Casual, Smart Casual, and Business Casual… What’s the Difference?

Casual, Smart Casual, and Business Casual… What’s the Difference?

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We all know that dress codes and styles change frequently. The norm of 30 years (or even 5!) years ago is not the same as now. But there are a few things that are consistent:

  • You want feel good and confident with how you dress
  • Its been proven that dressing well can give you a fast track to success on your working team, with customers, and even your boss
  • People do judge you by your appearance


On the other hand, you also don’t want to look outlandishly different than those around you or seem like you are overdoing it, as that also gives a bad impression. So a casual type of look can still help you feel and look great and not go overboard. But what are the different types of “casual” that people mention? It’s important to understand the subtleties and differences between the main styles of dress codes.


Casual Outfit


It’s important to mention that the casual we are talking about does not mean when you are lounging around the house, when a worn out t-shirt and mesh shorts can do the trick. When you are going out anywhere, casual dress still needs to have bring respect with it, and it doesn’t mean sloppy dressing sloppily or like a middle schooler. That generally means leaving the novelty graphic tee shirts and flip flops at home.

However, this doesn’t mean you should not be comfortable. A safe winner is dressing in a minimalistic way, with a polo, jeans, or even a nice tee (try to avoid big logos!). This allows you to have the flexibility to layer depending on the season and occasion - creating a remarkable amount of different outfit combinations from only a few articles of clothing. The key here is comfort, bringing a positive and relaxed aura that shows you care, but in an understated way. Some brands in the casual area can include Levis, Uniqlo, and H&M, among others.


  • Comfortable tees, polo shirts, jeans
  • Minimalistic clothes that can combine for multiple outfits
  • Clean and not wrinkled


  • Raggedly or torn clothes
  • Huge logos

Smart Casual


Smart casual is generally a middle ground between being too casual and too formal - that is neat, conventional, but relatively informal in style. One of the big difference between smart casual and casual is generally the removal of jeans from the protocol, instead replacing them with nicer chinos or slacks. This can be a good outfit selection when meeting people at a restaurant or bar, or maybe an event with people you already know.

For smart casual, say goodbye to your hoodies and and instead go with a long-sleeve shirt. You could even go with a solid color t-shirt with a blazer on top and a decent pair of pants below. In colder weather, you could incorporate a leather jacket or scarf for some extra flai. A few of the brands that generally fit in the smart casual segment include Gap, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Zara.


  • A proper balance between casual and formal
  • Long sleeve shirts and chinos
  • A leather jacket and/or scarf in cooler weather


  • Jeans or Hoodies
  • Overly formal outfits like suits or fancy shoes

Business Casual


For business casual, it is another step up - almost getting beyond the “casual” range altogether. However, that doesn’t mean you should wear a formal tuxedo to such events… doing so would definitely make you stand out (and not in a good way). In cases like this that include business meetings and dinners, as well as other networking occasions you can use the overall guide from smart casual, but bring it a bit further up.

Generally good business casual outfits include nice solid navy blue, black, or grey pants, a button-down collared shirt, as well as the possible integration of blazers and sport coats. You could also use a performance suit jacket and pants set (without a tie) for this, giving you a lot of comfort but looking on the nicer side of things. Business casual also means the removal of polo shirts and t-shirts.

While the name is “business casual”, this style area is great to use in any situation where you want to impress that is not a formal occasion. For example, it works great with dates or networking events even outside of the business field. There are many brands that feature clothing for business casual - including Banana Republic, and yes - also xSuit.


  • Utilizing blazers with collared button-down shirts
  • Black, blue, or grey jackets and pants
  • Not going too over the top, but definitely on the upper side of casual


  • T-shirts, polos, or jeans
  • Overly colorful or outlandish designs
  • Ties are not generally needed



Want to see more in-depth about how to make your dress shirt adapt to any occasion? Check out our recent post, ‘The Versatility of a Dress Shirt – How to Change Between Formal and Casual’.