If you work in a law firm, bank, and any other industry that involves meeting with important clients and investors, then you might be obliged to follow a strict business professional dress code. Your attire should include a business suit, a dress shirt, a tie, and a pair of polished dress shoes. No need to think about which goes well with what or worry about being underdressed or overdressed — just follow the clear set of principles with the shirt and tie sets and you’re good to go.
A workplace that doesn’t have a strict dress code, on the other hand, allows you to let loose and get creative with your fashion choices. You can show up in a basic tee and chinos, or take it up a notch with a nice jacket. It gives you the opportunity to pick comfortable clothing that speaks for your personality for as long as it looks suitable for work.
And that’s where it gets tricky — when you decide which one is work-appropriate and which one isn’t. Show up in a graphic shirt and jeans, and you might look like you’re not taking things seriously. Show up in a stylish blazer, dress shirt, slacks, and Chelsea boots and you might be criticized for being too extra for your role.
While your company might have a relaxed dress code, we’d suggest to err on the side of caution and go for the most modest option that fits within your company’s culture.
Smart casual is the name of the game.
What is Smart Casual?
Smart casual style lies in the middle of the formality spectrum. It’s ambiguously defined by Oxford as “neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code”. Others define smart casual as “well-dressed in a casual style” and “somewhat informal but neat.”
While it’s open to many definitions, we can assume the smart casual style is something that’s “pretty much anything smarter than your go-to athletic wear, but less formal than a suit.
How to get smart-casual style right at work? We’ve got a handful of tips
1. Know your company culture
Does your job lean more toward the business side or casual side? If you’re in a startup company or any tech-related field, you can relax and enjoy more freedom with your wardrobe choices. If you’re in finance or academia, you can lean towards the business casual style, which is just a notch lower than the business professional style in terms of formality.
When in doubt, look around to see what other people are wearing, especially the higher-ups.
2. The more, the casual
There’s another rule that can tell if your clothing is too casual for the occasion: more means more casual. The MORE a piece of clothing has, the MORE it leans casual. We’re talking about more graphic prints and patterns, more eye-catching logos or branding more details, more colorful, and more trendy.
3. Invest in these smart casual wardrobe basics
Since smart casual style is relatively conservative and less influenced by the latest fashion trends, you can easily create a stunning wardrobe revolving around classic essentials:
- Basic white tee
- Well-fitted long-sleeve shirts
- Chinos in khaki, navy, and/or beige
- Denim jeans
- Sports coat and jacket
- High-end sneakers
- Dress shoes in leather or suede
4. Simple swaps can make a difference
The simple addition of a blazer on top of your classic white tee can totally transform your look. Aside from this tried-and-tested hack, there are other ways to elevate your casual attire into a polished smart casual getup.
Start with a casual outfit and swap one or two casual pieces for smarter alternatives. For example, take a t-shirt, denim jeans, bomber jacket, and cotton canvas sneakers. They’re all too casual, right? But imagine swapping your bomber jacket into a sweater and your crewneck shirt into a collared button-up shirt. Now, that’s a smart casual.
Here are other smart swaps to consider:
- Short sleeves for warm weather? Swap solid t-shirts for polo shirts.
- Swap chore jackets and bomber jackets with a peacoat, Harrington jacket, or sports coat
- No jacket? Go with long-sleeved, collared shirts like Chambray shirt, button-down collar shirt, and button-up collar shirt.
- Go for half-zip sweaters instead of hoodies
- Swap your cotton sweatshirt for shawl collar shirts, cardigans, turtlenecks, and v-neck sweaters.
- Ditch your denim and go for khaki chinos or dress pants every once in a while
- Reserve your canvas backpacks for vacations. Invest in a sleek backpack in leather or suede.
- As for footwear, elevate your look with driving shoes, minimal sneakers, loafers, Chelsea boots, wing tips, and oxfords.
Wanna look wealthy and powerful without splurging on expensive clothing? These styling hacks above will take you there.
5. Accessorize wisely
Accessories should elevate your look, not dress you down so invest in the right pieces. Again, quality over quantity. In many cases, all you need is a sleek wristwatch, a nice belt that’s of the same hue as your footwear, and a leather bag.
Author Bio:: Carmina Natividad is a daytime writer for Rael Brook, a menswear retailer from Manchester UK, providing quality men’s shirts to trendy gents all over the world. When she’s not browsing Pinterest for fashion inspos, you can find her writing articles about fashion and lifestyle.