The Ultimate Guide To Smart Casual Dressing For 2024
— Updated on 29 December 2023

The Ultimate Guide To Smart Casual Dressing For 2024

— Updated on 29 December 2023
Nick Kenyon
Nick Kenyon

If there’s one dress code that leaves blokes scratching their heads around Australia, it’s the grey area of smart casual. Because it’s neither smart nor casual, all well-put-together outfits that nail the smart casual dress code integrate a little bit of both, leaving the challenge in the exact combination of the two apparently conflicting styles.

Here, we’ll demystify the confusion around smart casual attire, arming you with the overarching principles of smart casual and proving that nailing the style isn’t all that hard once you understand a few key ideas. In addition to a few general guiding lessons, we’ll also delve a little more deeply into the specific parts of a great smart casual outfit, so you can look great at the next job interview, wedding or event that requires you to wear something between shorts and a suit.

While dictionaries are generally a good place to learn the meaning of a word or phrase, this isn’t the case with “smart casual,” with the Cambridge Dictionary looking to define smart casual as “neat and stylish, but not too formal”. What on earth does this dress code for men mean, specifically?

Smart Casual

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As a brief history of the smart casual look, we need to start in the middle of the 20th century when most professional men wouldn’t leave the house in anything other than a crisp suit and neatly knotted tie. The idea of smart casual (or business casual) arose to introduce a level of casualness to the everyday outfit, which began with single-colour lounge suits that were made in more lightweight fabrics than normal.

This idea progressed over the decades, with our general conception of what smart casual means beginning in the 1980s as the popularity of suits continued to decline in favour of more casual and generally more comfortable clothing. Various garments helped this idea along the way, such as the polo shirt that was created by Jean Rene Lacoste (yes, that Lacoste) to play tennis in, and the chino pant that was popularised after the Second World War and became a staple of the Ivy League aesthetic.

Today, the popularity and acceptance of casual wear clothing and street style have never been greater. From the t-shirts of Mark Zuckerberg to Steve Jobs’s dad jeans, you no longer need to wear a suit to be taken seriously in the world’s most lucrative industries. At the same time, the rise of hip hop fashion and the Californian surf lifestyle as some of the most successful areas of contemporary culture has seen the rise of luxury streetwear, capitalised on by everyone from Louis Vuitton to Supreme.

What Is Smart Casual For Men?

Smart Casual

When we consider the smart casual dress code, it’s a good idea to start by thinking about what each of those styles means in isolation. Smart formal wear is generally defined by items such as suit jackets, formal pants, button-down collared shirts, belts, and leather dress shoes of various persuasions. In contrast, casual wear will typically include garments like a t-shirt, chinos or dark-coloured jeans, a hoodie, a bomber jacket, sneakers or even a shawl collar cardigan.

Entirely casual outfits don’t feature any formal wear items, while completely formal outfits won’t comprise any casual pieces of clothing. As a result, smart casual outfits comprise both formal and casual elements, with the specific level of smart casual being defined by how much of each style is worn to make up an outfit.

As a result, if you’re looking to dress smarter on the more informal side of the smart casual outfit, you can begin with an entirely casual outfit, which you then substitute out pieces of clothing for their more formal equivalents. As an example, if you begin with a formal suit, you can replace the collared shirt with a striped t-shirt, the leather dress shoes for sneakers or even the suit pants for a pair of tailored pants or chinos.

Smart Casual

Approaching smart casual style from the other direction, if you start with an entirely casual outfit of jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie and sneakers, you can make the outfit look smarter by substituting some of those garments. For example, you could replace the hoodie with a blazer or sports coat, the t-shirt with a button-down shirt with a collar, or the sneakers with a pair of leather boots.

This way, you’re injecting an element of formality into casual outfits with the addition of a couple of smarter pieces of clothing, or dialling back the formality of a full suit with a couple of casual elements to the outfit. As a result, the most basic form of the idea is less about specific smart casual clothes that you can wear and more about the pieces of clothing that you’re wearing in relation to each other.

To nail down exactly what is considered smart casual, we spoke with Melbourne-based menswear designer Christian Kimber (whose lookbooks are the perfect place for some style inspiration). After founding his eponymous clothing label back in 2014, much of the clothing that Kimber creates season after season thoughtfully navigates the world of smart casual, from terry cotton polo shirts to garment-dyed chinos.

How To Wear The Smart Casual Dress Code

Smart Casual

“Experiment with layering, because it doesn’t have to be a blazer, oxford shirt, chinos or brogues,” Kimber says.

This is a great way to think about any smart casual outfits, because layering a mix of more formal garments into a casual outfit that suits your own personal style is exactly the way to feel most confident about your look. At the end of the day, an outfit is only as good as the confidence of the person wearing it, so if you’re happy with the clothes you’re wearing, there’s a good chance you’ll deliver the right impression.

“Comfort is key, as smart casual isn’t formal.”

– Christian Kimber

If you flick through one of Kimber’s lookbooks, you’ll see exactly what he means. Combining Italian selvedge denim jeans with a Daylesford merino long-sleeved polo shirt and a pair of Italian suede books is a look straight out of the Kimber playbook, thoughtfully combining into a smart casual style that works from the cafe to the office.

