Your casual clothes are the ones you wear on your own time.
It’s hard to put boundaries on what pieces of clothing count as “casual” and which ones don’t. If you ask what a suit is, most people will say “business wear,” but a salmon-pink suit with yellow pinstripes? Not so appropriate for the boardroom.
With standards relaxing everywhere and some industries (art, web technology, etc.) priding themselves on a relaxed, unconventional look, “business” wear is nearly as hard to define. Depending on your job, your casual wardrobe might be fancier than your work wardrobe, or less dressy, or it might be the exact same clothes.
So don’t worry too much about the old categories and definitions.
Upscale or down-to-earth, sleek or rugged, casual clothes are your clothes for you. They’re the expression of your personal style outside of any external dress code, when no one else is defining your style for you, and the choice of what to wear is entirely your own.
Unfortunately, this freedom can be a little frightening. Most men subsequently retreat into a default “uniform” of casual duds: think khakis and a button-down shirt for nicer occasions, and jeans and a t-shirt for everything else. While such get-ups done in the right materials, colors, and fit can be decent looking, they’re hardly either interesting or sharp.
With a little thought and effort, however, your casual clothes can turn heads every day, everywhere you go.
How to Elevate Your Casual Style
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also the soul of good casual clothing.
If you look at a fashion model — or just a well-dressed guy on the street — you’ll see that what makes him stand out is that his clothes don’t look like everybody else’s.
That doesn’t mean that to look sharp and casual you have to wear wild prints and eccentric garments; the bar of mainstream men’s style is set so low, you don’t have deviate greatly or make a big effort to stand out!
Here are 4 simple ways to elevate your casual wardrobe above the status quo:
One of the biggest problems with the t-shirt/jeans or dress shirt/khakis look is that it’s complete at a single glance. No one’s attention is going to be held, because there’s nothing there to hold it. Once they’ve taken in your trousers and your shirt they’re done.
Layering basically just means adding pieces to an outfit. A blazer is a layer; so is a cardigan or a hat or a scarf or even a casually-slung messenger bag.
The result of adding details beyond the shirt and trousers is visual complexity. There’s more to take in, so people’s eyes linger longer.
You also get the practical benefits of an outfit you can change on the go, of course; shed a layer when it gets too hot, or offer your jacket to a lady when she gets cold. The only real drawback to a layered look is added warmth in the summer and occasionally having to keep track of something you took off.
So add a few pieces. Jackets are great, whether they’re a navy blazer or a denim or leather jacket; have one of those at a minimum. From there, go where your style and tastes take you.
Learn more about some common layers:
- Guide to the Sport Coat
- How to Wear a Sport Coat With Jeans
- Guide to the Blazer
- Guide to Leather Jackets
- Guide to Sweaters (General)
- Guide to the Cardigan
2. Emphasize the Accents
Looking good is about people noticing your appearance and remembering it.
Good accents give people something to remember you by.
What’s an accent? Basically anything that isn’t the big, body-covering pieces of the outfit. Trousers, shirts, and jackets aren’t considered accents; almost anything else can be, depending on how you wear it.
Making small upgrades to your basic accents can take an outfit from “uniform” to “unique.” Trade out plain brown dress shoes for a pair of brightly-colored canvas shoes or a loafer with a metallic buckle. Swap a leather belt for a colored web one. Add a tasteful piece of masculine jewelry or a unique watch.
This does call for a little moderation. Your outfit shouldn’t be all about one accent. If all anyone can remember is your neon-yellow ammo belt you’ve overdone it. But some color, detail, and uniqueness where most men are wearing the most neutral option available will definitely set you apart from the crowd.
Learn more about accent pieces:
- Guide to Men’s Jewelry
- How to Choose a Wristwatch
- Guide to Scarves
- Guide to Belts
- Guide to Pocket Squares
3. Tailor the Fit
Even though a non-layered look isn’t as interesting as a layered one, it still can be sharp — as long as you nail the fit of the garments.
Casual should never look sloppy. You’re showcasing your own personal taste — and you don’t want people to think you have a taste for laziness.
We usually think of tailoring as being an option for business clothing, but casual clothes benefit just as much from some customization.
You don’t have to invest in bespoke construction for all your casual clothes (though it is a good way to get a unique jacket or blazer made exactly the way you want it), but a few alterations to the fit should be mandatory for most wardrobe items.
Trousers should be hemmed so that they break neatly, with the cuff resting lightly on the top of your shoes. The crotch should be kept as close as possible without sacrificing comfort so that you don’t get a saggy look between your legs or in the butt.
Shirts are also worth tailoring, especially if you tend toward the slim side and most shirts are baggy on you. A baggy shirt tucked in makes a “muffin top” of fabric spilling out over your belt (terrible), and a baggy shirt untucked billows like a sail (also bad). You also want to avoid short-sleeved shirts with armholes that are too big for you, as they make you look scrawny and weaker than you are.
Most of these alterations are a matter of between $5 and $20 at any qualified tailor. Factor it into the cost before you buy your clothes, because it’s very rare to ever buy something off the rack that requires no alterations at all.
Learn more about fit and alterations:
It’s all about variety.
If you’re a big fan of sports jackets, and you own a whole closet full of neat ones, you’re set for that look. Whatever combinations you come up with, you’ll have the clothes to pull it off.
But you don’t want to be that guy who always wears a sports jacket.
Mix it up some. Invest in shirts that can be worn without a jacket, or shirts that are unusual under a jacket, like a long-sleeved t-shirt instead of a collared shirt. Substitute cardigans or casual coats for blazer-style jackets. And so on.
Don’t be afraid to go to stores you’ve never thought about shopping at before and trying on styles that look nothing like your day-to-day wear. You might surprise yourself with what you look good in.
That said, of course, you never want to buy experiments until you’ve tried them on and spent a good long while checking the effect out in the dressing room mirror . . .
Wearing Sharper Casual With Confidence
If you’ve added some variety to your casual wardrobe, you’re ready to go out there with a detailed, layered look.
Now comes the important part: be ready to turn some heads and attract some comments.
Most guys just don’t dress well. You’ll see it looking around. On any given street (unless you’re in a very fashionable neighborhood) most men will be wearing interchangeable outfits. You could yank the clothes off one guy and slap them on the next without anyone noticing the difference (adjusting for body type of course).
When you start dressing better, you will not blend in. In some situations you’re going to seem a little overdressed. And that’s just fine. As long as you’re not wearing business clothes in a clearly non-business situation, you can be as dressy as you want. It just has to be clear that it’s your look.
There are limits, of course. You probably don’t want to show up to a kegger wearing a summer suit. Use a little judgment. But for the most part, accept the idea that you’re going to be better dressed and attract more attention than most of your fellow males.
Own it, and enjoy it.
Last updated: March 8, 2018