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How To Master Summer Smart-Casual

Six ways to perfect the laid-back look of the season

  • Photograph by The Styleograph/

Smart-casual. Such an innocuous-sounding term, yet what terror lurks in its oxymoronic depths. It went mainstream in the mid-1990s, when Mr Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, appeared on the cover of Time magazine in a polo shirt, jeans and bare feet, heralding the demise of corporate-garbed culture, and has become the default dress code from tech campuses to bank headquarters in the decades since. But, despite its ubiquity, it’s proved as knotty to master as any similarly contradictory exhortation – “sober-drunk”, say, or “shaved-bearded” – would be. So where to turn when a summer party invite or hot ticket bearing the dreaded s- and c-words drops onto the unwelcome mat?

Here at MR PORTER, we think the best way to approach the smart-casual conundrum is to deploy the “premium-economy” analogy – it occupies the happy medium between Zuckerbergian basics and fully-rigged formality, with more leg room and proper cutlery. In essence, it involves dressing down a suit with a T-shirt or polo, or dressing up a pair of selvedge jeans or tailored shorts with an unstructured blazer and pocket square, and, where summer’s concerned, bringing judicious colour splashes and relaxed cuts to the fore. When in doubt, err on the side of overdressed; not only is it easier to casual-down than smart-up, but if your hosts had meant for you to pitch up in your beat-up old cargo shorts and flip-flops, they would surely have specified a slovenly-casual dress code.

Still confused? Scroll down to see some street-style examples of how spruce and offhand can be artfully conjoined. It’s time to finally lay those cold-sweat smart-casual nightmares to rest.

The linen suit

  • Photograph by Mr YoungJun Koo/Lickerish Ltd

Yes, it’s a double-breasted white suit, but this is far from the buttoned-up, Southern-gent-style version favoured by inveterate dandies such as novelist Mr Tom Wolfe. Make a bonfire of the vanities – or, at least, put a relaxed summer spin on them – by pairing its slouchy linen with a classic blue-and-white striped summer T-shirt (this gentleman makes a wry nod to formality by tucking it in, showcasing the high waist and double pleats of the trousers), and turning back the cuff to give your swashbuckling collection of beaded bracelets an airing.

Get the look

  • Dunhill Ivory Cotton and Linen-Blend Blazer

  • Alex Mill Ocean Slim-Fit Striped Slub Cotton-Jersey T-Shirt

The block colours

  • Photograph by Mr Adam Katz Sinding/Trunk Archive

“Seek the strongest colour effect possible,” urged Mr Henri Matisse, who could have been issuing summer smart-casual commandments rather than advising on how to paint saturated landscapes. This gentleman has taken the edict to heart by placing a soft-collared shirt of deepest brown at the heart of his outfit; it adds crackle and pop to the royal-blue blazer (draped over the shoulders, in a perfect summation of summer smart-casual nonchalance) and darker trousers. The snappy Panama and the blithely-slung tote top off a palette of breezy elegance.

Get the look

  • Boglioli Blue Slim-Fit Wool-Hopsack Blazer

  • AMI Linen Shirt

The double-breasted blazer

  • Photograph by Thousand Yard Style

The double-breasted jacket – the ultimate in power-dressed pomp, right? Wrong – if it’s as unstructured as this version, modelled by stylist Mr William Gilchrist. The DB fastening is lower and more languid, the better to pair with a V-neck tee and a hint of all-over tan; the material is cotton or linen, allowing for breathability and versatility – wear it open, cuff the sleeves, turn up the collar, pair it with loose pants, à la Mr Gilchrist, or even with shorts; and the cardigan-like fit and crease-friendliness positively impel you to live it louche.

Get the look

  • Caruso Navy Double-Breasted Wool-Hopsack Blazer

  • Acne Studios Limit Cotton-Jersey T-Shirt

The chambray shirt

  • Photograph by Mr Stefano Carloni/Mr Tuft

If you thought smart-casual was an oxymoron in itself, is double-denim smart-casual an oxymoron squared? This gentleman proves not only that such a thing is possible, but that it walks among us, making that characteristic swoosh-swoosh denim noise as it goes. The chambray shirt is fitted, clean-lined, and tucked-in; the jeans aren’t jeans at all but denim dress trousers, whose extravagant pleat-age harks back to Mr David Bowie in his Thin White Duke pomp. The sharply contrasting shades are further testament to the fact that we’re a long way from the stylistic depredations of the Canadian tuxedo.

Get the look

  • Valentino Washed-Denim Shirt

  • TOM FORD Blue Slim-Fit Denim Trousers

The shorts

  • Photograph by The Urban Spotter/

Shorts with a tailored jacket. It’s a look that may represent the final smart-casual frontier for many men, but this gentleman shows us the counter-intuitive way of pulling it off; by downplaying the tailoring of the blazer – opting for a pastel shade, accentuating its unstructured and unlined nature by wearing it loose and pushing up the sleeves – and stressing the cut and fit of the shorts, enhanced in this instance by the subtle pattern and smart cuffs. It’s a look that says, “I don’t work for the Man – or, at least, only the kind of Man that would convene meetings in a communal sandpit at the heart of a creative hub.” 

Get the look

  • Thom Sweeney Grey Slim-Fit Slub Wool, Silk and Linen-Blend Blazer

  • Incotex Royal Batavia Slim-Fit Stretch-Cotton Twill Shorts

The tie

  • Photograph by

Reports of the demise of the tie have been greatly exaggerated; like vinyl, neckwear is enjoying something of a resurgence among the cognoscenti, with the knitted silk version’s narrower, sleeker shape forming a perfect bridge between formality and informality. This gentleman anchors his outfit with a navy polka-dotted iteration, adding a peaked pocket square to his checked linen blazer for extra flair, but keeps things summer-light – and equally modern office- and alfresco-party-appropriate – with white jeans. You can pick up extra sprezzatura points by letting the tie’s back blade hang looser, and longer, than the front.

Get the look

  • Officine Generale Indigo and White Slim-Fit Houndstooth Cotton Blazer

  • Canali 6cm Knitted Wool Tie

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