Smart Casual

This is another beautiful thing about a well-executed smart casual outfit, and the smart casual style more generally. It’s honestly about as versatile as it gets, taking you from an appointment to an event and back to a family dinner without requiring so much as a change of jacket, never mind outfit.

As a result, if you build up a collection of smart casual wardrobe staples, you can easily wear jeans or chinos with a business casual outfit, only taking your dress pants out of the cupboard when you really need them. Dressing smart casual on a regular basis will inevitably rationalise your versatile wardrobe into a much more concise set of garments that more accurately reflect your own style.

“Events that call for this kind of attire are often quite social, so a great opportunity to frame this as the heightened version of yourself – no need to be rigid,” explained Kimber. “If it’s a work event or a date, a gallery opening or a party, all great scenarios through which you can bring a bit of zhuzh.”

Smart Casual Blazers, Sports Coats & Jackets

Within the shades of grey that smart casual dress codes can sometimes be thought of, a versatile blazer or sport coat is invaluable. A sport coat is generally distinguished from a normal suit jacket as one that doesn’t require a matching pair of dress pants, and is often made in a broader range of fabrics that can include such as corduroy, suede, or tweed.

“Blazers can be the perfect vehicle for incorporating something a bit more daring than usual,” suggests Kimber. “A pattern, such as a herringbone, or an interesting textural element can really add liveliness to heightened dress codes.”

This range of different fabrics and textures that sport jackets are made in gives you the license to stand out from the crowd, expressing a dash of personality and intrigue in your choices. An unstructured blazer gives a look that is neat conventional, yet relatively informal in style if you wear one without a tie and are keen to deliver a polished appearance.

If you don’t already have a sport coat in your wardrobe, it’s a must-have for anyone looking to nail the smart casual dress code, from work events to your next smart casual wedding. Paired with anything from a fitted t-shirt to an Oxford shirt, you’ll look perfectly acceptable in almost any situation with a nicely made sport coat.

Smart Casual Shirting

If the weather is too warm for a jacket, then picking out a nice shirt or t-shirt to pair with casual trousers such as chinos will look great and is generally considered a great smart casual look. While you’ve got the obvious range of colours and patterns to mix things up a little, Kimber believes there’s another area you can consider when building an eye-catching smart casual outfit that ticks all the boxes for classic style.

“Try experimenting with collars, as there are more options than traditional oxford shirts,” he says. “A mandarin or band collar, for example, is elegant and looks fantastic without a tie.”

This is a great piece of advice, and not one that would immediately come to mind for most folks looking to nail the smart casual dress code. As it is with all of the best things in life, the devil is always in the details.

Smart Casual Pants & Shorts

Smart casual attire is a great friend of the chino pant, because they’re as comfortable as they can be good-looking. They look great in a range of colours, can easily be dressed up or down and typically offer the option of a leather belt to deliver a little more structure to your overall impression.

However, just because chinos are a simple and straightforward answer, doesn’t mean they’re the only option available to you. Neat jeans or properly fitting wool trousers can be a great addition to the wardrobe of anyone who needs to wear smart casual outfits, giving you the choice of heavier or lighter fabrics, as well as adding a more tailored feeling to your smart casual look.

“Chinos are tried-and-true, but often overlap with everyday style, so if you’d like to try something more elevated for a key event, then opt for a linen-blend trouser, or a wool-blend tailored trouser,” offered Kimber. “Matched with an elegant polo, these can look striking.”

Smart Casual Shoes & Sneakers

Your choice of footwear can greatly impact the success of your outfit, because while you might love to sporty wear sneakers from Adidas or Nike, they aren’t always the right thing. Smart casual minimalist sneakers are increasingly popular among the emerging generation of professionals, with brands such as Common Projects and George Cleverley setting the benchmark for clean silhouettes and limitless versatility.

“Subtle leather sneakers are key, made from quality materials and most importantly: well maintained,” says Kimber. “A quality pair of brown loafers always work, and there are many styles to suit individual wardrobes.”

This is another critical point that some of us neglect all too often. Wear and tear on badly maintained shoes will kill any smart casual look (Chelsea boots also fall into this rule), because while it might seem like a minor detail, it’s impossible to miss. A good rule of thumb is an outfit will be reduced to its worst-kept element, meaning it’s important to look after your shoes as well as you possibly can. And remember, this doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot on your smart pieces, it just means you need to take care of the things you own.


When it comes to accessories, Coco Chanel has an oft-repeated quote that can be boiled down to the following: less is more. Kimber agrees, suggesting, “subtlety is key, again.

“Some jewellery, such as rings or a chain, can be executed tastefully and are a great way to elevate a more subtle set.”

Basically, a signet ring, modest necklace or bracelet can do a lot of the heavy lifting for the details of an outfit, but if you go overboard you’ll give off the impression of someone overcompensating. Smart casual style might not be as conservative as an entirely formal outfit, but that doesn’t mean taking a slightly reserved approach won’t pay dividends.

Images courtesy of Christian Kimber.

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Nick Kenyon
Nick Kenyon is the Editor of Boss Hunting, joining the team after working as the Deputy Editor of luxury watch magazine Time+Tide. He has a passion for watches, with other interests across style, sports and more. Get in touch at nick (at)


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