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Style Advice

How to nail winter smart casual

How to nail winter smart casual

Smart casual might be the hardest dress code to get right. The implication is that you need to make more of an effort than usual casual dressing, but you don’t need to go as formal as a suit. That leaves a lot of room in the middle, which comes down to personal interpretation. 

Debrett’s New Guide To Etiquette & Modern Manners says that smart casual, “…has to look presentable, but not too formal.” How far along the smart casual spectrum you choose depends on the occasion. If you’re not sure of the dress code, lean smart and you can roll up your sleeves or untuck your shirt if you feel overdressed. It’s much easier than trying to dress up a look that’s too casual.

“Getting the smart casual look right is about contrasting elements,” says stylist Luke McDonald. “To create a stylish smart casual outfit that doesn’t skimp on your self-expression, you should focus on mixing everyday clothing with more sophisticated pieces. So, if your trousers and jacket are smart, go for a denim shirt and suede boots, which dress the smarter aspects down and bring the overall look into more casual territory.”


“Winter smart casual is a great opportunity to get away from flat summer fabrics like cotton and linen,” Luke says. “Corduroy and wool look great in bright colours that would feel overpowering on warm-weather fabrics, as they work better reflected on deeper textured in low winter sunlight.”

A peacoat is the perfect smart casual jacket, as its roots in workwear and the military tend to lean casual, but the sharp, structured fit gives a smarter finish. It’s also long enough to wear with a suit jacket, and tends to come in dark tones that work well on thick, wintry wool. Avoid puffer jackets, which automatically make your look casual. 


Outerwear pulls your look together, and can make or break your smart casual balance. Layering it up with a shawl-collar knit falls somewhere in between the two, as it’s more dressed up than a slouchy cardigan, but not totally smart either. It also adds a warm and cosy layer that looks great on its own once the coat comes off.


Pairing a shirt and chinos with a smart shoe is a perfect smart casual choice for social, rather than business or events. It’s best to assume that a business event will call for a smart shirt. Chambray is a perfect middle ground between a smart Oxford shirt and a casual check shirt. 

“Soft denim is a traditional working material, but the smart cut makes for a shirt that brings some character to your look,” says Luke.


White trousers in winter – referred to by the team at Ralph Lauren as a ’good taste colour’ – add some style and flair to dress up otherwise casual pieces like a cosy knit or plain tee. 

“It might seem daring, but they’re really versatile – just think of them as a blank canvas, like your favourite black jeans. They go with anything, but look to an ecru or off white shade, as plain white can be too bright and overbearing,” Luke says.


“Another element to consider is contrasting textures, especially if your outfit isn’t very colourful. A smooth wool coat and soft denim shirt makes the texture of suede shoes really stand out,” Luke says. 

Suede boots or mocassin-toed shoes are a great way to bring texture and colour to a winter outfit, with the added benefit of being distinctive enough not to be mistaken for normal smart shoes.

Words: Ella White
Photography: Lola & Pani
Styling: Luke McDonald