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Smart casual vs. business casual: Is there even a difference?

Are you business or smart casual

smart casual vs business casual
KC Stone / The Manual

A man’s wardrobe can be a deeply complex thing. It can also be one of the more simple aspects of your life. It all comes down to how you build it and how well you understand it. You can break it down as simply as possible by building a small capsule wardrobe, making it something you never have to think about. Or you can be someone who is forced to adhere to a business casual wardrobe. Either way, there is a requirement to find an understanding. There are also different designations of a wardrobe that may seem the same on the surface but cause a bit of confusion, such is the case when you compare smart casual vs business casual.

They are both used to describe a look that is somewhere in between the formal business wardrobe made possible by a suit and tie and the more day-to-day looks made up of a T-shirt and jeans. While some may think that they are interchangeable, there are some differences that will save you if you need to dress one or the other. Here is what you need to pick up the know-how between the two designations.

Dress up casual to get smart casual

man sitting in kitchen in sport coat
Austin Distel / Unsplash

The best way to describe a smart casual wardrobe is to take something that is normal casual day-to-day and add something to elevate it, most often a sports coat. Whether you are wearing a solid tee, jeans, and a pair of sneakers or a sweater and boots, throwing on a sports coat will take a look from bumming around the house or hitting a movie theater to a first date or a Broadway show. If the sports coat feels a little too much, opt for a good-looking cardigan as well.

The best places to wear this look will include casual events before 6 pm, coffee dates, and any time you want to look great without feeling a little overdressed. This is also the time to get trendy and bright. Smart casual is a time for men to use color in the best way they know how. Bright colors that stand out and fun patterns look great in a smart casual look.

Here are our favorite items to pick up to capture the look

The trick to picking up a smart casual wardrobe is finding the right pieces to add to a look to dress it up. Here are some of our favorite pieces that will take your casual look to the next level.

Velvet Joshua Linen Blazer: Sometimes, summer is a hard time to go smart casual because the heat makes putting on a sports coat feel devastating. Opting for a linen blazer fixes that problem, and this attractive blue option is perfect for the occasion.

Y. Chroma Daytona Jacket: Remember when we said to use color in the smart casual wardrobe? There is no better place to find out how to do that than Y. Chroma. The Daytona is our number-one pick for brightening up any look and making your casual bump-around wardrobe first-date-worthy.

TAFT Boots: Swap out any of your boring shoes with a pair of unique TAFT boots, and you instantly go from boring to smart-looking. Choose any of their best sellers, or make your own and let your personality shine.

Dress down formal to get business casual

Man in business casual
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Now that you have figured out the smart casual wardrobe, you can focus on business casual. While the former takes the casual wardrobe and steps it up with a flash of elegance, the latter comes to a similar place from the opposite end of the spectrum. To capture the essence of business casual, start with your business attire and substitute something with an item a little more casual. Where you add the jacket to accomplish smart casual, you ditch the tie to accomplish the business casual. Where you swap out the sneakers with elevated boots to achieve smart casual, you ditch the dress shirt for polo to achieve business casual.

The events that work best for this look are day-to-day office attire, allowing for maximum movement and comfort while tackling your to-do list. When it comes to colors, we’re not going to say that you should mute them, but make sure you adhere to whatever policy your office holds. While the blues, whites, grays, and earth tones are simple go-tos, you should sneak in something with a little more personality where you can.

Here are our favorite items to pick up to capture the look

There is an art form to nailing the business casual wardrobe. The right polo, the right chinos, the right shoes, all of it matters. Here is our choice for each one to help you look great and stay comfortable.

Rhone Commuter Polo: The polo is the bedrock of a good business casual wardrobe. Most every guy will be wearing one (just like the suit in your business professional wardrobe) so getting one that stands out for the right reasons is key. Not only is this one comfortable, but the color looks more like a dress shirt than a polo, so you continue to look great.

Flint and Tinder 365: Forget the dress pants. Go a little more rugged and pick up a pair of chinos that will look just as great at home as they will in the office. They may be part of the business casual wardrobe, but you’ll end up wearing them everywhere.

Cole Haan ZEROGRAND Remastered: Leather dress shoes are a little Mad Men at this point. While they definitely have their place, it is just as important to stick with the times and the technology and go for something a little more today. These half-dress shoes, half-sneaker hybrids, were the first of their kind…and are now even better.

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Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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