How to master smart casual

    22 January 2019

    Last year I was invited to the wedding of an acquaintance. I was surprised to get the invitation in fact, and was excited to go but knew I would be on the ‘I know X and Y through dealing with their tax affairs’, or ‘I’ve worked for Y for a month, it’s so exciting to be here’ table.

    Nevertheless, I had my morning suit pressed and I bought them some steak knives and was ready to go. The invitation came through along with a dress code that caused my heart to sink slightly: Smart Casual.

    It’s not that I am such a snob that dressing down for me involves wearing trousers without braces, it is that no matter how many times I have tried, I still can’t work out what on earth ‘Smart Casual’ means. It is an Eighties invention, which is hardly surprising. The era of the rolled-up suit sleeves and post-punk sartorial confusion unleashed some ludicrous styling trends. To make matters worse, according to the savant of all things proper, Debretts, there is both a formal and an informal smart casual, but don’t give yourself a panic attack worrying about that as I did.

    With the intention of helping you out of this pickle, here’s how I arrived at the perfect smart casual wedding outfit:

    The Jacket

    The first decision was to err on the side of ‘Smart’. I like to think I can do smart rather well, and smart casual is such a vague concept that it is vital to play to your strengths. As with every day, I started the outfit with the jacket. A navy blazer is the only part of your preparation that can make your life easy. Items like bomber jackets, safari jackets or cardigans depending on the occasion can also work but the blazer is your trump card, and a contrast coloured cashmere jumper underneath can work, weather dependent.


    From here, you can basically incorporate anything from jeans to flannel trousers and it will be completely acceptable. I chose the latter because flannel is a pared down version of the suit trouser that is mighty comfortable. That being said, all of the following are acceptable to wear as well. Chinos: a classic preppy look, the beige colours were all the rave for many years but perhaps keep it simple and match the jacket with a navy pair. If there are belt loops, be sure to buy a belt that matches your shoes, the exception is for trainers but we will come onto them. Jeans: jeans are on the casual end of the spectrum, shorts are definitely de trop, as are tracksuit trousers. Suit trousers: whilst I live by the credo, ‘better to be overdressed than underdressed’, wearing a suit at a smart casual get-together is like wearing a suit at a black tie do, so avoid.

    The Shirt

    Shirts are important for gesturing towards the casual. The crisp white shirt errs on the formal side so I opted for light blue against a navy blazer, which was a good match. Other shirt options are available with most brands, like shirts with Nehru/Grandpa/mandarin collars and safari shirts. All of these do work but try to avoid a plain white shirt where possible. There is a trend for wearing t-shirts with jackets but there is something of the boy band about this look that I suspect the average reader of The Spectator is keen to avoid. As with all button-downs, it is best not to wear a tie. Oh and, at the risk of sounding head-masterly, do ensure you tuck the shirt in.

    Socks and Shoes

    Socks should be the only thing you wear that has colour, and to make it look like you know what you are doing, try and match the socks with a pocket handkerchief. As I have said many times before, shoes wreck looks very easily, so play it safe and you can’t go wrong. A pair of penny loafers will give a bit of breathing space on the vamp against your foot to allow the flash of colour on the sock to come through. Black, brown or burgundy shoes will go with any situation, just don’t wear brown with navy. The exception to this rule is the luxury sneaker. This has been one of the most lucrative new products for luxury brands. Casual shoes that still look smart, still have interesting materials like suede or linen and different colours do mean that these are perfectly reasonable to wear to a smart casual event, but Bill Gates-style running shoes are an absolutely no no. With my grey flannels I chose a pair of brown Crompton shoes from Gaziano and Girling, a pair of dark green socks and matching pocket square.

    Nothing about what I wore stood out at the wedding and the day went without a hitch. I think it was a shame that such a magnificent occasion was juxtaposed with such underwhelming dress, but none of that was the fault of the wearers, but of the perennially puzzling oxymoron, ‘Smart Casual’.