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How much should I pay for: A smart-casual look?

How much should I pay for: A smart-casual look?

Smart-casual is confusing enough even before you consider how much to spend on each of its elements. Because you can wear each each item in a smart-casual look separately, you get better cost-per-wear than something like a suit. But the maths is made tougher by the fact that there’s no one definition of what smart-casual actually means (although our guide to the rules of smart-casual should help).

“It’s widely interpretable,” says Thread stylist Brooke Phillips. “Which is why the best versions offer on-the-go adjustments.” A pocket square, for example, tips your look towards the smarter end of the smart-casual spectrum. But if you turn up and no one else is wearing one, then you can stow it in your trouser pocket and make the outfit more relaxed.

Picking a polo shirt over a dress shirt is also wise if you’re looking to hedge your bets. “It’s a bit more casual, but the texture means it pairs with a blazer,” says Brooke. “It’s a middle ground between a t-shirt and the kind of shirt you’d wear to work.” It can also be tweaked according to whether the event is more smart, or more casual: tucked in and buttoned-up leans formal, loose and open looks relaxed.


“Because of that flexibility, this outfit is perfect for all kinds of situations,” says Brooke. “It’s ideal if your office doesn’t have a dress code but you like to look smart, especially if you’ve got somewhere you can hang the blazer when you went to dress down. But it’s also good for dates and evenings out. Even better, it’s completely seasonless. Just add a coat when the weather gets chillier.”

But how much should you actually spend on a smart-casual outfit? Below, Brooke breaks down how to invest your budget at two different price points.

Budget: £100

Blazer, polo shirt and pocket square

Blazer: “This is where you should spend most of your budget as you’ll get the best cost-per-wear. They’re so versatile, especially if you get one in a textured fabric. At this price, the best blazers are grey, navy or black. You’ll get the most wear out of them and, because they’re dark, it won’t be as noticeable that the materials are cheaper.”

Polo shirt: “The fabric is the most important thing here. Avoid anything manmade and get pure cotton – it’s breathable and easiest to wear. Again, muted colours are best. Grey, navy and black look classic, but if you want to inject a bit of colour, burgundy is a subtle way to keep things interesting.”

Pocket square: “It can be tempting to get a really cheap pocket square, but accessories are a cost-effective way to add a touch of luxury and make an entire outfit feel more premium. Cotton matches well with the texture of the blazer and polo, but it is possible to get silk at this price. The shine automatically makes a statement, though, so avoid anything too colourful.”

Budget: £500

Premium blazer, polo shirt and pocket square

Blazer: “Again, this is the item you’ll wear most, so it makes sense to invest. Because the materials and construction are better, you can experiment with a texture that draws the eye more. It will go with everything from dark jeans to chinos and even your suit trousers. As long as the colours don’t match so closely it looks like you grabbed the wrong jacket.”

Polo shirt: “Merino wool is incredibly comfortable and also controls your body temperature – when you’re warm, it breathes, but when it’s cooler the heat stays trapped against your skin. Long sleeves make the polo that little bit smarter and mean you can even wear it to dress down a suit, as well as with jeans and chinos. It will work everywhere, basically.”

Pocket square: “If you’ve kept the jacket and polo subtle, this is where you can experiment with colour and pattern, since it’s only a small part of your outfit. And you can always remove it if it feels like too much.”