Smart casual is a phrase thrown around a lot in the modern fashion world. It’s usually thought of as something you could wear to work, but still look stylish after hours.
Something that would impress on a first date, but not look out of place at a mid-range restaurant.
As simple as that may sound, it can be a little hard to grasp. What you often get is a lanky college student trying to pair a Goodwill blazer with a pair of Walmart jeans. That’s not a good look.
So what exactly is smart casual?
Blazers definitely have their place in the style, but it’s more complicated than forcing formal pieces into your casual outfit.
It’s a balance; a fine tight rope walk between clean cut and casual.
That definition probably doesn’t make this any simpler, does it? Well don’t worry.
We’ve hammered out a guide to help you nail smart casual. Let’s start with some of the basic tenants.
1. Thou not buy relaxed fit.
This goes for all articles of clothing. Baggy is sloppy. Go for slim fit, especially for your pants. And by “slim” we mean “slim.” Do not go overboard in the other direction.
Your black skinny jeans are fine for the weekend, but your boss isn’t going to appreciate you looking like an Urban Outfitters’ catalogue.
On the other hand, erring on the skinny side is always safer. Skinny might say seem a little immature, but baggy pants scream “I still unironically listen to Limp Bizket.” It’s time to quit rollin’.
2. Thou shalt not buy distressed denim.
While slacks should be your first go-to, Jeans are great for the smart casual look, but holes, weird dye jobs, and frayed edges are a firm “no.”
Keep them dark and fully intact. Also, go for something a bit sturdier than standard Levis. Go for some heavy raw denim.
They should also be dark. Light denim has made a comeback, but it is still very informal. If your dress code is lax enough to allow jeans, take advantage of it.
3. Thou shalt up your shoe game.
Sneakers have made huge strides in fashion, but unless you work in a dress-code free work-place, it doesn’t matter that you paid $150 for your Nikes.
Go with some versatile dress shoes or boots. Avoid patent leather or anything that seems to formal. It’s fairly easy to tell what shoes belong with a three-piece suit, and what looks good with denim.
4. Thou shalt keep it simple.
Over doing it with complex patterns and textures can easily take your outfit into the casual realm. This mostly becomes a problem when you start layer.
Don’t wear a marled sweater with a gingham shirt and a patterned tie. Actually, don’t do that ever. Keep your base solid, and build from there.
5. Thou shalt not rock the “yacht-club blazer.”
There are a few formal suit jackets and blazers to avoid. An obvious one is a tuxedo jacket. A less obvious one is the navy blazer with gold buttons, favored by Ivy Leaguers with business degrees.
This is a perfectly acceptable work outfit, but it is neither smart nor casual. Pair it with jeans, and you look like a “cool dad.” Pair it with slacks and you look like Andy Bernard getting ready for a Here Comes Treble concert.
If you’re going to take anything from college fashion, steal a tweed blazer from a humanities professor.
6. Thou shalt not wear a tie.
This is not a steadfast rule. You could definitely wear a casual tie with a cardigan, or even a denim jacket.
The tie to avoid is a slick, silk tie. It’s not a bad look, but it pushes you too formal.
Pick out an interesting knit tie, and definitely don’t pair it with a formal suit jacket. A suit and tie will push you off the tightrope.
7. Thou shalt never wear a t-shirt.
This should be a no brainer, but you’d be surprised. It doesn’t matter if you throw a suit jacket over it. A t-shirt will ALWAYS be casual.
Opt for a utility shirt instead.
If you work in an environment where a t-shirt is ok, then you don’t need a smart casual guide. You can wear whatever you want. Your boss is probably wearing New Balances as we speak.
8. Thou shalt invest in quality.
We all love cheap, fast fashion. It’s tempting to go buy suit jacket from H&M for $40 and call it a day, but you must resist.
There are a few reasons why, but most importantly, poor quality shows. Even if $100+ seems like a lot to drop (it isn’t in the menswear world), a nice jacket will last you for years.
That polyester monstrosity will last you a few months.
9. Thou shalt always lean towards smart.
We’ve emphasized here that smart casual is a fine line to tread. Unfortunately, you’re bound to falter to one side or the other at times. No one is perfect. If that’s the case, always fall on the smart side.
This is your work outfit. No one is going to fault you for overdressing. Wearing a tux to a cubicle may be a faux-pa, but a t-shirt and distressed jeans will always be worse.
Underdressing makes it seem like you don’t care, and it may even violate some of your office rules. Play it safe so you don’t end up with a pink slip.
10. Thou shalt groom thyself.
There’s nothing wrong with facial hair. A well taken care of beard or a permanent 5 o’clock shadow is a strong fashion statement in its own right.
But keep it well trimmed. Even it out, and make sure your moustache isn’t in danger of being swallowed.
If your stubble is patchy, lose it. We can’t all grow acceptable beards, and we just need to accept that.