How To Dress Well is a series by The Daily Telegraph. Calling on a panel of experts and writers, it aims to give useful, no-nonsense solutions on what to wear to look good - whether for work, weekend, special occasion or down the pub.
Few dress codes are more mired in anxiety than the dreaded ‘smart casual’. Spurred by the impending onset of party season, Mickey Erb decided to tackle it head on. Read on to find out whether he thinks it's a winner.
Smart-casual? When am I not smart-casual? Time was, weekdays started with a suit and ended in a chino. Now, aged 64, I’m semi-permanently attached to chinos, briefly peeling the poor rags off only for the seven hours of sleep I can muster between office-work or kicking back with mates.
Clothes make the man, it’s true. Despite attempts to mentally vacate the office, weekends would be remiss without finding an old post-it note pummelled into the pockets of my smart-but-not-too-smart-still-casual jackets: annoying reminders of unsent emails and disgruntled colleagues (or are they friends?) Work and play have never been so intertwined. Switching off has never been harder, and as a result, my attempts at smart casual have become more casual, less smart.
And so, with my sister-in-law’s 60th birthday party on the horizon, Alastair Rae, head honcho at clothing brand Albam, offered to show me a lesson in how to smarten up. The key, he tells me, is ‘to carve out space in your wardrobe for fun, smart-casual clothing.'
Alastair tells me to start with an overcoat. ‘Most people reach for a blazer, but that can feel too work-y. An overcoat in a soft fabric gives a nod to tradition, but is less predictable’. In place of my trusty white shirt, he suggests a knitted jumper. My well-worn chinos are swapped in for some trendy, wide-leg trousers. And my brogues? Leather trainers. ‘When you go to a smart-casual event you should change out of work clothes completely,’ Alastair concludes.
When my sister-in-law’s party rolls around, I take his advice. I am comfy. Too comfy, perhaps. My wife is the first to mention the trousers. Then, my daughters - ‘cool trackies’ (their words, not mine) - and so the onslaught of not-quite-endorsements continued. A personal highlight from a fellow guest: ‘The type of outfit a well-dressed student might throw-on during an early morning smoke-detector test’. The overriding consensus was one of uncertainty.
Mullan overcoat, £425, Albam
Ribbed crew, £149, Albam
Would I integrate this ‘look’ into my wardrobe? In part. Each item carried the weightiness of a quality garb and, like a glossy pet, I revelled in the cooing and petting they elicited from otherwise unimpressed family and friends. As an older guy, baggy trousers and trainers are never going to look young and sporty - more likely misinterpreted as a cry for help - and, given my alarming shrinkage (from 31” leg to 29” and counting), cashing out for the latest fads feels like a moot investment.
But the slouchy overcoat’s a winner. It’s like wearing a dressing gown, but one that doesn’t trigger security when taking a turn about my local Sainsbury’s - which, in my opinion, makes it worth every penny.
From now on, I’m relegating my blazer to the office and erring on the smart side of smart-casual. And if that means looking like an entitled student, so be it.