With the events of the last few years, it’s no surprise that dress codes have shifted drastically.
Especially at the office.
What once would have been too casual for a Monday morning is now just right. On the other hand, your regular weekday go-tos may now feel too dressed up. Stuffy, even.
It’s time to let go of those old options and try an updated style rulebook: power casual.
This mode of dressing is fashion’s “new normal” and the best way to get the most out of your wardrobe. Read on for Next Level Wardrobe’s curated tips on power casual looks and essentials for men.
What is Power Casual Menswear?
Before we get into how to wear this trend, there’s an obvious question to answer: what is power casual menswear?
Power casual menswear is a clothing style that unites relaxed fashion with elevated pieces. The term comes from the women’s workwear company, MM La Fleur.
Founder Sarah La Fleur saw the pivot in how modern shoppers were dressing. With more people working from home, she decided to create clothes that could pull double duty.
So how does the NLW team define power casual?
Simply put, it’s the mixing of formal and casual pieces. It’s finding that sweet spot between structured pieces such as suits and soft knit, more comfortable items. Like polos, sweaters, and even a well-made tee.
The key to acing this aesthetic is to focus on fit and quality. Just throwing on any old jeans with a blazer does not a power casual outfit make.
Investing in premium fabrics and tailored pieces adds the magic touch.
When to Wear Men’s Power Casual
More often than not, power casual is an ideal style choice for men.
The world is undeniably going more casual, especially in day-to-day life.
Let’s face it, the athleisure trend took us all by storm (or by spandex) over a decade ago. Then along came Covid and with so many massive lifestyle shifts, casual fashion went into overdrive.
Sure, people are finding more reasons to dress up extravagantly for weekends these days. But the Monday through Friday routine remains proudly laid-back.
A second reason why power casual is always a good idea? The nightmare that is office dress code policies. Workplaces usually don’t give specific examples of how to dress. What you’re wearing is only called out when you get it wrong.
That’s why that one guy in accounting always wears shorts to work.
Finding a way to make casual look good is essential for anyone taking their career and image seriously. If you want to dress like a successful entrepreneur, a CEO, or an executive on the rise, this is for you.
Just ask our clients. They want to be thoughtful with their style. They crave versatility to dress up and down easily. This is why we love power casual. It can take you from day to night at a moment’s notice.
3 Power Casual Must-Haves for Every Man’s Wardrobe
At NLW, we’re big believers in creating capsule wardrobes. With this in mind, we picked the three most essential pieces for wearing power casual menswear. They’re smart, all-purpose, and easy to pair with what you already have.
Ready to add extra mileage to your closet?
Layering Pieces: The Ultimate Men’s Power Casual Workhorse
In our opinion, no other garment in your closet works as hard as your layering pieces. It’s why we have a whole post all about layering tips for men.
Layers help complete an outfit. Oftentimes they literally act as a visual frame, tying an ensemble together. That’s why they’re first on our list of power casual shopping lists for men.
Instead of reaching for your classic blazer, however, let’s get some new players in the game.
Structured blazers with shoulder pads and thick, inflexible material are a bit too over-the-top for this trend. Save it for proper formal settings.
Try a work jacket, knit blazer, or bomber jacket. These layers still appear neat without making you feel like everyone’s staring at you because you’re overdressed.
Take the olive-green bomber from Mr. Porter for example. It has a relaxed fit in the arms and midsection while the elastic cuffs and hem still give structure. The suede material adds a high-quality touch and the sharp-pointed collar is timeless.
Obviously, layers are best for colder seasons. However, you can still add power casual to your men’s summer outfit ideas using lighter colors and fabric choices.
Step Up Power Casual for Men with Smart Sneakers
From the Tech CEO sneaker trend to the fact that many of us were only wearing slippers for the past few years, footwear is THE place to go casual.
Sneakers are our second essential item for a power casual wardrobe.
This is a life-saver shoe choice if you’re back to padding down miles of city blocks for your work commute. But, they also work if you’re remote and need to run errands on your lunch break.
