‘Smart Casual’ has such a vast and varied range of meanings, largely dependant on the situation. For example: if you’re headed off for a meeting over lunch at the local cafe, then a jacket and trainers look might fit the bill; but if you’re attending an evening dinner, you’re probably going to want to put some better shoes on! The varying nature of Smart Casual can make it a minefield to navigate.
In this day and age, there is a lot of flexibility within this categories, although a good rule of thumb is that you’re more likely to get away with being overdressed than underdressed. With all this in mind, we’ve put together some ideas and guidelines for when it comes to choosing a smart casual outfit.
1: The Jacket
A lot of smart casual outfits will feature a stunning jacket which usually helps elevate the look. If you’re wearing a fine jumper and a tailored trouser, then maybe you’d want to opt for a coat instead. When it comes to a jacket, think about the rest of your outfit; if it’s plain then maybe go for a patterned jacket. If it’s an outfit for a cold day then why not opt for a tweed jacket for a bit of extra warmth?
If you’re planning on matching your jacket to your trousers then try not to go for anything too loud as this can make styling that bit harder. Something like the Caridi suit style can be a nice way to get both pieces in while allowing for a good range of styling options.
2: The Top
A crisp shirt can smarten up a jacket and jeans combo beautifully to fit the bill, but if wearing it with a two-piece suit then be careful it doesn’t stray too close to a wedding outfit - unless that's the event you’re attending of course! A white shirt is probably more suited to a business meeting, a blue one to a drinks outfit or perhaps a black one for dinner! As long as it fits well and is cleanly pressed then you can play around with the colours a bit.
Throw a crew neck over a shirt if it’s a cold day, or opt for a turtleneck under a jacket instead, both of which are much more widely accepted as a smart casual option these days. If you’ve got a particularly smart shirt then a cardigan could be an interesting and stylish alternative for you. If you’re a fan of a collar then a polo shirt can be a suitable alternative, but you might want to keep it long sleeved to keep yourself warm through the colder months!
3: The Trousers
While there is now available a great range and selection of jeans, be sure to keep the top half smart if you’re going for the denim option. They can quite quickly make semi-formal look too casual for one’s liking. Saying that, when put with a crisp shirt and tailored jacket, they can be spot on the smart casual look. If you’re wanting to avoid a suit trouser then a safer option instead is a chino, a much smarter trouser that keeps that separates look.
Often the best option if it is a business event that you’re off to is a tailored trouser, although remember that if they match your jacket, you’re going to want to avoid wearing a shirt with them to prevent it becoming too business-day. If you’re mixing and matching then choose a trouser that complements the jacket, such as a navy trouser if the jacket has a blue check running through it. Safest is to have a patterned jacket and plain trouser, or vice versa; two patterned pieces can overwhelm an outfit.
4: The Shoes
The shoes are often the element that can make or break an outfit. As mentioned above if it’s a lunch time meeting that’s on the agenda, then a jacket and trainers would be a perfectly adequate look. Perhaps if it is the smarter end of ‘Smart Casual’ that you’re aiming for, then a gorgeous loafer could be a better option.
For a day at work or an evening event it is always better to choose a proper shoe over a casual trainer. A boot is best suited to the daytime and works well with a jean or chino, although try to avoid a trouser with a baggy cut when wearing a boot; they can make you look a bit shapeless. For an evening event, then a shoe would be better suited, especially if added to a tailored, or plain black trouser.
5: The Accessories
Accessories are by far the element of an outfit that you can have greatest variance in with very little risk to pushing your outfit in any one direction; get the groundwork of the outfit right and then you can have a bit of fun with the extras. In brief: ties are good for work, business and weddings; cravats are pretty versatile; a pocket square is best suited for for any event other than work; and a bow tie can be a good option if it fits your personal style!
Use the accessories to inject a pop of colour into your outfit, especially if you’ve gone for some more muted colours. If it’s bold colours your looking for then a silk cravat will take colour from the dying process superbly and is a good choice to brighten up a look. If you need a bit of extra warmth from your outfit, then throw a scarf on over the top for a bit of polish.
So there you have it: some ideas to consider when putting together your ‘Smart Casual’ outfit! The biggest themes here however are to keep it smart, but avoid matching suit pieces and to keep all the colours harmonious. An outfit composed of complementary smart separates will quite often hit the bill for a smart casual event, and don’t forget to have a bit of fun with the accessories!