The dress code ‘smart casual’ has no strict meaning. It formerly used to denote that a man should wear a jacket and tie, though today it’s used more loosely. It may encompass anything from a jacket and tie for the more formally inclined down to a tucked-in polo shirt for the more casual people amongst us. For some men it means dressing well without dressing up. It can differ depending on context.
When does one dress in smart casual attire?
Some men dress this way when they are asked to for an informal gathering, like for a house party. Men often dress like this for situations where they could dress more formally, like at classical music concerts.
Smart casual can be for men who don’t want to dress up as much as they could, or for the men who want to dress up more than they need to. Modern smart casual attire is a way of putting care into casual outfits and dressing maturely.
Smart casual overlaps with ‘business casual’, another frequently used term that does not have a single definition. Smart casual has more room for creativity than business casual, which can look rather dull in many industries.
Can smart casual clothes be bespoke?
Just because we’re not dressing up doesn’t mean we can’t put the same care into our casual clothes as we do with our formal and dress clothes. For those who want made-to-measure or bespoke clothes but don’t have a need for suits, we can have just as much fun with our casual clothes. Fit matters just as much no matter how formally we are dressing.
Bespoke shirtmakers are ideal for smart casual wear, and if you’re wearing a shirt without a jacket it’s ideal to have your shirt made for you. Bespoke tailors can make well-tailored trousers and coats to wear in a smart casual manner too. Many of James Bond’s smart-casual clothes are made for him.
If you can’t afford bespoke, finding the right fit in ready-to-wear is equally important.
How does Bond wear smart casual?
In the 1960s through the 1980s, smart casual for Bond meant wearing a jacket or blazer and tie. It was Bond’s step down from a suit. In the current era, there’s not much distinction between a suit and a sports coat, and both are seen as more formal than casual. Thus, a jacket is no longer assumed for the smart casual dress code.
For Bond today, smart casual is often how Bond dresses down. It’s Bond’s way of wearing nice clothes in a relaxed setting. The Daniel Craig era has turned Bond into a smart casual icon, thanks to his pea coats, shawl-collar cardigans, boots and much more. He dresses down more than the previous Bond’s, but he almost always puts the utmost care into his casual attire.
Here are the kinds of clothes Bond wears for smart casual attire:
Sports shirts, like those in oxford, twill, denim, linen and jersey, in solids or checks, are the easiest shirts to wear as part of smart casual attire. They work well on their own, under a jacket or under a jumper. Bond’s sport shirts will typical have a point collar or spread collar, and on occasion they have a button-down collar.
Bond will also wear formal shirts in cotton poplin and voile in a more casual manner.
For smart casual, Bond usually wears a shirt that’s a step up from a polo, henley or t-shirt, which are purely casual shirts.
Knitwear is a frequently worn part of smart casual wear, and it can bridge the gap between smart casual and true casual. Bond, on occasion, wears a crew-neck or V-neck jumper over a sports shirt. Jumpers over more casual shirts do not usually project a particularly smart look, so with knitwear it comes down to how they are worn.
Turtlenecks and mock-necks do a great job going from casual to smart casual. Because they cover the neck, they innately have a dressier look. They work well on their own, as Craig’s Bond wears them, or under a jacket, as Connery’s and Moore’s Bonds wear them.
Though Bond first wears a cardigan in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Daniel Craig’s Bond has made them an iconic smart casual Bond item. When he wears a black shawl-collar cardigan over a dressy white shirt, he elevates it from a casual knock-around item to something that looks incredibly smart. It’s effectively a modern, less formal replacement for Roger Moore’s blue blazer. It’s a defining look of the Craig-Bond era as well as a defining look of Bond’s smart casual attire for the entire series.
Long-sleeve polo jumpers in wool are at the more casual end of smart casual, but they’re a step up from the classic cotton polo shirt. Like other items here, the context of the polo jumper in an outfit can determine how smart the look is.
Coats and Jackets
Traditionally, smart casual attire meant a tailored jacket, and for Bond that spanned from barleycorn tweed hacking jackets to blue blazers.
