The smart casual dress code is described as ‘neat, traditional, yet relatively informal in style, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Smart casual is a very popular dress code these days, and it can be divided into formal and informal smart casual wear.
Formal & informal smart casual wear
A formal smart casual dress code usually consists of a jacket or blazer, flannels, needlecord trousers, or chinos (not jeans), a shirt with a collar (not a T-shirt), and good shoes (not necessarily lace-ups, but not trainers or sandals). However, for the informal smart casual dress code, you can also opt for a spotless pair of dark-coloured jeans matched with a polo shirt (preferable to collarless T-shirts), and probably an outfit that is a step up from what you have been wearing at home. The informal smart casual dress code remains ambiguous and is open to an individual’s interpretation. The difficulty in defining ‘smart casual’ is partly because it might mean quite different things in different contexts.
Differences between casual & smart casual dress code
The latter is stepping things higher when comparing casual and smart casual apparel. While wearing jeans and a t-shirt can be seen as casual dressing, smart casual may involve donning a collared polo instead of a basic t-shirt or pants with a deeper wash. Another distinction is that smart casual appears more polished. Smart casual also gives an air of professionalism or, at the very least, shows that you gave your outfit some attention, whereas casual might come off as slouchy or lazy (we're looking at you, baggy trousers!). Having said that, casual clothing might be a terrific place to start when looking for the perfect smart casual outfit. Start with items from your everyday wardrobe, and add a few classier or flashier pieces. This should help you choose an outfit that is a touch finer than what you would regularly wear without compromising your comfort or distinctive personal style.
5 key smart casual pieces
These are the five essential items that every man's wardrobe must include for smart casual events.
1. Unstructured blazer
There is no getting around the fact that a tailored blazer, also a workhorse of business casual, is the quickest way to nail the smart casual dress code. Purchase a jacket that can ideally serve both professional and casual purposes that can go from work to play flawlessly. The blazer should be fashioned from a more textured fabric than the typical suit jacket, cut shorter, and structured with less rigidity for it to pass as smart casual. Additionally, it should be much easier and more versatile to wear.
2. The blazer bomber
Yes, a blazer is the cornerstone of formal and business-smart casual wear. But what about situations where a fitted jacket – no matter how unstructured – is simply too formal? This is where the ‘blazer bomber’ comes in handy. The blazer bomber look has a particular formality payload because it is inspired by the uniform-wearing armed services. However, the bomber jacket must be more streamlined than a military-issue MA-1, come in a dark colour (such as navy or black), and be constructed of a more opulent and matte fabric (preferably wool or cotton) than the typical shiny nylon to pass as smart casual. The blazer bomber is your wingman for smart-casual missions!
3. The chambray shirt
Oxford button-down shirts go well with both professional and business casual attire. Unless you work from home, in which case you won't have to dress at all, they would be at the office. Therefore, we recommend the chambray shirt for smart casual wear in the spirit of variety. Chambray has a similar appearance to denim while not identical to it (denim is woven in a twill rather than alternating warp and weft). It can also be found in a range of weights and finishes. In most cases, though, it will smarten or casualise an outfit, but only a little in either case.
4. Dark jeans
Chinos or ‘khakis’ (actually a colour, not a style) are one of the foundational pieces of business casual and can be expanded into the smart casual dress code, just like the polo shirt. We'll favour plain, dark selvedge jeans with little bells, whistles, and western pocket detail because the latter is more casual than the former, and we don't want to repeat ourselves more than absolutely required. However, you don't have to wear dark blue jeans; black jeans can seem just as fashionable, if not more so.
You probably already have a good pair of trainers, so you don't need our recommendation. A pair of shoes that don't give you the impression that you're going out to a trashy club would be a more practical addition to your smart casual wardrobe. Although a little dowdy and old-fashioned, brogues or derbies are a smart-casual staple. Chelsea boots, too, can have a more rock 'n' roll vibe to them. However, we're arguing in favour of Derbies, especially for practicality’s sake in hot and humid Singapore. Cool companies like A.P.C. and Ami, which have started making them, attest that they are a little more fashionable than wingtips, and their hefty soles give them a sense of punk or even parade ground fashion.
There are no hard and fast rules when dressing up smart-casually. When in doubt, you can always match a casual piece, like a pair of white trainers, with formalwear to ‘soften up’ the formality. For more information on how to dress up smart-casually for your budget and body shape, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.