What Does A "Smart Casual Dress Code" Mean? | Nic Harry South Africa

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There are many dress codes that people at different occasions like to make men suffer through. The most confusing of them all is the "Smart Casual" option. Is it smart? Is it casual? What does the hybrid actually consist of if you are trying to be smart and casual? Does that even exist in most men's wardrobe options? It's a minefield but we're here to help. Let's break this all down from the top to the bottom.


It's probably a bad idea to wear a hat if you are undecided. Most people will not be wearing hats at a smart casual event. Hats are more for casual events. However there is an exception. If you have a fedora that matches your outfit, it can add a nice bit of flair to an otherwise potentially boring outfit. If you're a legitimate cowboy and are actually attending the event looking like you do, then a cowboy hat would be acceptable too. No baseball caps, no "NY" black caps with flat peaks, no beanies (unless it's winter, a wool knitted beanie and it matches your outfit) and definitely no trucker caps.


Jackets are completely acceptable and actually help your outfit reach the "smart" part of smart casual. Try to stay away from denim jackets for this type of event though.


This is where most men begin to fall off the wagon. Do we go for a button up or a t-shirt or a golf shirt or a v-neck? Here are some guiding principles. There is no correct answer here, it depends on the collective outfit you are putting together. T-shirts are acceptable if you are wearing a more formal suit jacket, pea coat, quilted jacket or overcoat. The jacket makes the t-shirt more formal. If you are going to wear a less formal jacket with smart pants (like chinos) then you should go with a golf shirt or button up. But don't button up the top buttons unless the shirt is tailored that way. It's important, for whatever shirt you are wearing, to avoid cheesy logos. Your favourite "Nike tick" t-shirt won't cut it sadly. Plain t-shirts are always better unless you're a 12 year old boy or sponsored by Nike.

Neck Wear

For a smart casual event you want to avoid ties or bowties. These immediately remove the casual part of the dress code. However, if this is the intention and you are trying to raise the game, then go for it. Just try to make sure it's a fun tie or bowtie. You don't want to wear a black tie to a smart casual event.


Smart casual events are made for stylish and fun accessories. You can go for fun socks matched with bright shoelaces. You could put a crazy lapel pin on your jacket lapel and match it with a polka dot pocket square or even go for it with all four. This is where you'll be able to really show people who you are and how you like to dress. Don't shy away from wearing colour in your accessories, it's only a splash of colour so it will come across as intentional and well planned.


The rule of thumb for suits is to never wear the jacket and pants separately. This can be complicated if your only nice pair of pants is the bottom half of your nice suit. A safe bet is to wear a pair of dark blue denims or chinos if you've got them. The next best option is a pair of tailored pants. The colour isn't important in isolation but remember to try and match or compliment colours in blocks - pants with tie, shoes with belt, socks with pocket square but not necessarily in that combination of things. You don't have to match pants and jacket or shirt and socks or pants and shoes at all. As long as it looks like you're making an effort and you aren't going with tweed pants and a denim jacket, you should be OK.


Running shoes are never an option. Skater shoes are most likely not an option for you either. Some guys will be able to pull of the skater shoe but they usually have a lot of tattoos or actually are skaters. You should be aiming for a more comfortable shoe - mostly because smart casual events often mean a lot of standing around and talking. Don't go with something too formal, it's not a wedding. Slops are not an option at an event like this. A good combination if you're wearing those dark blue denims is a brown pair of shoes with a brown belt. You can always brighten up any pair of shoes you might have with a pair of bright shoelaces.



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