We’ve got some ideas for what to wear next time you’re heading out for a laid-back meal.
A hundred years ago, the term “dinner outfit” would have referred to a double-breasted jacket meant to be worn with a bowtie. Today, not many people are going to ‘20s-style dinner parties, and meals are often about as casual as it gets.
But there’s still some confusion when it comes to casual dinner outfits for guys. What exactly counts as casual? How can you look good while ensuring you don’t dress up or down too much?
Then there’s the question of how you dress for the situation. Going to dinner with your partner is different from going with your family, and going with your coworkers is different from either. After all, there are levels of casual style, so how can you pick the right one?
If it all sounds confusing, don’t worry — I’m here to help. Here’s what you should know about picking out a casual dinner outfit, no matter the situation.
What Is a Casual Dinner Outfit?
Historically, going out to eat has meant dressing up at least a little bit. But with the advent of fast casual restaurants, the dress code has gotten muddied. Are you supposed to wear a blazer and Oxford cloth button down (OCBD) if you’re going to Chipotle?
That’s the dilemma of eating at a more casual joint: You don’t want to look slouchy, but you also don’t want to go overboard. It’s an awkward middle ground that many guys don’t know how to traverse. So what do you do?
For the most part, casual dinner outfits often fall under the umbrella of smart casual. Depending on the exact restaurant, you may want to lean smarter or more casual.
But there’s a little more to it than that. It all depends on the type of casual restaurant you’re going to — some are extremely casual, while others have formal elements.
Here are the main types of casual restaurants in order from most casual to least casual (and note that these are all American examples):
- Diner-style (Steak ’n Shake, Denny’s, Red Robin)
- Family restaurants (Chili’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Cracker Barrel)
- Casual (Applebee’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster)
- Fast casual (Panera Bread, Chipotle, Panda Express)
- Local (bars, gastropubs, cafés)
Consider the Occasion
A good way to determine how smart or casual you should dress is to consider exactly what the special occasion is and who you’re going with.
As a rule of thumb, events like birthdays, anniversaries, or office dinners warrant a smarter look. Laid-back or impromptu events like eating with your parents or dining with friends allow for more casual dress.
In addition, think about how the people you’re going with typically dress. You don’t want to out-dress them, but you also don’t want to be underdressed compared to them.
At the end of the day, you don’t have to put too much effort into a casual dinner outfit, but you should be deliberate about it.
Men’s Casual Dinner Date Outfits
Whether you’re going on a first date or having a date night with your partner, you’ll want to have some good dinner date outfits queued up.
Date outfits are typically smarter, but you don’t want to be too dressy if heading to a casual restaurant.
Here are some ideas to help you strike the perfect balance:
Single Layer Simplicity
Wear a jacket or overshirt over a tucked-in T-shirt for an easygoing yet sharp look. This style can look more smart or casual depending on what you wear.
For example, a sleek leather jacket and chinos (as shown above) are on the smarter side, but a flannel shirt jacket and carpenter pants will give you a more informal workwear-inspired look.
If you’re heading out on a date as the weather transitions from warmer to colder or vice versa, you’ll want to look dapper and be prepared for any changing temps.
A good way to accomplish this is to don a few thinner layers so you’re ready for rain or shine. Here, a Harrington jacket provides protection from the elements, while a cardigan and OCBD keep things stylish.
Crucially, each layer looks great on its own, which is one of the most important rules for layering.
Smart and Sporty
OCBDs, cardigans, and jackets are often the standard date night recommendations, but if you’re after a sportier vibe, try popping on a vest or gilet. It’s a simple yet versatile option that isn’t limited to any one style.
You can’t go wrong with a puffer vest or quilted vest. For something more rugged, go with a gilet or a jacket liner. Wear one over a long-sleeve tee (as shown here), an OCBD, or even a turtleneck — but maybe don’t wear a fleece vest with slacks unless you want to look like a finance bro.
Men’s Casual Dinner Outfits (Summer)
Summer is the most casual time of the year, so your dinner outfits can be more on the relaxed side of things. (It’s still a good idea to more or less stick to a smart casual vibe, though).
But summer brings with it some challenges. How can you look put together while beating the heat? Here are a few casual outfits to help you out.
If you’re going to a more casual restaurant in the height of summer, you won’t look out of place in a simple T-shirt and shorts.
However, don’t go with your old ratty tee and gym shorts. Opt for a slightly thicker T-shirt for a structured look up top, and pair that with well-fitting shorts for a clean result that’s casual but still looks intentional.
It’s hard to beat the classic combo of a button-up shirt and a pair of jeans. It’s neat and modern and works well for any casual restaurant.
Leave your collar open for an added casual touch with the advantage of providing a little more airflow. You can also unbutton your top shirt button if you want an even more casual look, but it’s best to reserve this technique for vacations and extra-relaxed restaurants.
Next Level Casual
There’s nothing wrong with the typical Oxford cloth button down and medium wash jeans, but if you want to take your personal style up a notch, experiment with different garment types, fabrics, and washes.
For example, you could pair a short-sleeved shirt and dark wash jeans for a more elevated outfit. It’s still casual, but it’s more stylish than a standard button up and jeans. It’s a great look for visiting local establishments on the fancier end of the casual spectrum.
Men’s Casual Dinner Outfits (Winter)
It’s easy to go all-out with layers during winter — after all, the season demands it — but bundling up can quickly become overkill. While you should absolutely be warm, you also want to be able to adjust to a heated restaurant interior.
Whether you’re in need of a blizzard-ready outfit or just something with a couple of thicker layers to ward off an icy chill, you’ll find inspiration in these winter dinner outfits.
Nothing says winter like thick, fuzzy outerwear. This cozy outfit features a tweed jacket layered over an Aran sweater with corduroy trousers and dressy boots rounding out the look.
The interplay between the various textures and the consistency of the earthy color palette make this a handsome winter outfit that’s perfect for going on a date or dining with colleagues.
While you can throw a winter coat over just about any outfit, there are other ways of taking a more style-forward approach to your cold weather looks.
A simple formula is to start with an OCBD or dress shirt and add layers as needed. This outfit features a quilted vest, scarf, and naval-style overcoat for a four-layer look that’s functional and fashionable.
When putting together outfits specifically for the beginning or end of winter, experiment with layering pieces of varying thicknesses and fabric types.
Here I’ve layered a thicker work jacket over a thinner sweater and a collarless linen blend button down. The idea is to stay warm enough without overheating. Plum corduroys and a pair of timeless white
Ultimately, assembling a casual dinner outfit isn’t rocket science, but putting a bit of thought into it will ensure that you make a good impression on whoever you’re dining with.
Keep in mind that you can dramatically alter most of these example outfits with small changes. Swapping out one garment for a different type — or even just changing the material of a piece — can result in a completely different look, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!