What Is Smart Casual Attire?
You’ve probably heard the term “smart casual” thrown around when it comes to fashion and style, but what exactly is it? At its very basic, smart casual attire is the love child of casual wear and business casual attire. Picture the employees of a hip start-up company, a creative marketing office, or an up-and-coming media company that caters to millennials, and what they’d wear to the office – that’s basically smart casual attire in a nutshell.
The great thing about smart casual attire is that you have a bit more freedom when it comes to styling your outfits, and depending on the event or where you’re going, you can still look professional and/or event-appropriate while showcasing your personal taste in fashion – something that you’re not exactly able to do with smart casual attire’s similar yet oh-so-different counterpart, business casual.
What Is the Difference Between Smart Casual and Business Casual?
While smart casual and business casual attire may seem interchangeable, there are a few subtle differences between the two – the main difference being that smart casual is less formal than business casual. We’ll get into the specifics of smart casual below, but typically, a smart casual wardrobe or outfit can include chinos, high quality fitted denim in dark washes, short and long-sleeve button downs, sweaters, sport coats, blazers, and even high-quality plain t-shirts if the dress code is on the more casual side.
And although there isn’t one technical definition for business casual attire, this type of dress code for men typically includes neutral dress pants or slacks in materials like wool, cotton, or a cotton blend, basic long sleeve button down shirts, sweaters, and black or brown leather brogues, Oxfords, or other dress shoes.
For reference, a full suit would be too formal for business casual attire, while wearing chinos and a plain t-shirt would be considered too casual – which is where smart casual attire comes in because chinos and a high-quality plain tee could totally work in a smart casual environment when paired with a sport coat or blazer. Of course, what you wear when it comes to both smart casual and business casual attire depends on the event you’re going to, the weather, the environment, and more, so keep that in mind when putting together your smart casual look.
Where To Wear Smart Casual Attire
Smart casual attire is appropriate for many different environments, including the office, on a date, to a party, dinner with your friends and family, and even to a wedding. It is important to note that because smart casual attire is a bit of a middle ground when it comes to dress code, you should always double-check with the event organizer, HR person in your office, or place you’re going to for what they deem to be smart casual, so you’re neither underdressed nor overdressed.
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Smart Casual: What Not To Wear
While you definitely have more freedom when putting together a smart casual outfit, there are a few items of clothing you should avoid completely, as they’re definitely too casual for a smart casual dress code. Avoid graphic t-shirts, joggers, slides, pants or shorts with excess pockets (aks cargo shorts), or basically anything you’d wear to lounge around the house in, run to the grocery store, go to the gym, etc.
You should also avoid loud patterns and visible branding (small logos are totally fine), and pay attention to the fit of your clothing; anything too baggy or too tight will make you look sloppy and oblivious to the dress code. On the flip side, you should also avoid anything that’s too formal, like wool slacks or a suit coat (by now you should know that you can only wear a suit coat with its matching trousers).
Smart Casual Tops
To say you have a bit of freedom when it comes to choosing tops for your smart casual attire might be the understatement of the century. As previously mentioned, you can totally get away with wearing a t-shirt if the dress code is on the ultra-casual side; however, stick to basic tees in neutral colors, like white or black, and make sure they’re made from high-quality fabric.
You can get pretty creative with button down shirts, both long sleeve and short sleeve. If you opt for a short sleeve shirt, try one with a funky pattern or in a bold color.
For long sleeves, you can never go wrong with a crisp white shirt, but a chambray button down or striped pattern will add a fresh, stylish twist to any outfit. As far as jackets go, a sport coat with interesting details like elbow patches or a classic navy blazer is the perfect addition to a smart casual outfit if the weather is a bit cooler or you want to dress a little more on the formal side.
Smart Casual Pants
There are a few different options when it comes to smart casual pants, the main two being chinos and dark-washed denim. Of course, chinos in neutral colors like khaki, bone, navy, and grey are always a go-to; however, don’t count out bold colors when it comes to smart casual wear – depending on the dress code, you can totally get away with wearing oxblood, cobalt blue, or even salmon-colored chinos.
On the other hand, fitted straight-leg denim in dark washes is another option for smart casual pants, but the dark wash is key; avoid lighter washes, as well as destroyed and ultra-skinny styles.
Smart Casual Shoes
Choosing the right footwear for smart casual attire is actually a lot easier than you might think. While you should never wear slides, flip flops, or cross trainers with your outfit, you can definitely get away with wearing sneakers, as long as they are clean, are in a solid color, and in a swanky material, like leather or suede – avoid canvas sneakers, as they can be a little too casual for the dress code.
Loafers can also be worn with most smart casual outfits, as can Oxfords, brogues, and other leather or suede dress shoes. And although they’re stylish and can be dressed up or down, stay clear of leather boots, as they might look too casual and out of place with smart casual attire.
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