The Smart-Casual Dilemma

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I’m a big fan of polo shirts. Their pique weave makes them perfect for wicking away sweat during the long, hot summer months from July to September; they’re low maintenance; they suit almost everybody; and their collar serves to make them that bit smarter than crew or v-neck tees.

On weekends, the polo shirt is without doubt my most essential “go to” item – I have at least six or seven in various colours. However, I’ve never quite been able to pull them off in the workplace. I often see guys wearing polo shirts in a smart-casual setting and think “Yeah, that looks okay,” but when I try it I look like a thirty-something golfing dad who’s got lost on his way to the clubhouse. It is, in a word, perplexing.

Finding the right balance between weekend and weekday wardrobes is essential to pulling off smart-casual. I often veer from one to the other without finding much common ground in between. With polo shirts, I just can’t seem to reconcile them with anything particularly smart. Perhaps it’s my subconscious’s way of saying, “Andy, this is not a road you want to go down. Many have been there before – the hosts of Top Gear, Jay Leno, David Hasselhoff – and have failed miserably in the great amphitheatre of men’s style. You will fare no better.” Or perhaps I’m just over-thinking the whole thing. After all, I live in a city where people go around dressed like gothic Bo Peeps and people act as if it’s the most normal thing in the world (apart from my mate Jeff, who pokes them with shitty sticks until they run home with watery black mascara streaming down their crimson cheeks).

For me, smart casual still implies wearing a proper, buttoned shirt. The shirt might be cut from a different cloth than usual – a linen/cotton mix, bright check pattern or even a dose of chambray (hmm, maybe not chambray) – but it is still a shirt. A t-shirt and suit/jacket combination is not something that I’m particularly comfortable with. If you can pull it off, then great, but it’s very easy to come off as a Z-list, ex Big Brother contestant at a supermarket opening. Attitude might be the key, here, methinks. The same goes for trainers and suits… in fact it’s best not to start on that one. Life is too short.

So, what do you think reasonably constitutes smart-casual? How do you deal with those invitations with “smart casual” boldly printed in the dress code section?


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Andrew Watson is the editor of men's style blog www.makethman.com. He lives in Tokyo, Japan.