Whether it’s for the ill-fated office party or the obligatory dinner arrangements, a smart-casual dress code can pose somewhat of a conundrum. The term itself is an oxymoron – albeit one of acceptability – with its ambiguity leaving a lot of room for faux-pas as it straddles the most awkward of fashion divides.
Negotiating this minefield however is no life or death situation and nailing a killer smart-casual look is much easier than it appears at first-glance, let alone once the free bar closes.
Tips and Tricks
- Consider the situation. We know the invitation explicitly states smart-casual but if the venue is a three-course meal at a restaurant with a waiting list longer than your winter scarf, jeans are most likely going to be off the menu. On the other hand, jeans are a safe bet if your Christmas get together is a [not so] quiet drink down the local.
- Don’t panic if you get it wrong. It’s not inconceivable that once or twice you will get it wrong and turn up to the aforementioned restaurant in a pair of jeans, or to a dinner around your boss’ house in a tux. On this rare momentary lapse of sartorial excellence it’s best to shrug it off and style it out with confidence. For future reference the “I just came from…” excuse is far from a favourable choice.
- If in doubt dress up not down. I’m obviously not alluding to going all out on a tuxedo when you were originally tossing up between a shirt and a polo. Adding a blazer or tie to your shirt and chino combination is foolproof – it is smart but not formal, and while not acceptable at a black-tie event it’s certainly passable for a dinner party or office get together. You also have the added benefit in that if the party turns out to err more on the casual side of the invite, you can roll up your sleeves and lose the tie or blazer in an instant.
Men’s Smart-Casual Lookbook
FashionBeans Smart-Casual Lookbook
As the lookbook above shows, the smart-casual spectrum is incredibly broad – from a tuxedo-denim pairing to polo necks and bow ties. Selecting an appropriate smart-causal outfit comes down to situation (as mentioned above) and personal style, with that in mind I’m going to put together a selection of looks on both ends of the smart-casual scale.
- Our Legacy Navy Lined Melton Wool Blazer
- ASOS Scoop Neck T-Shirt
- Topman Wine Skinny Suit Trousers
- G.H. Bass Larkin Tassel Loafers
- Burton Black Label Soho Collar Shirt
- E. Tautz Woven Silk Monogram Tie
This first look has a timeless appeal while still remaining youthful and contemporary – blending both smart and casual elements with consummate ease. The colour combination of the burgundy and navy is complimentary and right on trend for the current autumn/winter season. The textured three button blazer offers something slightly out of the norm and contrasts the slicker fabric in the trousers, whilst the wider neck scoop t-shirt provides the youthful undertones and casual overtones.
This look is perfect for a dinner party or night out with colleagues. The outfit also has the potential to be dressed up by replacing the t-shirt with a simple white shirt and detail tie combination.
- e. tautz Merino wool roll-neck jumper
- Paul Smith Jeans Cardigan
- ASOS Skinny Fit Smart Trousers
- Topman Pastel textured 5 Pack Socks
- John Lobb William Leather Monk-Strap Shoes
- ASOS Slim Fit Grey Suit
A polo-neck is a great piece to build a party outfit around and a fantastic alternative to the common shirt. Try utilising double knitwear [as in our lookbook] by layering a thicker textured cardigan over the polo-neck for some smart-casual sophistication. Make sure you have a play with some colour to ensure the look remains on the right side of the divide.
Some neutral light grey trousers play anchor for the brighter top half and some brown monk straps add that sprinkle of alternative excellence. Again, if you’re looking to smarten up, lose the cardigan and replace it with the other half of the suit; be that either the blazer or waistcoat but not both.
- ASOS Slim Fit Shirt
- AllSaints Regent Tux Jacket
- Nudie Jeans Thin Finn Dry Stretch Skinny Jeans
- Topman Purple And Grey Pocket Square
- Coiless Safety Pins-2-1/4 Gold- 50/Pkg
- Paul Smith Shoes Purple Dip Dyed Leather Miller Brogues
The tuxedo may be associated with a strictly black tie dress code but it can be worked into a variety of looks that veer on the casual side of smart. Try utilising a tuxedo jacket with denim, but dark shades only please unless you are aiming for a washed-up rock star vibe.
The jacket will provide enough of a focal point so keep everything else toned down; a white shirt is perfect for this. Forget the tie and be wary of being too flashy with accessories. If you must wear a pocket square, try to stay away from designs and opt for a muted block colour – if you dress the look up too much you’re going to be straying into wannabe rock star territory again.
A safety pin across a fully-buttoned collar would however be an acceptable and unique accessory to bring to the table; a gold version working particularly well with the black in the blazer. Be brave with your footwear and opt for some burgundy/oxblood brogues – loafers are also worth consideration but for this outfit think twice before favouring tassels.
- Acne Slim Fit Cotton Shirt
- Burton Brown Tweed Slim Fit Gunpatch Blazer
- ASOS Cable Jumper
- Charvet Silk Polka Dot Pocket Square
- AllSaints Corduane Iggy
- Hudson Bekker Zip Boot
Take your nod from this season’s big trend, heritage, and stay on the side of the tactile. A tweed blazer is an essential and will serve you well when decoding this dress code. Pair one with some slim cords and layer a cable knit jumper over a shirt to really own the tactile and heritage influences.
Finish off by incorporating some softer silk into the look, in the form of a pocket square. While this look is great for dinner or drinks out, it’s not at all homely so avoid using the whole ensemble for a dinner party. You can however use parts of it – for example you could lose the jumper in favour of a standard V-neck or cardigan. I would personally also consider switching the cords for chinos or possibly jeans if the invite is a more personal one.
Key Smart-Casual Recommendations
- Polo Ralph Lauren Tweed Three Button Blazer
- Drakes Patterned Wool Bow Tie
- Burton Black Label Soho Collar Shirt
- AllSaints Welden V Neck
- Burton British Wool Natural Shawl Neck Cable Knit Cardigan
- ASOS Heavyweight Slim Chino
- Polo Ralph Lauren Red Brushed Cotton Tartan Custom Shirt
- Paul Smith Shoes Chocolate Miller Washed Brogue
- Topman Navy Tonic Skinny Suit Trousers
- Topman Black Loake Fringe Tassle Loafers
- Topman Navy Tonic Suit Waistcoat
- yves saint laurent Knitted silk tie
Well that just about wraps up our decoding of the dreaded ‘smart-casual’ invite this party season, look out for part two which will tackle the more formal occasions.
Just remember that with this particular dress code being particularly ambiguous, it can occasionally be difficult to judge how to dress for the setting. If you do get it wrong (we all do occasionally), then forget about it, be confident, style it out and use it to your advantage – what better conversation starter?
Hopefully between our lookbook and suggested outfits you’ll be getting it right much more than wrong and while we here at FashionBeans can claim to have had a hand in your appearance at the start of the night, we can hold no responsibility for the morning after.
Finally, make sure you let us know in the comments below your favourite ‘go-to’ outfit combinations for smart-casual occasions.