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The 10 Best Smart Casual Dress Shoes for Men in 2021
Today more than ever, it can be tricky reading between the lines of dress codes. Some scenarios are completely straightforward, like “casual” (no collars necessary) or “business attire” (tie required). But what about terms like “smart casual?”
Smart casual dress signifies a step above casual, but definitely below formal or even traditional business attire. Even when you sort that out and manage to decide on the right clothes, what type of shoes should you wear?
Fortunately, there’s a category of shoes designed specifically for these scenarios – smart casual dress shoes. Walking the line between too casual and too dressy, these shoes offer men the best of both worlds and ensure you’re never either under or overdressed. Smart casual shoes look just as good dressing up jeans or chinos as they do dressing down a suit, and are ideal for those times when you’re just not totally sure what the dress code is.
To demystify this somewhat blurry-edged category of men’s fashion, we’ve rounded up our top 10 picks. Enjoy!
1. Allbirds Tree Toppers
Our list of the best smart casual shoes for men starts with a pair of Allbirds Tree Toppers, a stylish, unique shoe that looks like a cross between a chukka boot and a sneaker. The Tree Toppers’ looks aren’t the only thing that set them apart from other shoes on the market – they’re also made from eco-friendly materials like eucalyptus tree fiber (the uppers) and sugarcane EVA foam (the soles).
These Allbirds come in 11 colors (four-core, seven limited-edition) and strike a perfect balance between casual and dressy. You can easily pair these with jeans or chinos, or wear them with a suit for a playful look. Bonus: they’re machine-washable.
2. Todd Snyder Alden
We’re huge fans of Todd Snyder here at Next Luxury. The brand always perfectly nails the smart casual style of dress, and everything is both impeccably made and outrageously comfortable.
That’s exactly the case with the Todd Snyder Alden, an unlined classic Dover-style shoe. The light-colored suede (Todd Snyder calls it “Snuff”) and flexible leather sole are somehow neither casual nor dressy. They’re even specifically designed so you can wear them without socks if you prefer, making them excellent with just about any outfit. People also routinely call the Aldens “slippers,” referring to the fact that they don’t require a break-in period and can be comfortably worn all day.
3. Castaner Pablo Suede Espadrilles
Espadrilles are somewhat of a polarizing style for men – people generally either love or hate them without much in between. If you’re not very familiar with them, espadrilles provide a stylish, sophisticated, and comfortable alternative to flip-flops.
In the case of the Castaner Pablo, the family-run company’s flagship style gets a modern update with suede. The material and neutral color options give the shoes a bit of a luxe feel, but the classic woven sole keeps them on the clearly casual side. Pair with cuffed trousers or chinos and a breezy button-down shirt to perfect the smart casual look.
4. Clarks Desert Boot Sand Suede
The Clarks Desert Boot is easily one of the most celebrated, well-loved, and iconic men’s boots in any category. That should come as no surprise since Clarks itself is coming up on its 200th year of business. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is that the Desert Boot still bears its original design from 1950.
It’s perfect as a smart casual shoe, toeing the line (pun very much intended) between sneaker and dress boot. Particularly in a light neutral color like sand and the slightly more casual suede material, the Desert Boot looks great with everything from jeans to chinos and immediately elevates more casual outfits.
5. Scarosso Michael Petrol Suede Driving Shoe
Driving shoes are the ultimate in smart casual dress fashion. Just taking a quick glance at them, it’s clear that they’re a step up from casual but definitely not as formal as, say, wingtip Oxfords.
The Michael Petrol Suede from Italian brand Scarosso stands out as a shoe that adds a distinct leisurely feel to any ensemble, particularly in warm-weather months. Their green color will certainly garner a few compliments and allows the shoes to stand as their own statement accessory. As a bonus, all Scarosso shoes are hand-crafted in Italy and come with a surprisingly affordable price tag.
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6. Marsell Casual Derby Shoe
Derby shoes are widely considered to be at the more casual end of the dress shoe spectrum, but these ones from Marsell are in a class all by themselves.
