What does smart casual mean in 2018?

‘Smart-casual’ – it’s a phrase many of us hate to hear. Does it mean jeans are okay? What about a pair of smart trainers? What about a pair of beaten up trainers that dress-down my look?

One person’s smart-casual is another person’s untidy (and probably someone else’s overdressed!) – so I’m here to help you remove the mystery.

I’ll run you through a handful of rules that’ll mean you’re never left feeling awkward – and give you a few tips on staple smart-casual items for your wardrobe…

What is smart-casual?

Dictionary definitions of ‘smart-casual’ don’t really help – they’ll generally suggest ‘smart but comfortable’ or ‘informal’ – but in reality, these terms are useless.

That’s because it’s all about interpretation. I’ve been smart-casual wedding receptions where guys have been more than at home in a pair of Vans – but I’ve also been to workplaces where smart-casual essentially just means you don’t have to wear a tie with your suit.

That’s a very big difference. So, rule one of smart-casual club is to check what everyone else is doing. Clearly, you don’t need to be afraid of asking either – it’s far better to be sure than make a faux-pas, especially at work.  


What ISN’T smart-casual?

There are going to be exceptions to what I’m about to suggest, but, if you hear “smart-casual” mentioned and you want to be sure, you’re almost certainly going to want to avoid the following:

  • Anything that’s intended for sport of any kind – including sports trainers and technical fabrics.
  • Hoodies
  • Logo or slogan t-shirts (I’m hoping you don’t have any of the latter generally)
  • A lot of exposed arm
  • A tie
  • Distressed fabrics – including denim

It’s worth remembering that smart-casual mix-ups don’t just happen from an underdressing point of view – although it’s easier to slip off a tie than it is to redeem yourself if you rock up to an event in shorts – so if there’s any doubt, aim to overdress, rather than under.

Some smart-casual staples

Don’t forget, there’s a lot of interpretation involved with the smart-casual phrase, so what I’m about to suggest doesn’t have to be set in stone – it’s simply a fool-proof guide that’ll never leave you feeling inappropriately dressed.

Here’s how to put together a smart-casual outfit that won’t miss – regardless of age or setting.


  • An unstructured blazer


Blazers are not created equal – so be careful if you’re just dipping into the wardrobe and pulling out a suit jacket. A blazer should have a little more texture than a suit jacket – it’s also going to be cut a little shorter and won’t have such a rigid form.


  • Dark jeans


There will be some places that suggest jeans are too casual – but, done right, they can be perfect. To be sure, you should go for a darker colour – ideally black, slate grey or a deep indigo. A darker stitching keeps things smart – and try hard to make sure you’re not adding unnecessary detail, especially on the back pockets.


  • Oxford or chambray shirt


There’s a shirt for every occasion – so beware not to try to dress down something stiff that’s intended to be worn formally. Oxford button-down or chambray shirts are ideal here, especially as they’ll often come in a variety of weights, making them ideal for all seasons. Don’t be afraid to mix the collar up too, button-down is good, a grandad collar also keeps you smart without looking like you’ve just forgotten a tie.


  • Derbies/Brogues/Chelseas


Footwear’s always tricky – but Derby or Brogue shoes tend to be safe bets (try to avoid anything that’s distressed) or, if you want to go for more of an edgy, rock look, then a Chelsea boot might fit the bill. If the sun is shining, you might be able to push it toward a deck shoe too…

Which fit?

There’s no real ‘fit’ that’s associated with smart-casual – other than really making sure you don’t go too far one way or another.

Are slate grey jeans a solid choice? Yes – but are they a solid choice if they’re spray on? Or oversized and baggy? Probably not.

Smart casual should be comfortable, without being a bold statement based on the way the garments fit. If you’re in any doubt, these 7 quick style tips every man needs to know will keep on you on the straight and narrow…

Where to buy?

The good news is, smart-casual can be done on a budget – which can’t really be said for business-formal.

The staple-items we’ve mentioned above can be mixed up with the simple addition of a cost-effective different shirt – in fact, that’s probably the most noticeable element to change and offer a little variety to the outfit.

If you’d rather keep your money in your wallet, check out a site like myvouchercodes.co.uk – they’ve often got exclusive deals with menswear retailers that’ll see you making smart-casual work for you for a fraction of the high-street price.

When in doubt…

If there’s any doubt, dress up, rather than down. If that dressing up takes you into a 3-piece suit – you’ve gone too far. Then again, if you’re about to leave the house in shorts – think again. When it comes down to it, it’s unlikely to hurt the impression you make on people if you’re the smartest guy in the room…

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Cascade of Colour is a UK Male Lifestyle blog delving in to the world of Mens Fashion and Grooming, Food, Music, Design, Tech and Travel. Want to get in touch? Drop me an email at cascadeofcolour@gmail.com

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