The half-Norfolk jackets that Sean Connery wears in Diamonds Are Forever are the sportiest of Bond’s tailored jackets and the ones that lend themselves most to today’s smart casual attire. By wearing them over knitwear, they have a more casual look but they stay smart.
Unstructured tailoring is the modern answer to wearing tailored clothes in a casual setting. Bond’s light brown jacket in Spectre with its unstructured cut is a fresh take on the Goldfinger hacking jacket look. The corduroy suit in No Time to Die accomplishes the same smart dressed-down look. This is for the man who wants to dress up as much as he can within the confines of a casual setting.
On the more casual of end of smart casual, Bond wears coats and jackets as outerwear rather than jackets that integrate with the rest of the outfit. The pea coat in Skyfall is an example of this. It wears well over Bond’s smart attire underneath but it’s something he removes when getting settled indoors.
Leather jackets, particularly longer ones like Timothy Dalton’s in The Living Daylights, also work well as smart casual outerwear. Bond often does not remove these indoors because he uses them to conceal his gun, but these jackets are designed to be outerwear.
The Barbour jacket in Skyfall is both a piece of outerwear and a fashionable jacket that can be worn indoors.
Wool or cotton gabardine, woollen flannel, tweed, linen, moleskin and corduroy are all Bondian choices for smart casual trousers. Chinos can work for smart casual looks too, but Bond typically enhances his smart casual looks with more sophisticated cloths and saves the chinos for purely casual outfits.
Today, jeans are common for smart casual, though they take some of the smartness out of the look. On the rare occasions that Bond wears jeans, they’re only for dressing down.
Nice footwear is a key component of smart casual attire. Suede chukka boots on a trim last, frequently with Dainite studded soles, are the modern Bondian choice for smart casual. They’re an essential piece of footwear that pair just as well with a polo and chinos as they do with a tweed jacket and tie.
Sean Connery wore suede shoes or boots with his smart casual outfits. Roger Moore and Dalton always wore loafers, which are better for smart casual looks than they are with more formal outfits. For Pierce Brosnan’s Bond it was brown full-brogue oxfords, which dress up well too.
Choosing smart casual footwear is based more on the overall impression of the shoes than on any particular styles. Shoes that one would usually wear with suits like cap-toe oxfords, wholecuts, two-eyelet derbies and others like these may look too dressy for smart casual. Hiking boots and trainers are too casual. There is a middle ground that encompasses a lot of shoes that are appropriate for smart casual.
Neckwear is unusual for smart casual attire today, but it’s still acceptable. The knitted tie, the classic Bond tie, is particularly appropriate for wanting to dress up a smart casual look under a jacket or a V-neck jumper. The standard knit tie in silk will do just fine, but in wool it looks even more relaxed.
For non-knitted ties, solid and striped ties with less sheen are easier to wear in a more casual way. Bond wears a solid black tie under a V-neck jumper in Skyfall as part of a chauffeur’s disguise, but he shows how it can work well for a sophisticated look at a bar.
The day cravat, a more casual piece of neckwear, is a less orthodox Bondian choice. Though Bond wears one with a blazer as part of his James St John Smythe disguise in A View to a Kill, he also wears one as himself under a crew-neck cable-knit jumper in GoldenEye. It’s not an easy piece to pull off, but it adds a nice finishing touch to the outfit that kicks it up a notch.
In Skyfall, Bond wears a scarf tucked into the neck of his jumper to give his outfit a more put-together look. Sometimes an accessory has the power to elevate a casual look to smart casual.
A very informative and timely article Matt, especially since we live in a much more casual time and certainly doing work from home often leaves many of us with the option to looking sharp in smart casual attire whether we go lounging around the house or attending informal online meetings.
Would you consider short/half sleeved shirts a Bondian smart casual item, such as the camp shirts worn by Sean Connery and the frequent short sleeve shirts worn by Roger Moore? And would you consider them a fine alternative to short and long sleeve polos (though formality-wise how more, equal or less dressy are they compared to long and short sleeved polo shirts)?
