The ‘Smart-Casual’ Conundrum

Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

We have all been told to dress ‘smart-casual’ at some point in our lives, but what does that actually mean?

For those guys who are as baffled as us, here are some simple tips on going smart-casual and how the event can make all the difference.

Smart-casual may be a bit of an oxymoron, but you can make it work. As an outfit, it is a step down from a suit, but a step up from scruffy jeans and a t-shirt, though the formality can still vary. Smart-casual is used more regularly in modern society, as we have become less formal, even at work. Usually, a reliable guide to the etiquette of which level to dress at would be the type of event. If in doubt, the basic is a button-down (smart) shirt and jeans.

One rule of thumb with smart-casual dress is that if you’re heading to a more formal event, such as a relaxed wedding or business lunch, veer towards the smarter side of the dress code. If it’s a more social event, for example, a club or bar event then you can lean on the casual side without too much fear. Try to consider who you will be meeting and what impression you are looking to make with your clothes. If you are simply going out with friends then an informal look is fine, but if you are meeting a potential work client it would be sensible to look a touch more well-groomed and presentable.

60:40 Smart

This would be recommended for more formal occasions or events where you want to look well presented without wearing a full blown suit. Your jeans should not be too tattered or full of holes, usually your shirt should to be either long-sleeved or a well-tailored short sleeve and you need to be in smart shoes – leave the trainers at home! To step this up one more notch for a special occasion, you can add a tie. One alternative option is a t-shirt and a blazer with jeans, a look that’s becoming increasingly on the modern scene.

60:40 Casual

A lighter version tends to be more suitable for a social occasion where you want to look as though you’ve made an effort but are still fairly relaxed. Trainers rather than smart shoes can be worn to these events and the jeans are fine to have a hole at the knee or look a little distressed. You can wear a short-sleeved shirt, but it still needs to be smart and buttoned. To take it down for an informal occasion you can also wear a buttoned shirt open over a t-shirt.


For smart-casual wear, it is recommended that you stick to block colours, quite simply because not many Hawaiian shirts or gaudy designs air on the presentable side. However, if you are attending a themed event or it relates to the time of year (Christmas, Hawaiian summers etc.) then feel free to ignore this advice. 

Always try to consider the event and who will be attending before choosing your outfit and aim for block colours as a priority rule. So hopefully next time someone says smart-casual or you receive an invite with that hauntingly ambiguous dress code, you should know exactly what to wear or at the very least, how to prepare an outfit that converts from scruffy to suave in a matter of seconds.