Selecting an outfit for your first day at work, a networking event or an interview can be difficult, especially if you’re unsure about what is considered acceptable attire. While it is certainly necessary to follow any existing dress code for professional events, you should also feel comfortable and confident in your clothes. People should know how your authenticity influences the work you do.
Wherever you show up, your personal style and brand should be represented. If you like to combine form and function in your workwear, smart-casual attire can be an excellent choice as it combines comfort with a professional, trendy appearance. In this article, we offer a guide to smart-casual attire that will help you learn more about this option for your professional wardrobe and how to incorporate your personal style.
What is smart-casual attire?
Smart-casual attire is a professional dress style that incorporates trendy pieces into an outfit to achieve a clean, yet comfortable, semi-formal appearance. There are a wide variety of clothing options to choose including skirts, dresses, trousers, slacks, sweaters, collared shirts or blouses and possibly a blazer or a jacket depending on the occasion.
Informal smart-casual attire and business-casual attire are similar. They're both a style of clothing that will give you a professional appearance without wearing suits or other formal professional clothing. The main difference is that smart-casual attire may incorporate more trendy, fashionable pieces. Informal smart-casual options might include clean sneakers, dark-colored jeans and nice and structured t-shirts.
A smart-casual wardrobe should include comfortable and versatile clothes. Ideally, most pieces can work with one another to form a variety of outfits for your professional life. Let’s take a closer look at examples of smart-casual attire for the workplace.
Smart-casual attire for men
A smart-casual wardrobe for men is based upon a few essential items that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. The ideal smart-casual outfit includes a combination of formal and informal pieces.
When building your smart-casual collection, shopping for pants is a good place to start. You will need a quality pair of non-ripped denim jeans with straight legs and a dark wash—blue and black are standards. Denim jeans provide a classic look that fits into numerous environments and can be dressed up if needed.
You can also invest in chinos or khakis of different colors such as navy and tan. This style of pants can serve as a base for any smart-casual outfit and is wearable in many different settings.
Examples of smart-casual shirts include short- and long-sleeve button-downs, henleys and classic t-shirts. You can also incorporate sweaters which can easily be dressed up and down based on your pants and shoes. If you feel comfortable with colors and patterns, you might also invest in statement pieces that can be paired with solid basics.
Jackets and blazers
Jackets are a great option to mix up your outfits and they look great in both formal and informal settings. An unstructured, a dark blazer can create a smart, professional look while also feeling casual. Look for blazers you feel comfortable wearing at work as well as outside of work.
Shoes and accessories
Make sure you have a couple of pairs of professional shoes—such as oxfords or loafers for more formal occasions and a pair of clean leather, canvas or suede sneakers for casual situations. To accessorize, opt for classics such as leather belts—match the color to your shoes—and wristwatches.
Smart-casual attire for women
Women have many options when putting together a smart-casual outfit. From skirts to khakis and blouses to button-down shirts, make sure you choose versatile pieces you can pair with others in your wardrobe. If you’re unsure about more trendy styles, opt for basics that make you feel comfortable and confident.
Pants and skirts
Besides slacks, chinos and jeans, you might also incorporate skirts into your wardrobe. Opt for long skirts or those that hit just below the knee like pencil skirts. You might also explore interesting skirt fabrics such as denim or corduroy to pair with basic tops and jackets. Dark pants and skirts in solid or subtle patterns go with a variety of tops.
Nearly any top will work well in a smart-casual outfit as long as it is clean, has no holes and is wrinkle-free. Examples of smart-casual tops include sweaters, henleys, button-downs, blouses and nice t-shirts.
Dresses are a good option for an easy outfit on days when you don’t have much time or simply want to feel professional and comfortable. For a more formal outfit, combine a dress with a pair of low heels and simple jewelry.
For less formal environments, you can pair your dress with more stylish jewelry, a denim jacket and casual footwear such as flats or open-toe shoes.
There are also many gender-neutral options available to any person who wants to look professional and stylish. The most important thing is that your clothes fit well and you feel comfortable wearing them.
Some of the most basic and attractive smart-casual outfits can be considered gender-neutral. For example, a pair of gray slacks, a white button-up shirt and a simple black jacket with loafers will look great on anyone and can be worn in nearly any professional setting.
Here are examples of gender-neutral smart-casual clothing items:
- Button-down shirts
Adding your personal style
Because smart-casual attire is a more relaxed professional trendy look, it allows for flexibility and a greater opportunity to showcase your personal style. Your personal style is the particular way you like to express yourself. Oftentimes, the clothes we wear communicate before we speak and so it’s important to think about the message we want to communicate when picking out what to wear for different settings.
Now that we’ve covered the different types of clothes that would fall under smart-casual attire, let’s talk about a few ways that you can make it your own.
Incorporate your favorite color that you like to wear, but be conscious of the season and environment that you’re in. For example, wearing bright bold colors in the winter may not give you the attention you’re hoping for, but consider a color scheme that goes well with your favorite color and look for ways that you can incorporate that color into your outfit.
Prints and fabrics
If you like to wear prints, but you can’t show up to your event in your favorite leopard print dress or pants, look for a blouse in a nice fabric with that print and wear it under a blazer or sweater. Men may want to incorporate prints they like with their socks or with pocket squares for their blazers and show a little personality.
Use your accessories, but don’t overdo them. Sometimes small statement pieces can really bring your attire to life and still maintain a professional look. Consider a scarf, necklace, watch or shoes with cool detail.
With the right mix of casual and formal clothing, you'll look great. It’s important to adhere to dress code policies and fit in with workplace culture, but don’t be afraid to be “YOU” during your workday, in your next interview or at a networking event.