Navigating dress codes can be a minefield. Take smart-casual, for example. Many men have devoted countless hours to decoding what on earth it could possibly mean, and in truth the jury’s still out. One solid trick to rely on is to start smart, and switch out one element for something laid-back – a roll-neck jumper instead of a shirt, sneakers instead of Derbies, or a casual outer layer in place of your usual suit jacket; shirt and tie intact underneath. It’s an expert-level style move cribbed from the likes of Frank Ocean and everybody’s favourite style uncle, Jeff Goldblum, but a good one all the same. If you’re the type of guy who baulks at the thought of full-blown formality then congratulations, you’re in the right place. Read on for seven ways to layer up a shirt and tie without a single suit jacket or blazer in sight.
The trusty trucker is a sartorial Swiss army knife: rugged, durable, loaded with workwear prestige, but also a decent option for when you want to look smart but not stiff. “When wearing a denim jacket with a shirt and tie, you need to make sure the jacket still looks clean and sharp,” says Burton senior outerwear designer, Jay Jones. “Go for a slim fit and avoid anything too distressed.” Stick to a plain indigo, black or blue wash, and layer it underneath a navy mac in the colder months. Match your trousers to your wash (navy with blue, black or grey with black), and finish with low-top tennis shoes.
Another god-tier menswear staple, the bomber jacket has lived more lives than Action Bronson’s had hot dinners. “Bomber jackets are a wardrobe essential these days, with smarter options creating a sort of modern suit look,” says Jones. If wearing yours with a shirt and tie, look for plain MA-1 styles (your typical, no-collar silhouette) in premium (and more importantly, matte) fabrics to avoid resembling a nightclub bouncer. Jones recommends “a nice textured wool,” though heavy cotton canvas, suede and moleskin are also astute options. Keep any details to a minimum, avoiding unnecessary pockets and patches, and wear with a knitted tie, Oxford shirt and chinos.
Okay, so technically this one is a coat, not a jacket (the clue’s in the name), but when the heavens open, you’ll thank us for including it. A mac or trench is expressly designed to keep its wearer dry, whether he’s on the front lines of battle or just nipping to the coffee shop for a flat white. It’s been an office wear staple for decades, as it’s one of the few coats you can throw on over a suit, but looks equally astute sans-jacket. When it comes to picking a style, camel is classic, but navy, grey and black are also smart options that work well with grey trousers, a sky blue shirt and a pair of chunky-soled brogues.
Neat, cropped and preppy, a Harrington jacket is a solid alternative to a business-casual blazer: if it’s good enough for Steve McQueen, it’s good enough for Steve from accounts. “I’d go for a relaxed fit in a classic colour like navy, khaki or tan,” suggests Jones. “You can create a classic look with a sharp twill fabric, or if you want to go for a more modern style, then look at the newer tech fabrics like nylon.” As with the bomber jacket, you’ll want to steer clear of anything too dressy: slim-fit trousers and a pair of loafers are your friends here. While most Harringtons will be lined with tartan, don’t let that stop you from wearing it over a gingham shirt and a striped tie – the key is to choose patterns similar in colour, with a clear contrast in scale.
Another warfare classic, the M65 – to give its army designation – is proper utilitarian stuff, with four front pockets, a short, action-friendly length and, traditionally, a drawstring waist. Its arrival in the 1940s marked a changed approach to military dressing: the loose fit meant that soldiers could layer up or down, depending on the climate. Versatility that later appealed to everyone from Lord Snowdon to John Rambo. The same approach can be taken when wearing a field jacket with smart-casual attire: after your shirt and tie, layer a dark-coloured style in waxed cotton or nylon over a lambswool cardigan or a canvas chore jacket for a truly smart way to dress down.
Wearing a leather biker jacket over smarter attire is a style swerve pulled straight out the playbook of Celine creative director (and former Saint Laurent maestro) Hedi Slimane. Heavy with attitude, a good one will fit like a second skin, and if worn with a shirt and tie, will result in a look that’s simply perfecto. “You’ll need a clean leather finish, staying away from anything too distressed,” says Jones. “Choose one with high-shine silver zips and hardware to create a smarter look.” Then put those Monochrome is mandatory here: a dazzling white shirt, narrow black tie and skinny-fit trousers amp up the indie rocker feel, as will a pair of supple leather Chelsea boots.
If a Harrington isn’t quite your thing, then look to its minimalist cousin, the wool blouson. Though technically a catch-all term for any short jacket that nips in at the waist (Harringtons and bombers both fall into this category), the type we’re talking about has a boxy, quasi-Scandi feel with a cropped length and, usually, large front pockets. Look for styles that zip rather than button, avoiding anything with a shearling collar, which will look confused with a tie. Treat it as you would a really modern suit jacket, wearing with cropped, slim-fitting trousers, a crisp white shirt and a narrow tie.