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Style Advice

Style SOS: Can jeans be smart casual?

Style SOS: Can jeans be smart casual?

"I've started to notice more and more guys wearing jeans in smart casual settings. Is this now okay to do – and if so, any tips for pulling them off in a way that feels smarter?" – Marcus via Facebook

Well Marcus, they say it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. And yes, we can remember when a smart casual dress code prompted tapered cotton trousers in varying shades of grey. But now denim has displaced this erstwhile staple everywhere from dinner dates to awards parties, and the ‘no jeans’ rule seems to be a thing of the past. 

Our advice? Don’t fight it. Embrace the fact you can dress up your daytime jeans and be evening ready in an instant. All it takes is a little more consideration so you look like you’ve made the effort. That’s why we’ve put together these six simple rules that mean your jeans will pull through for you in smarter settings too. 

Keep it simple

We’ve spent years getting our heads around the possibilities of denim – from distressed to crushed, and everything in between. But it’s time to go back to the basics, because your smart casual jeans should be classic. Avoid worn effects and rips – these will tip you too far into the ‘casual’ side of the dress code. 

Choose a darker wash

The lived-in look of light-wash jeans may be great for the weekend, but it will feel out of place in a smart casual setting. Our advice: go for indigo, or a dark grey undertone. These washes also tend to be sturdier compared with their softer, prewashed counterparts, which will help create a sharper silhouette. 

Invest in a blazer

The trusted blazer is your best friend when it comes to nailing the ambiguous smart casual aesthetic. Its shape will add a polished feel, without trying too hard. Make sure you go for an unstructured fit and a matte fabric like cotton or tweed. We said blazer, not suit jacket after all. 

Strike a balance

If you’re opting for a smarter top half (think a blazer or a fitted shirt), lend your jeans some casual support with a pair of trainers. Just remember to keep them minimal – no flashy colours or sporty details – and box fresh for a put-together finish.

Get the right fit

A more structured fit looks smarter than jeans that are too loose or too skinny around the legs. We’d recommend a pair of straight-leg jeans. This traditional style works particularly well for athletic physiques, as it won’t tighten uncomfortably around more muscular legs. 

Choose textured fabrics

Denim is a workwear textile, so it partners well with other textured fabrics – think an Oxford shirt, a wool jumper, or a canvas blazer. Shiny, formal fabrics tend to look out of place when paired with denim, so don’t expect your jeans to stand in for your suit trousers.


Words: Victoria Ferguson
Illustration: Ryan Gillett