Smart Casual for Men: Your Ultimate Guide

Smart casual. Even the name evokes an image of a classy man, relaxed and ready to have fun, but looking fantastic. Sounds like a great image for you? Then keep reading! We know our Oliver Wicks readers like to balance style and elegance with just the right degree of casual, easy-wearing appeal. Whether you decide to make every day a smart casual day, or just bust out the perfect outfit for the dress code on demand, we’re here to help you choose the very best wardrobe for you.

One of the biggest appeals of smart casual is that it easily transitions from summer to winter, and you can keep some of your favorites in rotation all year round. It’s comfortable, but you wouldn’t be ashamed to meet your parents-in-law or chat with your boss in it. Let’s find out more about this stellar aesthetic.

What is Smart Casual?

Smart casual has a very relaxed approach - but as we know, that can make things more confusing, not less - if you’re new to the idea of dressing to impress. It’s one of those terms that means everything on how you present to the world, but tells you nothing to help. Especially because this dress code mingles with business casual, and can take you through both relaxed and serious situations. 

Think of smart casual as the art of making typically relaxed pieces look fancy. So, unlike many other dress codes, while there’s a fantastic range of suits, shirts, and accessories to add to your smart casual wardrobe, you can also bring in informal pieces. Yes, we’ve finally reached the point where you can flash a great tee, perfect jeans, your beloved bomber jacket, or some fancy sneakers at the world, and still look great doing it!

However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be slob all the way! You’re going to use these items as statement pieces, dressed up with high-end menswear and great fits, to create a mature and sophisticated look. Sharp is going to be the very first image people have of you - and you’ll always look well-dressed without seeming overdressed. Instead of presenting you with a strict list of do’s and don'ts, this smart casual guide is about creating a look - pressed, poised, and elegant.

Smart casual is also an arena where investment counts. No, that doesn’t mean breaking the budget! Oliver Wicks is here to help you find pieces that fit your budget, but balance real quality with that investment. It is essential, however, that everything you choose for your smart casual look appears expensive. That has less to do with actual cost, and everything to do with it being well-made, perfectly fitted, and sophisticated - Essentially, garments of nice quality and good taste.

a man dressed in a smart casual outfit

When Would I Wear Smart Casual?

Many stylish men use smart casual as their go-to wardrobe. You don’t seem pretentious or a try-hard, but you are ready for anything. Whether it’s meeting the perfect date accidentally or impressing a client you happened to run into, it gives you the confidence that you always look good, but never like a poser.

Of course, there are times when people will actually ask for smart casual. It’s common more with informal weddings, for example. Depending on your industry, it can be a clever choice for job interviews, too, though some corporate environments will need you to be a bit more formal. It’s also great to develop as a go-to style for events and venues with an uncertain dress code.

Smart Casual vs Casual: What’s the Difference?

Here lies the trap! Casual wear only ever comes out of the cupboard for the most informal functions. You can go grocery shopping, or meet a good friend, but you would never want to take it on a date or wear it to a wedding (unless specifically asked to).

Smart casual has a whole lot more versatility. You won’t look out of place at the mall , and you’ll even feel comfortable and put together at a conference or work event. That’s why so many men love it as a go-to style option. You’re always prepared to look great!

Remember what we’ve already learned about smart casual - it takes a few casual pieces, but enhances the overall package by pairing them up with high-end fashion choices so the overall vibe is sophisticated. Casual is just a fun, relaxed vibe. If everything you’re wearing is casual ‘street’ clothing, you haven’t made the smart casual benchmark.

So, Smart Casual vs Business Casual?

These two dress codes can seem very similar on the surface, and they are two sides of the same coin in a way. However, smart casual lets you have a lot of fun that business casual can’t. It’s specifically designed to be unique and expressive. Business casual works in the confines of a relaxed office, so there’s a lot less personality open to you.

Business casual consists entirely of ‘safe’ clothing you can use in a business environment. It’s a narrower and more limited idea than smart casual, which allows for some flash and pizazz. The good news is that many of your existing business casual pieces can form a solid foundation for your smart casual wardrobe.. In context, you could kick off your office shoes after work on a Friday, ditch the tie, throw on some (clean!) plain white sneakers, and you’re ready to hit the bars, with an epic smart casual vibe. 

Smart Casual Wardrobe Basics for Men

There’s a whole wide world of smart casual styles out there, so don’t feel confined by the list here! However, we promise that every one of these staples will form a great core to build your very own smart casual style from, and make a great investment for your collection.

Smart Casual Pants for Men

Let’s start with one of the easiest categories to nail down - appropriate smart casual pants for men.


Yes, you can bust out the dynamite jeans! However, not just any jeans will do. Put back the torn jeans (even the designer ones), your old, comfortable, and garage-stained pair, and those spray-on jeans that leave nothing to the imagination. We want crisp, well-fitting, and tailored jeans in a straight or moderate boot cut. The dye should still be fresh and clean, and they should be immaculate. Black jeans are especially versatile, but a great stonewash will work with any number of outfits, too.


