If you're going to drop a serious chunk of cash on your suit, you'd be foolish not to get as much wear out of it as possible. Just because a suit is traditionally considered formal wear, doesn't mean it has to be reserved for weddings and big days at the office. Modern suits are more versatile than ever – the only limit is your enthusiasm for sartorial experimentation.
The first rule of dressing down a suit is to remember that it is not a single piece of clothing. Think of your suit as two separate pieces that can be worn independently and still look good. As long as you've nailed the fit, you can mix and match with all kinds of other items in your wardrobe.
After making that mental shift, you're ready to start rocking your suit with the same sangfroid as your favourite pair of jeans. These are the basic rules for dressing down a suit.
What to do with the top half
The key word to keep in mind here is “relaxed.” Do away with the trappings that are associated with the office, like stuffy ties and accessories. Undoing that top button goes a long way, too. The easiest way to make a suit look laidback and dressed-down is to pair it with items that are laid back and dressed-down.
In the cooler months, swap your shirt and tie for knitwear and cardigans, or layer it over the top if you want to maintain a look's formality. This is a great opportunity to create interesting texture and colour combinations. Make sure you opt for lightweight knitwear if you don't want to ruin the slim silhouette of your suit. Keep the colour scheme neutral if you want to maintain some degree of dressiness, and introduce bolder colours or patterns if you want to show off more personality.
Even if you're sticking with a classic shirt, it can still be dressed down for more casual occasions. This is the right time to ditch the formal frills (tie, pocket square, belt) in favour of your own accessories. An interesting piece of jewellery or pair of sunglasses adds effortless, off-duty cool to the outfit. There are also opportunities to play with the shirt itself. Choose something with a more daring pattern or colour, or switch up the material to something more frequently associated with casualwear (jersey, chambray, denim, etc).
Dressing down a suit doesn't get any easier than adding a t-shirt. You should already have a reliable selection of basic tees in your arsenal. Solid neutral colours are a go-to option, but don't ignore more unexpected contrasting colour combinations and upscale graphic t-shirts. If you're going the t-shirt level of casual, you can also add edge with well-chosen accessories.
Only do this with unstructured cotton or linen suits. It won't work with wool work suits. Pairing your suit with a singlet is the most dressed-down option of all. The same t-shirt rules apply here: go plain, coloured or printed, and jazz up the rest of your look with attention-grabbing scarves, sunglasses, sneakers pocket squares, jewellery, etc.
What to do with the bottom half
With your top half sorted out, it's time to look down. A fashion-conscious gentleman such as yourself no doubt already knows that footwear can make or break an outfit, so choosing the right shoes is key. These are the finishing touches your dressed down suit needs:
The fashion world has loosened up about what constitutes acceptable footwear with a suit. Boots are now in. Something along the sleek Chelsea boots line keeps the look chic and slightly dressy, while a military- or hiking-inspired boot can look incredibly cool if your colours are well coordinated.
It goes without saying that adding sneakers to a suit significantly takes the look down a notch. Because the sneaker world is so vast, you have a lot of room to play around here. You could go for something slim, like a classic Converse, or choose something flashy that Kanye would wear. Both work, depending on exactly how dressed down you want to get.
Belt or no belt?
If your trousers fit correctly (and if they don't, it's time to revaluate a few of your priorities), you don't need a belt. Save it for the office. Or, if you're not comfortable losing it altogether, go for a style that reinforces the casual aesthetic of the outfit. Think plaited leather, rope, canvas and D-ring belts. Colours are highly encouraged.
D'Marge is one of Australia's most popular men's style and fashion blogs.