The Breakdown: Smart Casual Dressing For Men

By Charlie Colville

3 weeks ago

Decoding the dress code

When it comes to dressing up for events, nothing strikes fear quite like the words ‘smart casual’ – and for good reason. Where black tie, cocktail and casual all give us a clear idea of what our host expects us to wear, smart casual sits in a murky area, between dress codes, making it difficult for men and women alike to figure out what they should pull from their wardrobe.

So, what should we be reaching for when the smart casual claxon sounds? Forget the wishy-washy explanations; here’s our guide to smart casual dressing for men.

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Dress Code, Decoded: Smart Casual For Men

What Is A Smart Casual Dress Code?

Simply put, smart casual is a semi-formal dress code that walks a (very) fine line between dressiness and sloppiness. It combines well-fitting, neat casual pieces with a few dressier elements to create an overall polished yet relaxed look, striking a balance between ‘not too casual’ and ‘not too formal’. Some key underpinnings of the dress code include quality fabrics, a good fit (nothing too loose or ill-fitting) and good grooming.

What Does ‘Smart Casual’ Mean For Men?

For men, smart casual dress can include the following:


Despite the word ‘casual’ in the title, you won’t get away with wearing a t-shirt to a smart casual gathering – instead, it’s best for men to stick with button-down shirts and polos in solid colours and subtle patterns. (And even if you’re not a fan of a collar, you can still wear a collar-less shirt.) Depending on the weather, these can be long or short sleeved.

Pink shirt

Alessandro Gherardi

Pink Striped Shirt (Size 41), £60

Brown polo shirt


Riviera Polo Shirt, £135



We’d recommend playing it safe with chinos or cotton trousers – in neutral colours like black, navy, olive and khaki – but in some situations you can wear smart, dark wash jeans.

Turnbull & Asser

Taupe Linen Henry Trousers, £565

Navy chinos

Orlebar Brown

Navy Chinos, £44.06



Casual blazers are perfect for this dress code; although, if lighter layering is required, you can wear a cardigan or a smart v-neck jumper.

Brown blazer

Thom Sweeney

Cashmere Unstructured Single Breasted Jacket, £1,895

Navy cardigan

Hackett London

Overshirt With Stand Collar, £200



Oddly enough, men have more options than they think when it comes to smart casual footwear. Smarter styles like leather dress shoes – oxfords, derbies and loafers are always a winner – and boots will do the job, but you can also get away with wearing a clean, sophisticated trainer.

Brown boots

Crockett & Jones

Chelsea 5 Dark Brown Boot, £575

White trainer


Town Leather Low-Top Trainers, £550


Can Men Wear Smart Casual Dress To Work?

This depends on your place of work. Some offices might ask their employees to wear smart casual attire, while others will require something closer to a full suit and dress shoes. We’d recommend making a call based on what other people are wearing in the office, or, if it’s your first time there, asking your manager what the dress code is.

Can You Wear Jeans?

As we mentioned, jeans can work for a smart casual dress code – but only if they are dak wash without rips or signs of distress.

How About Trainers?

This is often a topic of hot debate, but the general consensus is that men can wear fashion trainers (aka, those you don’t wear to the gym) for a smart casual dress code as long as the trainers in question are clean and minimal in design.

And A Polo Shirt?

Similar reasoning goes for polo shirts; you don’t want to look too sporty, like you’re heading out for a round up golf, so make sure your polo shirt is minimal, of a quality knit and, if possible, logo-less.

Featured image: Hunter Bryant, Unsplash