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The Smart Casual Dress Code: What it is and How to Prepare

Most of us have been invited to a party or function with the dreaded smart casual dress code at some point in our lives. Just as many of us, if we’re being honest, have thought to ourselves “what the hell does that mean?” and gone straight to Google in search of answers.

Well, now that you’re here, let’s do a rundown of what to wear and how to prepare.

What exactly is smart casual?

To put it simply, the term essentially means “don’t go all out” while at the same time saying, “at least put a little effort in.” Basically, you want to look like you’re trying, but not too much. Somewhere between a tomato sauce-stained singlet and a tuxedo should suffice.

Okay, so that’s still a little vague. Instead, let’s try learning from other peoples’ mistakes. Plenty of folks read the “casual” part and just throw on some baggy jeans, a pair of sneakers and maybe an old tee. Conversely, others read “smart” and put on their best jacket, some shiny leather shoes and a tie.

Both of these outfits are equally faux pas. Because much like the singlet and the tuxedo, the answer lies somewhere in between.

So, what should I wear then?

Thankfully, it’s not that complicated, at least for men. Women have their own set of rules, but let’s not even begin to think about that.

Down low, the classic choice is to opt for your best pair of chinos, taking into account what colors will compliment the rest of your garb. If it’s an outdoor event, especially on the beach, then a good pair of shorts could be appropriate. An outdoor wedding? Perhaps not. Jeans can be acceptable too, just make sure they are slim fit, stylish and on the darker end of the scale.

Up top, tailored shirts, button ups or polos are usually the best bet, so long as it fits with the event and your personal style. Suit jackets do work for nighttime shindigs like cocktail parties, just be sure to keep it casual by leaving them unbuttoned and wearing something simple underneath.

Finally, shoes depend entirely on the type of event as well as what you’re wearing up top. To give you an idea, slip-on boat shoes, suedes, loafers, espadrilles or even a pair of high-end pair trainers could do the trick. If it’s at the beach, flip-flops are a possibility assuming the rest of your outfit isn’t too scrappy.

How to prepare

As daunting as it sounds, smart casual is actually one of the easiest dress codes to pull of due to the enormous variety of different combinations and flexibility it entails. Anyone with even a passing interest in fashion should already have a killer outfit in their wardrobe.

The key to smart casual is to dress for the occasion. A beachside BBQ engagement party is going to warrant an entirely different outfit than a work Christmas party at a cocktail bar, for example.

Likewise, think about the other guests in attendance. If they tend to dress well, err more towards the smart side. If not, a bit more casual will help you fit in.

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