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Smart casual: Decoding the dress code

March 7, 2018

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Many events indicate “smart casual” whether informal corporate, personal social occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries or cocktail parties. However, it can cause an element of stress when you are instructed that the event is going to be “smart casual” simply because the term doesn’t always mean the same thing to all people. So, if you’re going smart casual, let’s take a look at what you might wear.

When to wear?

There’s a fine line between sloppy casual and smart casual. You want to look effortless without looking like you’ve tried too hard. Looking chic and well dressed without going over the top can be difficult whether you’re aiming for a corporate look for the office or a more casual cocktail after work affair.

The Smart casual dress code is becoming more popular for dinner parties too. It usually bodes well to err on the side of caution and avoid jeans and teeshirt, and at the other end of the scale a 3 piece suit! Somewhere in the middle with a smart shirt and chinos for men and a casual but pretty dress or linen trousers and elegant top for women.

If you’re attending an interview, it’s good to take extra consideration. It’s worthwhile being aware of the culture of the office that you will be working in, so you can wear something which is in keeping and lets you instantly fit in. choosing a casual business outfit which enables you to fit in with the rest of the office is always a good idea. Even if you’re unsure of the dress code, if you’re in the business arena, you should look like you’ve made the effort and look well turned out.

Some staple items

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You really don’t need to invest in a whole new wardrobe to look business casual. With just a few core items you can achieve the look easily. One of the most important items in your wardrobe is a smart blazer that can be styled up or down. If you choose one which is comfortable and you’ll be guaranteed to look effortlessly smart without looking too stuffy. A blazer in a couple of colours, navy or beige is a great way to smarten up a shirt and trouser look for men. Navy is less severe than black and beige or cream is great for a summer look with a pastel shirt and linen or cotton trousers.


A fundamental element of any outfit is your footwear. Investing in a good pair of leather shoes in brown or black will see you through many a quandary when it comes to your outfit. You’ll be guaranteed to look suave, well-tailored but edging towards casual. A pair of leather loafers can give off a more casual vibe as can traditional leather brogues with fine laces. This can really take your outfit to the next level of smart casual. Brogues are super in a colder season, but if you want to look ultra-stylish, loafers look great on a hot summers day if you want to let your ankles show. They’re also super comfortable and are less formal than Oxford style shoes. Brown is a great choice because you can pair them with chinos, linen trousers, or cotton trousers for an on-trend look.


Invest in a pair of smart trousers that match well with the rest of your wardrobe too. A light pair of chinos are a good option for warmer weather, as they can brighten up your outfit whilst keeping you looking smart. If you feel more comfortable in jeans, try to choose a darker denim as this gives off a more formal vibe — just avoid distressed or ripped denim at all costs.

The full outfit

A man wearing a suit and tie

It can be hard to style for business casual, especially if it’s not something that you’re used to. CT Shirts, who are experts in men’s fashion and retailers of men’s shirts, has made some suggestions:

One trick of achieving the perfect look is to add to your wardrobe a fine roll neck jumper which is perfect for layering up in winter weather. A fine knit can look smart and be worn under a blazer. Wearing a fine navy, wine or grey rollneck jumper during winter months can look 007 smart, shaken not stirred. A matching coloured pocket kerchief and coordinated socks can really complete the look. Wearing a soft moleskin trouser for winter, or casual cotton trouser will really take your outfit up a notch and tie it all together.

If you want to instantly transform from uptight business smart to more casual, shed the tie, and open a couple of top buttons. A linen collarless shirt will add some texture for summer. Wear it long and sling a blazer over your shoulder for a little Je ne sais quoi Agatha Christie mystery and you won’t look out of place on the Orient Express. The better your tailoring, the smarter the look, if you prefer not to go without some form of neckerchief, try a cravat for a pop of colour.

Unfasten a few buttons on a smart shirt to dress it down slightly. An open collar shirt paired with a double-breasted jacket can create an ideal look for the fashion-conscious gentleman. Choose complementing colours for the shirt and blazer, such as different hues of blue or grey, to really make your outfit come together. Slip into tailored trousers, chinos or jeans and pair with brogues to complete the look.

Investing in a good suit cover and lint roller or clothes brush can complete your sartorial elegance and show you’ve made the effort without looking prissy. A hint of polish on your shoes, and you’ll be spruced and ready to go to any event, all that’s missing will be a set of cufflinks and that obligatory G&T!

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