Your Guide to Men’s Business Casual & Smart Casual Trousers

Wooden wardrobe with hanging business casual trousers and smart casual trousers

Recently we published a handy guide to the business casual dress code (check it out here), name checking a few trouser options along the way. Now the time has come to go a little deeper on the topic.

Business casual and smart casual dress codes give us much more freedom when it comes to trousers, but that in itself can cause some confusion.

Here, we’ll take you through five great choices which will fit either the smart casual and/or the business casual look.

Business Casual vs Smart Casual: What’s The Difference?

Business Casual is a step up in formality from Smart Casual. It’s characterised most often by professional (but not formal) trousers, usually paired with a button down dress shirt and leather or suede shoes. The business casual look is usually finished off with one or both of a knitted jumper and blazer.

As for smart casual. It’s largely similar, but the shoes can be much more casual—think Chelsea boots and canvas loafers. The major difference is that for the smart casual look, denim jeans have a greater role to play.

Where Do Denim Jeans Fit into these dress codes?

Jeans aren’t really business casual appropriate unless they’re very dark, but they can look great as a smart casual choice. We’ve put together a separate guide to jeans which you can read here, but the general message is this: paired with the right smart shirt and a nice pair of shoes or boots, jeans can bridge the gap between relaxed and professional. 

Five Styles of Business Casual Trouser to Consider Wearing

1. Chinos

Chinos are the staple of the business and smart casual wardrobe. When fitted well and worn in the right colour, they look great in professional environments, post work drinks on the town, and more informal settings.

When it comes to colour, it’s usually best to stick to a more neutral one. We’d recommend having two pairs: a darker pair in navy, charcoal or even black, and a lighter beige or khaki. This way, they’ll allow you to change up the rest of your outfit regularly.

What to wear with Chinos

A smart button downshirt in a slim or regular fit, with a straight point collar is the go-to choice here. Plain patterns of white and blue are the old reliable for all colour chinos.

Subtly striped shirts are also a great choice and pair brilliantly with darker chinos.  As for the rest of the outfit, it’s up to you. A plain coloured knitted jumper in a darker tone (dark blue, navy, olive green, grey) goes nicely over your shirt. To finish, a blazer in a darker grey, brown or navy can also look great. 

2. Wool Trousers

Wool trousers are seriously underrated. They’re just old fashioned enough to look classic, but also carry a contemporary, cultured look. They’re a step up from jeans as everyday legwear, and so look great as part of both casual and business casual outfits. 

Colour wise and pattern wise, anything from a light grey to navy, in solid colours or thin checks will do nicely.

What to wear with wool trousers

If you’re looking to wear them as casual wear, the world is your oyster. Boots may be a bit heavy and clunky, but any low top sneaker looks great.

For business casual, pair your woolen trousers with a dapper pair of derbies, chukka boots, brogues.

Up top, a button down shirt is the best bet. In casual spring and summer outfits, a short sleeve shirt will look fantastic. For a smarter, more professional look, a dress shirt is worth thinking about. 

3. Flat Fronted Trousers

Essentially a pair of everyday business or dress trousers, but without the standard pleats. This feature makes them a little less formal, and tend to look younger and trendier. They may not be the best choice for everyday casual wear unless you’re more of a smart dresser. However, since they’re a small step above chinos on the formality scale, they fit the business casual brief to a tee. 

What to wear with flat fronted trousers:

Little else but a dress shirt will suffice here. If you have a more colourful pair, a plain t-shirt can look good, but the prime choice is a button down dress shirt. Up top, a blazer or overcoat, or indeed a light knitted jumper pair up nicely. Down below, keep your shoes smart—Oxfords, Brogues, and Derbies in dark colours are perfect.

4. Corduroy Trousers

Cords have come in and out of fashion a dizzying number of times in the last few decades, but here they are, back again. In truth, when worn with the right fit and colour, they’re always in. They’re built to last, and offer great comfort.

We’d usually recommend a darker colour—try navy, midnight blue, black or dark brown. If you want to stand out a little, a lighter brown or olive green looks great, but these will have to be paired with the right shirt. 

What to wear with corduroy trousers:

For business casual outfits, stick to a plain coloured button down shirt, in white or blue. Stripe shirts tend not to look great as there’s a visible clash with the fabric of the trousers. However, one exception is navy cords with a subtly blue striped button down. If you’ve got a lighter pair of cords, say an olive green or light brown, stick to a white, navy or lighter blue button down.

If you’re going smart casual, any of the above will do nicely, particularly when finished off with a pair of sneakers or canvas loafers. A plain colour t-shirt, or one with a subtle pattern will also look great. 

5. Cropped Trousers

Simply put, cropped trousers are just trousers (or chinos or cords etc) with an extra inch or two taken off the ankle. Sometimes, the ankle hem will be turned up giving an even more leisurely look.

Cropped trousers are a fine choice for both business casual and smart casual outfits, particularly in spring and summer. They strike a confident balance between offbeat and professional, and while they’re not an ideal choice for a sombre meeting, they’ll strike the right chord in most business casual and leisure settings. 

What to wear with cropped trousers

It’s all about the footwear here. That extra inch of exposure draws the eye to the feet, so make sure the shoes are on point. For leisure, low-top sneakers, tennis shoes and loafers are ideal. You’ll want to avoid anything with a high top like chukka boots, as these won’t line up with the ankle fit. However, if it’s cropped jeans you’re wearing, these actually look pretty great with a pair of boots. For work, slip on loafers or brogues are a great call, in leather or suede.

As for what to wear up top, it depends on the occasion. For work, a well fitted, 100% cotton button down shirt is the best choice, while a t-shirt or sweater will also look great for leisure time.

Oh and one more thing about cropped trousers: Tread carefully with socks. They’ve been designed to flash a bit of ankle and set your shoes off, so a loud pair of socks can easily look a little too gawky and unseemingly. Secret socks or ankle socks are usually the best approach here.

So that’s trousers taken care of for now. Hopefully you know a little more than you knew before. Check out our related articles below, and when you’re ready to begin looking for your next dress shirt, check out our great collection here.

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