Think quality cotton and classic colors like black, navy, beige, and charcoal. Chinos give you a little more versatility in the legs, and can be more comfortable if you’re moving around a lot. If the dress code is really ambiguous, make chinos your go-to pants. Remember, fit matters on relaxed pant styles, so be sure to make use of our custom service if you have unusual measurements or simply want to be certain you look amazing.

Smart Casual Tops for Men

There’s a far wider range of smart casual tops for men than bottoms, which can be intimidating, yet also exciting. Here’s some classic ideas.


You can’t go wrong with a shirt - or can you? Actually, you can. Anything that needs cufflinks won’t work for smart casual, it’s just too formal. Likewise, (but weather dependent), most long-sleeved shirts are just a touch too dressy when worn like you would wear them to the office. 

That said, you can take a long-sleeved shirt with a bold color, soft pastel, or a crisp white, into a smart casual look with rolled-up sleeves, as long as it looks appropriate, overall, to the destination. Some snappy continental dressers will roll long sleeves down, but open at the cuffs, for an added touch of louche glamor. Make sure you choose a collar you can wear semi-open for this look. We suggest a thicker, opaque cotton for smart casual. Not only is it practical, but it adds a touch of luxury that's hard to beat.


We bet you never saw this one coming, did you! Yes, the Oliver Wicks team is finally giving you permission to wear a tee - but not just any t-shirt. Put down the band shirt and walk away! 

Smart casual can make clever use of plain color, non-graphic tees. As with your jeans, they need to be crisp and look new. Think clean, strong dyes (or crisp white) without warping from the washing machine. 

Of course, no stains, deodorant marks, or holes! You also want to stick to a classic t-shirt (no muscle shirts or vests) with a good, solid structure and clean neckline. 

If a shirt to t-shirt is too big of a jump, why not go half way and opt for a polo shirt? You can tuck it in for a clean look, or leave it untucked if you want to lean more on the casual side.. Polo necks have a great role to play, too, in colder climates or seasons - just match them up to the guidelines for standard tees. Just remember to wear the polo collar down… a popped collar is super cheesy!

Jackets and Outerwear for Smart Casual

Great outerwear is going to be the make-or-break for your smart casual look, so invest wisely.


Because only a few suits strictly meet the smart casual criteria - think more informal looks like linen suits, or anything you’d see on a pier by the owner’s yacht - you’re going to need a fantastic jacket to seal the deal. We mentioned using quirky and eccentric choices like a bomber jacket above, which can work for confident guys who already have their smart casual vibe nailed down, but don’t start with quirky if you’re new to the idea.

A great, less-structured sport coat or blazer is a godsend when building your smart casual wardrobe. We’d kick off with a navy jacket with great lines, and build to other options from there.

With all that said, don’t be afraid to use your suit jacket in the world of smart casual if you want to. A blazer is more suited for the role, but your formal jacket will still get you there. 


Climate-dependent, some chic knitwear can squeeze into smart casual, although it’s very easy to veer off into grand-dad territory if you don’t balance it well. Avoid chunky knits and loose fitting knitwear, but a smart, thin knit in a classic color can work. Cashmere and good jersey knits work well. Much like a suit, the key to pulling this off is a good fit that compliments your physique. 


For most circumstances, your jacket is going to play this role - but we’ve seen the hip-high snow that sometimes plagues Northern climates. If it’s genuinely cold enough that you need another layer, you can use a coat to your advantage. 

Avoid the creepy brown overcoat that will get you banned from school districts, and look for a well-made, tailored-cut coat that matches the overall relaxed-but-elegant vibe for best results. 

Some guys wear a leather duster well for the same use, but remember what we mentioned under ‘jackets’. It will have to be in great condition, in an elegant cut, and well-cared for to make the benchmark. Avoid excessive ornamentation like etching (hello, cowboy!) and studs (unless you’re fronting for your punk band). If anyone starts looking for your mohawk or yelling ‘yee-ha’, you got this one wrong.

Shoes for Smart Casual

Shoes have a surprising impact on your overall look, so your choice will matter a lot more than you think.


Actual leather loafers, like a t-shirt, can fit smart casual, but only with the same rules in play. Anything that looks like you’ve worn it a long time can quickly become aging and too casual, so keep them impeccable.


Some confident dressers can flash their branded Air Jordans in smart casual, but you tend to end up looking a little too gauche. Instead, think structured, minimalist sneakers that look ‘grown-up’, without big brand logos on the side. Navy and black are classic choices, and white is an eye-popping, confident choice - but make sure it’s the cleanest white you’ve ever seen. Avoid lurid neon add-ons and flash.


If you’re not sure where to start, go for a classic pair of leather lace-ups like the Oxford shoe. You can’t really go wrong with this. Skip the full dress shoe, and show a little personality, but keep it sleek.


A great pair of boots is a good look, too. Leather and suede work well. Steer away from styles that scream industrial or ‘character’ (gothic, cowboy, and so on) and instead look for minimalist, elegant options. Mock riding boots, however, will slide seamlessly into smart casual.

Accessories for Smart Casual

Life wouldn’t be fun if we couldn’t accessorize, would it? We’re not going to break this down into specific pieces, because what accessories look good in smart casual will depend heavily on the rest of your look. If you’ve gone very sleek and minimal, then one flashy statement piece will look great. If you’re already opting for something relaxed in your clothing choices - like sneakers - you want to not overdo the overall look with a ton of flashy extras.

