How to rock relaxed

Sartorial super-styling during your downtime is easier than it looks. Experts walk you through what to wear to a first date, a barbecue, a night out and more.

Your downtime is where you can really play around with your rags, look rich in a relaxed way and show off some character, says Theo Poulakis, co-founder of men's luxury department store, Harrolds.

Your casual clothes should make you feel comfortable, protected, confident and should express your personality. Most importantly, they should make you feel good, adds Poulakis.

But, according to Patrick Johnson, designer and owner of P. Johnson tailors in Sydney, this is an area most Australian men struggle with.

"It seems to be an area that's a bit lost - we have super formal work clothes and casual cargos and not much in between," says Johnson.

So how do you navigate the wasteland between suits and tracksuit pants? Designers and stylists share their opinions.

A 'smart casual' event: This is the death knell of dress codes. Not even women have mastered this one. How casual is too casual, how smart is too smart? Mr Porter, a one-stop fashion website for men, offers this advice, "The key is not to worry about being over dressed; few people who matter will worry that you looked too good." Boon agrees with erring on the 'smart' side, "Jeans and a t-shirt is never smart casual. Smart means a jacket."

First date: Avoiding the treacherous first date fashion fail can seem tricky. Look like you tried to hard and they might get the wrong idea, look too casual and they might think you're a waste of time. The idea here is to dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and expresses your personality, but shows you put in effort.

According to Paul Waddy, designer with shoe label Antoine+Stanley, the most important thing is that your bottom looks top - "people notice if your shoes are scuffed, particularly women". A pair of brown or black leather brogues are classic date shoes, he suggests.

Your clothing choice depends on where you're going, but you can't go wrong with a pair of well-fitting dark jeans, a crisp shirt and a tailored blazer, says Melbourne-based fashion stylist Philip Boon. If you're going for a grungier look, add in some stubble and swap your shirt for a t-shirt. Whatever you choose, tonight isn't the time to go extreme with your ensemble. There will be plenty of opportunity for that once the green fashion flag has been waved.

Meeting your significant other's parents or friends: Similar to a first date, you're here to impress without looking overdone. Keep things simple and classic. Johnson suggests a relaxed cotton navy suit with a white t-shirt or shirt underneath and a pair of brown leather shoes.

If nothing else, avoid t-shirts with swear words, naked girls, cartoon characters or drug-use printed on them. Trust us.

The pub: Get comfortable or dutch up the courage to try something new. Kevin Luong, head personal shopper with Topman in Melbourne, suggests dabbling in an 'All American' trend that's hot for winter. "Think chinos with loafers, a varsity or leather jacket and a white t-shirt," he says. Beige chinos are classic, but you could get a little more experimental and try them in an autumnal colour, such as burgundy or green. If that all feels too formal, try toning things down with a casual blazer, polo shirt and knitted black tie, he adds.

A night out: Keep your style slick: tight fitting jeans or chinos and a fitted blazer or leather jacket, says Donny Galella, stylist with Westfield and fashion writer. If you're adventurous, he suggests experimenting with different patterns or colours between your shirt, tie and blazer – an eclectic look that's big at the moment.

Depending on where you're going, you can wear a suit, but keep it dark and interesting. "The whole 50s/60s vibe is still really in after Mad Men," says Luong. "Slim cut suits, slimmer ties. Guys are parting their hair or slicking it back – it's very cool," he adds.

As for shoes, whatever suits your style and looks elegant, clean and polished works, he says. If you're into a more relaxed look, you might want to go with motorbike boots. Velvet slippers are back in fashion and will add a 'gentleman' feel, while high-top sneakers can work if you want something more youthful. Just make sure you're comfortable in whatever you choose.

Brunch: Relaxed jeans, a lived-in cashmere cardigan and suede loafers are perfect for a coffee and the paper, says Poulakis. This is the time to feel at home in your favourite things. Add a cosy knit for winter to add another layer. "You need to say, 'I'm me now.' 'Me' doesn't have to be super high fashion, it can be a white t-shirt and jeans. It's about developing that confidence to be yourself," says Poulakis. As the temperature drops, a simple scarf or beanie can complete the look.

Barbecue: Boon suggests a great print shirt with jeans and loafers and a pair of classic sunglasses, such as Ray Bans, Persols or Carreras. For summer, a pair of tailored shorts in a classic colour such as beige or navy is a must. It's temping to wear thongs during the warmer months, but there are many other choices, says Waddy. "Leather sandals are a more sophisticated option than Havaianas. We're also seeing a lot of loafers and boat shoes with a modern twist. A lot of shoes these days can be worn without socks. It's a really great, relaxed look."

A day at the beach: Lose any on - or below-the-knee board shorts, says Galella. A more modern look is a mid-thigh swimming trunk – a la Jude Law in The Talented Mr Ripley. Bright colours and prints are popular for board shorts at the moment, he adds. Throw on a polo shirt, some khaki shorts and espadrilles (canvas or leather shoes with some rope detailing around the sole) and you're ready to go.

Golf: You're often on the course to network and talk business as well as to play golf, so you need to make a good impression. Philip Boon advises an old school golfing outfit, such as a bright argyle vest over a shirt and light-coloured trousers. If you want something more modern, beige chinos and a white polo shirt will always work. If you have them, white or tan golf shoes are an ideal choice, but a pair of tan loafers, boat or driving shoes can also look stylish. Avoid wearing your white running shoes.

A day on the harbour: "It depends on whose boat you're going on," laughs Poulakis. "But I think a Thom Browne navy short suit with a white polo underneath," he says. The look here is fresh and nautical – think sporty and white, blue and red. Add a pair of plimsoles or boat shoes and don't forget polarised sunglasses, such as Persols or Ray Bans. Now go and enjoy a gin and tonic on the deck.


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