Camp shirts are not at all smart and are about the same formality as a polo. Moore’s shirts look a bit smarter due to the two-piece collar and the fact he tucks them, but they’re still not that smart. Maybe half a step up from a polo.
First paragraph, second sentence reads: ” It formally used to denote that a man should wear a jacket and tie, though today it’s used more loosely.”
It should read “It formerly used to denote that a man should wear a jacket and tie, though today it’s used more loosely.”
Maybe he should remove the n from his pseudonym!
I appreciate your support, David, but I also appreciate corrections when they are correct.
Another great piece. Loved reading that and took away some good tips too. Thanks
Thinking ahead to whenever I may be traveling again… I’ve found that a linen unstructured jacket, in pale gray or natural white, is very useful for keeping off the overcranked A/C in a vehicle or plane, but is easier to take off seated than wrestling one’s way out of a sweater or hoodie. Is that still in the ‘smart casual’ category if worn with a dress shirt but no tie, chinos, and loafers?
Yes, I’d say that counts as modern smart casual.
A waxed jacket indoors?
The jacket that features in Skyfall is a fashion piece. It has outdoor practicality with indoor style.
Menswear expert Bernhard Roetzel said of the classic Barbour: ‘This jacket protects you from bad weather, but it also protects you from the risk of being improperly dressed. And it’s true: if you are not sure what to put on you can always fall back on the Barbour – as long as it’s not too warm, that is.’ So some people believe it is more than appropriate indoors.
Recently, the South has been inundated with constant rain and my Barbour Commander jacket has been kept close at hand. It moves easily from outdoor to indoor use and layers well as I seem to be constantly moving from sweaters to long-sleeve shirts/polos underneath. I get tons of compliments on it and the “outdoor practicality with indoor style” description is spot-on. Great article as usual, Matt! Stay well!
Very helpful article. Would you recommend casual trouser brands?
What’s your price range, and where are you located? My favourite smart casual trousers I have are made-to-measure from Mason & Sons and bespoke from Niven Tailors.
I’m in Northern California. I’m hard on cloths, I would not allow myself to pay more than $100-200 for a pair of pants.
I really enjoy your site. I retired almost ten years ago, so doubtful that I will ever buy a suit again.
I hear excellent things about Spier & Mackay, though I have never tried them. I recommend looking into them. They’re priced right.
Even retired people can wear suits. I’ve never worn a suit professionally apart from interviews, but I find plenty of occasions in non-Covid times to wear suits.
I bought a rust coloured cotton sports jacket from Spier & Mackay a few years back and I generally like it.
In hindsight it’s too unstructured for my taste, so I probably wouldn’t buy a jacket from them again, but quality wise it’s pretty good. I have no doubt their trousers would be great.
Which model was it? I thought only the Neopolitan jackets were unstructured.
I can’t find what model it was, but on their site right now they have a tan cotton jacket on sale that’s more or less identical to my rust one. I’m seeing that it has something called spalla camicia shoulders, which are unpadded. But even their standard cut looks soft and narrow, whereas I know that I actually need a strong, straight shoulder to fill me out.
I completley acknowledge that my distaste with my purchase is entirely on me and shouldn’t reflect negatively their product or service at all, the latter of which was exemplary! I still wear it fairly often in the hot Australian summer.
For moderate to warmer weather, would a Harrington jacket (such as the navy one Daniel Craig wears in Quantum of Solace, albeit in a neater and less distressed look than what Bond wears) be a fine smart casual piece as a warm weather equivalent and alternative to a Barbour waxed jacket worn on cooler months?
Nice article Matt. I have a question for us dressier gentleman. Would a velvet smoking jacket fit in the look of smart casual if one wears one like M’s in OHMSS?
Have a nice weekend?
The John Smedley sweater that Craig wears in Skyfall is 30 gauge, so should there be any concern if the shape of the tie can be seen under the sweater? If that makes sense.