A high-quality men's watch is a great way to step-up a look, especially with a long-sleeved shirt. If you’re using a belt, we’d suggest keeping it very simple and sleek in a classic brown or black. Ostentatious buckles make you look more like a character than a confident man. The same goes for shades - a smart pair can be wonderful, but don’t go too kitsch. If belts are boring, add some quirky personality with suspenders

Cufflinks, as we mentioned, are a no-no for this dress code - they’re just too formal. You can add some elegant jewelry to the mix, but steer away from anything that seems too young and exuberant. Keep it to browns, blacks, and classic metallics that look expensive.

In cooler weather, a high-quality scarf always looks great. Make sure it’s a thin knit or opt for fabric, as with knitwear. This is the perfect chance to showcase a cashmere scarf to its best! 

You can skip socks for a smart casual look, and it's especially trendy right now, but think of the practical, too. If you’ll feel uncomfortable, your shoes will pinch, or you get sweaty, it might be better to hang on to the socks and direct attention to your personal style elsewhere. Or add some fun with a brighter sock choice, which is also a fashion trend of the moment!

Smart Casual Styling Tips and FAQs

The best smart casual tip we can offer you is to keep your goals with the style in mind. By now it’s probably very obvious that it’s a versatile dress code without the rigid definitions of something like black-tie eventing. So take a few moments to think about what matters most for you. Do you want to look smarter, but stay comfortable over everything else? Are you hoping to project an aura of authority? Or, are you wearing this for a specific occasion, like a laid-back stag do, and hoping to blend in seamlessly?

Once you have your priorities nailed down, dressing accordingly will become a lot easier.

Investing in your look

As you’ve also realized, upgrading from casual to smart casual hinges on using a few luxury, well-tailored items to boost other pieces you choose for comfort and practicality. The best way to do this cost-effectively and with style is to really invest in a few key pieces you can wear for years to come. Then you can add the fun back with a few trendy items that you can cycle out as they become drab.

Starting to dress in smart casual

When you first start out with smart casual, work to the classics. Think neutral colors for your chinos and blazers, classic leather shoes, and black or navy jeans. While these are still quite formal choices, they’re also timeless, will never go out of fashion, and provide a strong base to build your looks on. As you get more confidence and a better sense of personal style, you can go wilder. The same goes for general use of color - stick to the classics to start, then introduce a pop or two of something interesting as you gain confidence.

Personality Counts

With your more casual items, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine. You have already created an elegant, solid base, so you can have a little fun. Whether it’s luxury fabrics or bold colors, it adds a notable touch that will make your smart casual look pop.

So Does Occasion

That said, remember that the crux of being an elegant man is knowing when to let others take center stage. So keep the occasion in mind, too. If you’re just creating a personal look, you can be more creative than if you’re heading to a job interview or attending a wedding. Match the look to the environment and social context, and you’ll always look great.

Explore Texture

Fabric can do a lot to elevate or drag down a look. For smart casual, a great way to bring a funkier piece into line with a classic look is to opt for a high-end fabric like silk, cashmere, or even a quality cotton or linen. While it’s OK to lean trendy at times, stay away from any fabric that makes you think ‘cheap’ right off the bat - many polyesters fall into this trap, as they can look shiny and stiff. But do have some fun with interesting textures.

Clean & Ironed

Smart casual isn’t an excuse to lower your standards, in fact, an immaculate presentation of the garments is somewhat of a trade secret when it comes to looking sharp. Iron that top, even if it’s just a t-shirt, and tackle your shoes with a suitable cleaner to get rid of any scuffing from the last wear. Dirty shoes and wrinkled shirts will take you from hero to zero before you can say the words “smart casual”. 

Fit Matters

There’s a reason our slogan at Oliver Wicks is ‘the fit that suits you’. The single greatest fashion takeaway from all our articles should be that true style lies in a great fit. When you dress well for the body you have, not the one you’d like or the one you had a decade ago, you instantly elevate yourself into elegance. A man who can select clothes that he can wear perfectly, as if they were made for him alone, will always stand out from the crowd. Get a great primary fit, and let a tailor fix any little niggles, and you’ll look classy from the start.

And there you have it! With the basics of smart casual under your belt, you have the perfect inspiration to start building a look you love. Remember that Oliver Wicks has a vast range of fantastic options for smart casual looks, and our custom made-to-measure option is always there for you if you need a little more than our off-the-shelf options have to offer. We’re sure you will find the perfect pieces for your smart casual basics in our collection, so have fun finding your elegant new wardrobe! Please reach out with any questions you may have at And remember - you can always join our mailing list for access to style tips, help articles, and more.

If you’re after a practical guide, with instructional videos, we’d suggest creating an account on our site (free of charge, with no purchase obligations). Here you’ll be able to access our measurement videos, which walk you through every step of measuring in an easy-to-follow process that can have you measured from head to toe in 15-minutes or less. 

To learn more, check out the links in this article for more in-depth resources on sizing and measurements from Oliver Wicks