The chunky sole and tie laces give them a unique (and ultra-modern) whimsical look, but the crisp white 100% leather upper and rounded toe keeps them firmly in the not-too-casual category. You can get away with pairing these casual derby shoes with everything from jeans to a suit but be prepared for stares and compliments whenever you wear them out.
7. Tod’s Gommino Driving Shoes
Remember when we said driving shoes are the ultimate smart casual footwear? We meant it. The Gommino from Tod’s is smart, refined, and uber-stylish, yet somehow also retains a bit of a casual, easy-breezy look and feel.
These slip-on driving shoes feature a tie detail, rounded toe, and a rubber peg sole that extends up the back of the heel. It’s meant to be strictly functional, offering a strong shoe-to-pedal grip for driving, but it gives the shoes a little something extra in the style department. Wear them with virtually anything except for socks – these shoes are meant to be worn on their own.
8. Timberland Men’s Earthkeepers 3-Eye Boat Shoe
Boat shoes laid the groundwork for smart casual fashion long before it was actually coined smart casual fashion. They’re generally a bit more casual than loafers, but still just as comfortable and sharp. One of the best things about boat shoes, though, is that they look great with shorts pants. Be sure to wear no-show socks and show some ankle!
Keeping true to the brand’s legendary reputation, Timberland’s Earthkeepers Boat Shoe is a rugged take on the iconic classic. With a full-grain leather upper and classic Timberland lug soles, these shoes are rugged and ready for adventures both off-shore and on land.
9. Common Projects Original Achilles Leather Trainers
Common Project has a global cult-like following, and it all started with the Original Achilles sneaker in white. These all-leather sneakers are minimalist (and we do mean minimalist – the single distinguishing feature on them is a metallic gold serial number on the shoes’ exterior) and incredibly well-constructed. You’re not likely to find so much as a single loose thread.
The price tag is undoubtedly higher than many of the smart casual shoes on this list, but you’ll get your money’s worth, as you’ll reach for these time and time again. The Original Achilles look fantastic with just about everything, but especially with cuffed denim or chinos.
10. Brunello Cucinelli Lace-Up Derby Shoes
Every man needs a pair of great derby shoes in his wardrobe, and you can’t do much better than these ones from Brunello Cucinelli. While these shoes are far and away the most expensive on our list, the Italian brand is credited with introducing the world to elevated sneakers and is still widely regarded as one of the best in the business.
Light-colored suede and a 100% rubber sole lend these Brunello Cucinelli derby shoes a decidedly relaxed look. Wear them with jeans and a polo shirt, or pair them with a suit to bring the formality level down a notch.
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Casual Dress Shoes FAQs
A casual dress shoe can be defined by something as simple as its material. For example, picture a pair of classic leather brogues, arguably one of the most iconic types of men’s dress shoes. Now take that same shoe and imagine it in suede – it’s decidedly more casual now, but still definitely smart.
On the other side of the coin, do the same exercise, but this time with a pair of sneakers. In a material such as canvas or a loud color, the shoe is unquestionably casual. But in leather or a dark, solid color, it’s an elevated shoe that easily works in smart casual dress environments.
To be honest, there isn’t much of a distinction between smart casual and business casual. In fact, some people use the terms interchangeably. A general rule is that the term “business casual” applies specifically to shoes you would wear to the office, whereas “smart casual “refers to shoes you’d wear to events and activities outside the office. To put that into a real-life perspective, even the nicest sneakers probably fall under smart casual as opposed to business casual.
You can wear smart casual shoes to almost any place or event, aside from those specifically designated as formal. This type of footwear is at home on dinner dates, in the office (as long as the rest of your outfit is business-appropriate), hanging out with friends, and even attending some weddings.
Just about! Since smart casual men’s shoes work in most scenarios, they also work well with most outfits. You may not want to wear them with a tuxedo for a wedding you’re in, but almost every other outfit is on the table. Smart casual shoes look great with shorts, denim, chinos, many work outfits, and even suits.