and cover up as much skin as possible.

Avoid thin, wispy fabrics, because no one is interested in the dimensions of your nipples.

V-neck t-shirts are a complete no-go unless you want to be known as one of ‘those guys’ from down the pub.

The Classic 3-Pack

The Classic 3-Pack

Premium fitted crew neck t-shirt
60% combed ringspun cotton/40% polyester jersey. Fabric will shrink minimally (5%) on a low heat setting in the dryer.

Casual Pants & Jeans

Two men, both wearing polo shirts with chinos, shades, and trainers but demonstrating different colour pallets.
Trousers or denim is okay… even wide-legged is cool these days.

As with your upper half, when it comes to putting on some pants, you can take advantage of the more ‘smart’ casual nature intended for your outfit. This means you can forget wearing suit pants or formal trousers entirely and buy chinos or a pair of slim denim jeans instead.

There are still some rules to abide by, however. Keep your pants and chinos fitted and keep colours neutral, and keep them on the shorter side to prevent any ugly folds over your shoe.

The Performance Chino

The Performance Chino

The perfect pair of chinos. We own two pairs oursevles. Black and blue.

And while there is 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.

If you decide to wear a pair of jeans, you should look to be wearing darker shades of denim blue, or go for black jeans, and be sure to avoid rips to ensure you keep with the ‘smart’ part of the casual. Ideally, pair your denim with a shirt or t-shirt and a blazer.


Two mean wearing smart casual outfits with shorts. One wears an off-white polo with off-white shorts. The other wears a blue shirt tucked into white shorts.
Go plain or printed just keep things above the knee.

Yes, in outdoor and Summer settings you can get away with shorts.

With smart casual shorts, it’s probably 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.

Instead, you should be wearing something tailored in cotton or cotton-linen. Chuck in a pattern if the rest of your outfit is plain. Otherwise, keep it simple with navy, grey, or cream.

Stretch Washed Chino Short 2.0

Stretch Washed Chino Short 2.0

Signature curved waistband | Contrast pocket liner | Logo faux-horn button closure | Buttons at back pockets | Wicking

Shoe & Sneakers

A mean's legs, wearing slim-fit grey chinos and white sneakers.

Unlike cocktail dress (smart casual’s older, aloof brother) smart casual 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, for example.

The nature of the event will certainly dictate the style of footwear we as men can get away with. If it’s a friend’s 30th birthday, then by all means, wear a pair of clean white sneakers or Chelsea boots. If you’re headed to a wedding, however, then you’ll need to wear a pair of smart casual dress shoes instead.

Low 1 Sneaker

Low 1 Sneaker

The Low 1 | White is an iconic low-top silhouette hand crafted in the Marche region of Italy. Coupled with buttery Italian calfskin leather and outsoles.

Comes in a range of colours.

And you might want to think about avoiding Converse All-Stars with chinos and a blazer. Yes, style-wise they can look good, but you have to remember your audience and where you’ll be wearing them.

Anything from tennis shoes and suede derbies to monk straps and loafers all fit the bill – 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.


A Turnbull & Asser handkerchief next to a Gucci belt.
Go easy with accessories.

Ties are optional but, to be honest, we can’t foresee a smart casual attire 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.

You’ll also want to be sure you add a belt into the mix to show you understand style. You don’t necessarily need the fanciest full-grain leather belt from a high-end designer brand, as you can certainly play around with materials, such as woven and textile belts.

Anderson's Belts

Anderson’s Belts

Hands down one of the best belts you will ever own. I’ve personally bought three from Anderson’s.

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.

You should also look into investing in some pieces of jewellery. A simple leather bracelet or a sterling silver signet ring can instantly transform a perfectly passable smart casual outfit into one that will help you stand out and be the subject of gossip the following day.

And remember, men, never leave the house without a good smile and a courteous attitude. They’re the best accessories you can bring.

What The Fashion Experts Say About ‘Smart Casual For Men’

“Denotes giving thought to your casual outfit. The ‘smart’ in smart casual also implies clever dressing. Considering comfort, and relaxed style, the key for me is to have one smart or hero piece in your casual ensemble. A denim shirt with a linen suit, a pair of box fresh sneakers with an unstructured suit or handmade loafers with your favourite jeans, just may do the trick. Tucking in your shirt or rolling cuffs can make a remarkable difference to your casual outfit, rendering it ‘smart casual’. Smart casual is the ultimate mix of tailoring, smart footwear choices and core casual styling wardrobe staples.”

Jeff Lack @jefflack

Some Classic Smart Casual Looks To Inspire Your Next Outfit