The balancing act between the smart-casual divide is what can make this particular mode of attire an uphill battle. Too smart and you risking looking overdressed, too casual and you can appear sloppy in comparison to others. Conventional style wisdom does however argue that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

The trick to nailing smart or business casual is to take your lead from the first word of this dress code. In terms of the finished product, you are ultimately going to be leaning slightly to the smarter side of the spectrum, so tuck in that shirt, shine those shoes and let’s begin.

Smart-Casual Outfit Inspiration
Smart-Casual Lookbook

Before we start, let’s take a look at a variety of smart-casual looks, which will help set the tone for the rest of the article:

Men's Smart-Casual Outfit Inspiration

Look One: Simple Smart-Casual

The most basic of smart casual outfits consists of a chino, shirt, blazer and smart shoe combination. With the resurgence of chinos as the popular go-to legwear choice, they’ve become an acceptable option to wear as a smart-casual piece, in place of more tailored trousers.

A block-colour shirt in a traditional hue i.e. white, blue, pink etc. is a safe option, but a simple patterned shirt could be used to bring some personality and individuality to a look. A navy blazer is one of the most versatile pieces in a man’s wardrobe – it seemingly tops almost every ‘essential’ list – so it’s definitely worth investing.

Chinos in a safe, neutral colour such as grey are impossible to do wrong, especially when married with a pair of rich chocolate brown shoes. If you’re opting for a belt, keep it slim, smart and matching the leather of your shoes – you don’t want fall victim to a rookie style mistake.

To add some punch to your ensemble, accessorise with a pocket square. For true smart casual, however, leave the tie back home and the top button undone.

  • Topman Peter Werth Polka Dot ShirtTopman Peter Werth Polka Dot Shirt
  • Reiss Shore 2button Patch Pocket Blazer NavyReiss Shore 2button Patch Pocket Blazer Navy
  • Allsaints Tokai Pocket Square SetAllsaints Tokai Pocket Square Set
  • Reiss Slowear Incotex Pleated Slim-fit Cotton-twill ChinosReiss Slowear Incotex Pleated Slim-fit Cotton-twill Chinos
  • Paul Smith Accessories Chocolate Vintage Stripe Keeper Suit BeltPaul Smith Accessories Chocolate Vintage Stripe Keeper Suit Belt
  • Asos Derby Shoes In LeatherAsos Derby Shoes In Leather
Look Two: Downtown

Denim continues to emerge as a more appropriate choice for offices within the creative industries and those with a penchant for ‘dress-down Fridays’. When it comes to jeans in a smart-casual setting keep them dark, clean and well fitted. Light wash jeans certainly have their place in the wardrobe, as Will recently discussed, but for all smarter purposes stick to a darker indigo wash.

A plain white shirt and casual blazer gives this look an edge of refinement. Alternatively, you could opt for a cardigan or waistcoat while accessorising with a tie. Keep the shoes suitably smart, depending on where you’re going – desert boots or brogues are often suitable for most occasions.

  • Bespoken Slim-fit Cotton Oxford ShirtBespoken Slim-fit Cotton Oxford Shirt
  • Allsaints Spires BlazerAllsaints Spires Blazer
  • Levis Raw Selvedge 511 Slim JeansLevis Raw Selvedge 511 Slim Jeans
  • Reiss Clements Natural Sole Brogue TanReiss Clements Natural Sole Brogue Tan
Look Three: Autumn/Winter

When the mercury drops and the layers rise, a season-appropriate smart casual outfit will see you from morning to night and from work to the bar.

Add a tactile element to your outfit with some woollen, corduroy or tweed trousers. A rollneck is both on trend and practical for the cold weather. However if you’re not a fan, a shirt or polo with a cable knit layered over the top shows you know how to adapt.

A heritage style blazer over the top and some desert boots complete this stylish yet seasonal appropriate look.

  • Reiss Crosby Wool Roll Neck NavyReiss Crosby Wool Roll Neck Navy
  • Topman Walnut Heritage BlazerTopman Walnut Heritage Blazer
  • Slowear Incotex Patterned Slim-fit Wool TrousersSlowear Incotex Patterned Slim-fit Wool Trousers
  • Asos High Desert BootsAsos High Desert Boots
Look Four: Making Use of Knitwear

Layering is becoming an essential skill as the calendar months fly by. Knitwear is a great way to add some warmth and another dimension to your smart-casual looks in the colder months.

A classic V-neck is the perfect base, especially if used alongside a tie to smarten up some denim. Alternatively, you could add texture through a cable knit or chunky cardigan. For a slightly different approach, consider a long-sleeved polo shirt type jumper over a shirt and tie pairing.

Loafers work well with this look. Although, if the weather is a little brisk, consider wearing socks with them- think Ivy League prep.

  • Taylor And Wright Essential ShirtTaylor And Wright Essential Shirt
  • Allsaints Yale Cashmere V-neckAllsaints Yale Cashmere V-neck
  • Asos Slim Cotton TieAsos Slim Cotton Tie
  • J Brand Denim Tyler Slim-fit Dry Denim JeansJ Brand Denim Tyler Slim-fit Dry Denim Jeans
  • Reiss Saxon Polka Dot Sock AubergineReiss Saxon Polka Dot Sock Aubergine
  • Asos Penny Loafers In SuedeAsos Penny Loafers In Suede
Look Five: Casual-Smart

Earlier I mentioned the simple art of taking your lead from the smart (or business) element of the dress code. For this look I’m going to turn that advice on its head, as for some occasions a more casual approach is required. Put this technique to use only where you know the host and perhaps expect them to turn out slightly more casual than smart.

A pair of mature trainers is certainly worth considering when looking to dress down a look. Equally, if you don’t quite feel comfortable with that option, opt for suitably structured casual oriented alternatives.

  • Paul Smith London White Classic Business ShirtPaul Smith London White Classic Business Shirt
  • Reiss Farrow Waffle Stitch Cardigan Mid Grey HeatherReiss Farrow Waffle Stitch Cardigan Mid Grey Heather
  • Burton Tapered Slim Indigo ChinoBurton Tapered Slim Indigo Chino
  • Converse Jack Purcell Leather SneakersConverse Jack Purcell Leather Sneakers

Smart-casual – or ‘business casual’ depending on where you’re from – has become somewhat of a fashion buzzword as of late. Dictating everything from office dress to dinner dates, this is one code of wardrobe conduct that most guys could do without trying to decipher.

With these five looks under your [suitably smart-casual] belt, hopefully you have found inspiration to help you bridge this devious gap.

  • How do you go about styling smart-casual?
  • What is your go-to smart-casual outfit?
  • Have you had any smart-casual style triumphs or nightmares?

Let us know in the comments below…