Not just any sneakers will do, however. We’re talking about sharp sneakers that offer the comfort you need.
Sorry Allbirds, we’re not talking about you.
We recommend seeking out options with sophisticated touches. Lean into quality fabrication, texturing instead of patterns, and muted colors.
Choices like brown, black, grey, white, and navy are all equally versatile for footwear.
In terms of shoe silhouette, less is more. What we mean by that is to stay away from the overly trendy “dad shoe” shape. Go for a minimalist, low-profile trainer such as the tan-brown slip-ons from Koio.
Polo Shirts: A Men’s Power Casual Classic for a Reason
We know polos are divisive. Rest assured, we’re not vouching for the frat boy polos of college days past.
Recently, polos have gotten an update that earns them a spot on our power casual for men must-haves roster. Check out this sand-toned cotton one from Theory.
From the get-go, this shirt checks all the right boxes. The collar lends a more formal touch while the knit fabrication gets casual style points. Plus, you can find choices in long and short sleeves making it a year-round staple.
Now here’s how to guarantee the polo works for you:
1. Get the fit right. The quickest way to push your outfit from power casual to just casual is to get this part wrong. Going too tight or too loose reads as sloppy. Aim for an option that gives a “slim-fit” effect. In other words, it just skims the sides of your torso and fits comfortably around your arms.
2. Tuck it in. This is an easy hack for getting many casual-type shirts to work for you. By tucking in your shirt, you’re telling people you put thought into what you’re wearing. Plus, you avoid any issues of awkward length.
You’ve got your power casual wardrobe power trio set to go. Now let’s see how you can mix and match them into endless ensembles.
3 Power Casual Outfits for Men
Power casual outfits are a favorite of male celebrities. Peruse pictures of any fashionable a-lister and you’re bound to see it pop up.
Why? Because it seems effortlessly stylish. Let’s breakdown three of our favorite examples:
The Layered Look
As a best-dressed-list regular, Ryan Reynolds unsurprisingly masters power casual outfits for men.
This is layering in action. He’s chosen a bomber jacket as a contemporary alternative to a blazer over a button-up.
Reynolds is purposeful with color from head to toe. Notice how he opts for understated tones like navy, grey, and brown. All of these colors are what we call “core colors” or neutrals, so they always go together.
He’s balanced the casual with the formal (the jacket with the button-up shirt and the suede shoes with the jeans).
Lastly, he’s gotten the fit right. His pant hem isn’t dragging on the ground and his jacket isn’t too short. Everything looks tailor-made to him.
Better with a Sweater
Another consistently style-savvy man is Idris Elba, and we’re not talking just about his red-carpet photos. Take a peek at how he uses a lightweight sweater, trousers, and sneakers to create a power casual outfit.
Just like Ryan Reynolds, he’s got that core color palette going on. Yet he keeps it interesting with a lowkey pattern on his sweater.
Again the fit is excellent, and he even brightens up his ensemble with a pair of white lace-up sneakers.
The trousers with a sweater could seem formal but the shoes and even his necklace change the vibe.
A Preppy Polo Punch-up
To round out our list is Daniel Craig showing us how the power casual polo outfit is done. We know Craig for playing the famously dapper James Bond but he doesn’t need a tux to be well-dressed here.
First thing we notice? He tucked in the shirt. Already, he’s looking polished.
Adding to this are his color choices. The monochromatic combination of the white polo with the white pants could end up looking like a uniform.
But Craig pulls it off with the black denim jacket.
Not only does the jacket bring it all together, but it also defines his build without too much structure.
Looking to give your wardrobe a power casual pick-me-up? Apply for NLW’s men’s executive image consulting or men’s personal styling services. Our fashion experts will guide you through transforming your wardrobe, how you shop, and how you dress for success.
Cassandra Sethi is a NYC Personal Stylist and Image Consultant. After working over 15 years in the Fashion Industry, most recently as a Senior Buyer for Equinox, she created her business, Next Level Wardrobe – a luxury personal shopping service for successful professionals.
Next Level Wardrobe has been featured in Wall Street Journal, Today and CNN. See here.