Style SOS: What does smart-casual actually mean?
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There’s an unspoken rule when it comes to getting dressed, and that is you should keep your formality consistent. Pair dressed-up with dressed-down and your outfit looks a bit indecisive. But as with any rule, it can be bent.
High-low dressing is the deliberate mixing of smart with casual (rather than smart-casual, which is about clothes that fit into both categories). This doesn’t have to be as extreme as a tuxedo with a pair of flip-flops (in fact, please make sure that never happens), but it can be a little more divisive than a blazer with jeans. “High-low dressing is the more fun approach of splitting it half and half,” says Thread stylist Freddie Kemp. “So think business on top, party on the bottom.”
Freddie’s advice? Don’t look like someone you did this by accident. Intention is very important in fashion, and never more so than when you’re trying to pull off a sweatpants-with-an-overcoat look. “There are, of course, more extreme ways of doing this high-low dressing trend,” says Freddie, “but there are only a few people that it looks good on.”
As well as looking good and feeling different, there are other advantages to this method of getting dressed. By taking the high-low road, it means you can get more mileage out of your wardrobe. Formal pieces that you’d been saving for special occasions suddenly work all the time. Which, in turn, helps you create something more distinctive and personal by bending boundaries. After all, what are the chances of Andy from accounts showing up to work in the same outfit?
If you’re wondering how far you can stretch the rules, then bear in mind the fact that it’s easier to dress down something formal than to dress up something casual.
Start from the smart elements you want to wear, and see what casual items go with it. Outerwear always tends to run a bit more formal, so think blazers, coats, and suchlike. “We want to make sure that you’re still dressing well," says Freddie.
You could argue that from the waist down, this look is pure athlesiure, but from the waist up, it's based around classic smart-casual pieces. If you’re struggling to work out how to try this high-low dressing, divided by your belt (or drawstring).
The materials are also important – it would be very difficult to make a shiny shellsuit work with a camel coat. Instead, go for natural materials like wool and cotton, as that keeps the outfit cohesive.
Don’t go too oversized, or you’ll risk the just-nipped-out-for-milk look. Consistent colours (black is the classic, but lighter neutrals like brown or navy work too) will also tie everything together.
According to Freddie, the best way to play with high-low dressing is outside of work, where you can afford to be a little more experimental and casual. “Take smart elements like a very classic overcoat, and pull on some joggers, ” says Freddie. “The beanie is also casual. It’s the ethos of this slightly more relaxed approach to dressing, which allows you to put items together that you might not think usually work.”
Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Mark Sanders
Styling: Freddie Kemp