Guide to Smart Casual Attire in the Workplace
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 12 June 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
In the contemporary workplace, many companies are quickly adopting a smart casual dress code for their employees. That's why it's essential to learn how to style yourself to appear professional in various workplace settings. While formal business meetings and conferences may still prefer business formal, casual events such as cocktail nights are more relaxed in terms of dress code. Understanding these subtle norms can help you fit into your company culture with ease.
In this article, we discuss what a smart casual dress code is, whether jeans are appropriate and share tips on smart casual attire for both men and women.
What is a smart casual dress code for work?
A smart casual dress code for work is a category that falls between business casual and business formal. This means the clothes you pick out should neither be too formal, such as a blazer and tie, nor too informal, such as a hat and sandals. The smart casual dress code strikes a balance between laid back and too serious, while still appearing professional. Essentially, it's an outfit that you can wear to work, while still feeling comfortable and confident.
Smart casual allows you to incorporate trendy items so that you can share your personality and personal style. Many companies are quickly adopting this dress code because it contributes to their brand image and employee satisfaction. If you work in a creative industry, it's quite common to see professionals dress in smart casual.
Can you wear jeans in a smart casual dress code?
Jeans are a staple of the smart casual dress code. However, this largely depends on the style of your jeans and your company's dress policy. Typically, you should wear jeans that appear respectful in a workplace setting. Avoid acid-washed jeans and ripped jeans. Choose a classic colour such as blue or black and stay clear of bright or tie-dye jeans. This way, you won't draw any unwanted attention to yourself.
In Hong Kong, it's quite common for employers to have a no jeans policy. This is especially true for more traditional organisations that prefer a more formal look. If you are in a customer-facing profession, such as law or banking, employers might consider jeans inappropriate. Thus, pay attention to your co-workers' dress choices and consult your employee handbook for more information about your company's dress policy.
What is smart casual for women?
Women have many options that they can mix and match to adhere to a smart casual dress code. Thus, you can shop for versatile pieces that you can use outside of work too. If you are unsure about an article of clothing, it's best to opt for basics that you feel comfortable in. Here are a few suggestions of smart casual clothing for women:
Dresses are an easy outfit that does not require much styling. They are comfortable and breathable, especially in the summer season. Unlike business formal dresses that are more structured, smart casual dresses can also include sundresses, A-line skirt dresses, wrap dresses and maxi dresses. You can choose a design with an interesting print, but make sure it's sober enough for the workplace. Remember to avoid plunging necklines and tight dresses that may be inappropriate to wear to work.
If you want your outfit to appear smarter, pair your dress with chic accessories and a stylish blazer. For casual environments, experiment with a denim blazer and peep-toe shoes.
Pants and skirts
While pants and skirts are common in professional wardrobes, a smart casual version allows you to have more fun with your choices. For example, you can try out pants with original prints, patterns and embellishments. Instead of a pencil skirt, you can choose one with a different fabric, shape or design. However, remember to keep the length of your skirt below the knee. As for your pants, a good rule to follow is to wear three-quarter length pants or longer to work.
Nearly all shirts, t-shirts and blouses are appropriate for work as long as they are clean, ironed and holes-free. If you wear any blouses with text, make sure the wordings are appropriate. Similarly, stay away from shirts that have loud patterns or colours. Other examples of smart-casual tops include sweaters, henleys and button-downs.
For women, shoes are a great way to refresh a casual outfit. Heels, boots and ballerina shoes are all appropriate for the workplace. As a general rule, try to avoid slippers and shoes that are too open. While peep-toe shoes are quite stylish, some open sandals may be too casual for the workplace. Also, when picking the height of your heels, consider one that is comfortable and safe for your work environment.
What is smart casual for men?
Smart casual attire for men is a combination of formal and informal pieces. You can also use a mix of prints and colours to bring out your personality. Here are some tips on smart-casual articles of clothing for men in the workplace:
Pants are a good place to start when putting together a smart casual outfit for men. You can wear denim jeans or oxford trousers, but make sure they are non-ripped and are ankle length. While sweatpants and knee-length shorts are a popular weekend look for Hong Kong men, it's best to dress more conservatively for the workplace. Investing in some well-fitting pants can reinvigorate the basics in your wardrobe.
When deciding on the colour of your pants, go with classic shades such as white, grey, blue or black. You can also wear a stylish print, but make sure it looks classy for the workplace.
Unlike business formal that requires you to wear a long-sleeved shirt, smart casual gives you a bit more flexibility. You can choose different sleeve lengths and different necklines. To make sure your outfit is appropriate for the workplace, it's best to avoid sleeveless shirts and tight-fitting tops. If you choose to wear a t-shirt, opt for a basic style or pair it with a casual blazer.
Blazers and jackets
A blazer is an excellent statement piece that can make a basic look appear more stylish. It's an item of clothing that all men and women should have in their wardrobe. As a man, a sharp blazer makes you look confident and ambitious. In an office with the air-conditioning turned on high, having a blazer or jacket on hand can make you feel more comfortable too.
Shoes and accessories
While it's common to wear black or brown dress shoes to work, a smart-casual dress code gives you more options. For example, you can match your outfit with oxford shoes or stylish sneakers instead. As a general rule for men in the workplace, it's best to avoid open-toe shoes, such as sandals or slippers.
Consider some stylish accessories to complete your smart casual look. Cuff links, casual ties, sweaters and scarves are all suitable pieces to highlight your appearance.
Styling tips for the workplace
The way you dress is a reflection of your personality and career ambitions. When going into a job interview or a new client meeting, your appearance influences people's first impression of you. Here are some styling tips for men and women to consider when putting together a smart casual outfit.
Colour choice: While smart casual allows you to wear a range of different colours, it's best to wear light colours that are not overly bright or neon. For colour combinations, opt for solid colours over tie-dye mixes. Typically, select a colour that's not too distracting in a professional setting.
Prints and patterns: Just like your colour choice, the prints you choose should fit into your work environment with ease. Try to stay clear of busy prints that can appear unprofessional. Smaller patterns are often less distracting, making them a more conservative choice in terms of dress code.
Accent pieces: Rather than spending money on many outfits, invest in a few statement pieces that you can use to style the basic pieces in your wardrobe. This way, you can mix and match more clothing items and reduce unnecessary waste.
Fabric choice: The fabrics you choose should neither be too thin or too thick. Breathable fabrics, such as cotton and nylon, are suitable options because they are comfortable.
Fitting: Pick outfits that fit well. A tailored garment is not only a source of confidence, but it also shows respect for the workplace. A blouse or pant that is too loose or too tight can reflect poorly on you.
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