While some dress codes—like “black tie” or “western”—are relatively simple to decipher, “smart casual” can be a tricky one to nail down. Between the polarities of “smart” and “casual” lies an entire spectrum of clothing options—jeans, slacks, loafers, sneakers, Oxfords, tee shirts, etc. The trick is to artfully combine these elements to create a single, cohesive look.

If this sounds complicated, well… it can be. That’s why we’ve done the legwork for you, breaking down the ins and outs of this elusive dress code into a step-by-step field guide that’ll have you nailing that smart casual look, no matter the occasion.

fit model posing in The Ojai Jacket in Dried Earth Foundation Twill

What Is “Smart Casual”?

Smart casual as a code of dress came about in the mid-90s. At the time, the world’s perspective on fashion was changing. The days of men wearing tailored three-piece suits every day were a thing of the past, and businesses across the globe were shifting their dress codes to allow for more relaxed styles.

While the movement toward more casual, comfortable styles was a liberating development, it also left a lot of room for interpretation. If an invitation says “black tie”, it’s pretty clear what you’re leaving the house in, whereas an invitation that says “smart casual attire” can be a head scratcher. Suddenly, everything in your wardrobe is a potential option.

So, what exactly is “smart casual”? Essentially, a smart casual outfit should be approachable and comfortable while still looking put-together. In the next section, we’ll go over how we approach a smart casual dress code and some helpful do’s and don’ts to keep in mind along the way.

Smart Casual Do’s & Don’ts

Understanding “High-Low”

The most fundamental way of looking at smart casual is as a combination of “high” and “low”. Note that by “high” and “low”, we’re not referring to quality, but how formal or casual a piece of clothing is. For context; a high-quality tee shirt would be considered “low”, while a blazer or sportcoat would be classified as “high”.

A handy rule of thumb is to tally up every article of clothing you’re wearing and try to land a good mix of “high” and “low” pieces. So, if you’ve got on a blazer and dress slacks, you could balance the outfit by wearing a classic tee and sneakers instead of a button-down and dress shoes.

Mind Your Silhouette

Whether we’re talking about a “high” or “low” garment, silhouette—how a piece of clothing hangs on your body—matters. For instance, a pair of blue jeans is a perfectly acceptable addition to a smart casual outfit, but if those jeans are super baggy and stack messily at the ankle, they may not work. This applies to t-shirts and outerwear, too. Generally speaking, tailored pieces will lend themselves better to a smart casual look than oversized, roomier garments. That’s why we recommend slim jeans and shirting with a close-to-body fit: they create a much cleaner silhouette.

Texture Is Your Friend

Knit or woven patterns like houndstooth, gingham, and herringbone are an easy way to elevate any outfit. Relying on texture—rather than bright colors or graphic tees—to create contrast within your ensemble yields a visually striking, nuanced look that’s still classic.

flatlay of The Crawford Crewneck Sweater in Washed Asphalt layered over The Jack in White Everyday Oxford

Make It Your Own

The real benefit of smart casual is the freedom it allows. After all, what you wear is a tool for self-expression. So as we break down the “rules” of smart casual dress, keep in mind that these are just suggestions to help you hone your own personal style.

Love old band tees? Great—incorporate them into your look. Have a favorite pair of battered boots that you wear everywhere? Awesome. Wear them.

This style guide is meant to expand your style, not eclipse it.

fit model posing in the Jack in Chambray

Smart Casual Outfit Ideas

Putting together a smart casual outfit is all about balance. The options are endless, but here’s how we would go about building a clean, smart casual outfit for any occasion.

fit model sitting on a chair posing for The Smart Casual Style Guide

The Oxford

Oxford shirts are as classic as it gets. For a simple, warm-weather look, you can rock an Oxford with some slim jeans (tucked or untucked) and finish the outfit with a woven leather belt and either loafers or sneakers.

If you’re adding outerwear to the mix, your choice of jacket will depend on what bottoms you choose. If you’re wearing jeans, go for a more formal blazer or sportcoat to balance the outfit. If you’re wearing chinos or trousers, you can lean more casual with a denim trucker jacket or chore coat.

editorial flatlay of a Smart Casual styling kit

Tee Shirts

Comfortable, versatile, and totally iconic—the tee shirt is ubiquitous for good reason. Just remember that to pull off a polished look with a tee, quality and fit are paramount. The recipe here remains largely the same: it’s all about balance.

You can wear a tee shirt and jeans, as long as you offset the casual vibes of both with a formal jacket and dress shoe or loafer.

Alternatively, you could pair a tee with a dressier pant like chinos or slacks, and finish the look with a sneaker for a comfortable outfit that’s polished enough for most events. (Note: Chinos aren’t quite as formal as slacks, so consider dressing them up a bit by tucking in your tee to show off a belt and craft a cleaner silhouette.)

Slim Jeans

Slim jeans just might be the kings of smart casual style. As a fabric, denim will always skew casual, but the clean lines and deep indigo hues of dark wash slim jeans give them the versatility to dress up or down.

In addition to the looks mentioned above, you can stretch the confines of smart casual by going denim on denim with a trucker jacket, and dressing up the ensemble with loafers and a button down shirt. Just look at Ralph Lauren—his personal style provides myriad examples of denim on denim, yet the guy always looks put-together.

fit model posing in a Smart Casual styling kit

Chinos

Chinos are such versatile assets for your wardrobe. Offering the comfort of jeans and the elevation to fit in at the office, they’re the perfect pant to incorporate into a smart casual outfit.

While the combination of chinos and a button-down may be the corporate uniform of today, bringing sneakers and a casual jacket into the mix adds an effortless touch.

You could also swap the button-down for a tee, but in that case, we would replace the casual jacket with something a little more formal to maintain that high/low balance.

editorial flatlay of a styling kit for Smart Casual Style Guide

Our Smart Casual Gear

Hopefully by now, we’ve helped to demystify the idea of “smart casual”. It’s not so much a dress code as a blank canvas for you to put your own spin on. Explore our collection of gear, mix and match the formal and the casual, and you’re all set to start building your look. Happy styling.

Smart Casual Style

fit model showing off accessories for The Smart Casual Style Guide
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