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The Smart-Casual Dress Code Decoded

In today’s modern work environment, it can be hard to navigate the ins and outs of professional dress codes — especially if your workplace doesn’t have a strict policy. Some offices require a suit-and-tie, while others allow jeans and sneakers. If you’re at a loss as to what to wear for work and there’s not

In today’s modern work environment, it can be hard to navigate the ins and outs of professional dress codes — especially if your workplace doesn’t have a strict policy. Some offices require a suit-and-tie, while others allow jeans and sneakers. If you’re at a loss as to what to wear for work and there’s not a lot of direction from HR, I recommend adhering to a smart-casual dress code. Unlike business-casual, smart-casual gives you a bit more room for creativity and personal style. Think of it as an elevation for your ideal day-to-day wardrobe. However, it can still be tricky when you work in a place with a vague dress code, from finding out which hem-lengths are workplace appropriate to decoding what casual Friday entails in your company. Here’s a rundown of pieces and pairings for standard smart-casual style.

First, a black blazer. This office staple fits right into any smart-casual dress code. If you’re a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal, throwing on a tailored black blazer will elevate your denim into an office-friendly look. For skirts and dresses, try a double-breasted version, which is very much on trend this season. If looking for ways to freshen up trousers and button-downs try a ruched or rolled sleeve style.

If you pretty much live in straight-leg black pants at work, consider black (or navy) cigarette pants for a smart-casual swap. The sleeker silhouette can be paired with simple slip-ons and a knit top for a sporty, yet chic take on workwear. Or, go with a checkered pant and a denim or chambray shirt to bring the rustic feeling of fall into your office wardrobe. There are also great work pants in pull-on styles that are just as professional-looking while being way more comfortable and functional than dressier trousers.

Jeans can be controversial in many work environments. However, if denim is de rigueur in your workplace, or only allowed sporadically, you still need to present yourself appropriately in your jeans. So, I hope it goes without saying that never should you don a pair that has rips, stains, or holes for work. Of course, you can still have a bit of fun with work jeans. Consider black or white denim as a smart-casual alternative to your standard blue jeans. Black jeans are an easy swap for your suiting pants and can be worn with your suit blazer or sports coat whereas white jeans will really pop with a brightly colored sweater and your black blazer from above. Also, corduroy jeans are another great option for the smart-casual dress code and are much warmer in winter than regular jeans. A pair in a dark shade like deep red, burgundy, or olive green is totally suitable for work when worn with a button-down and a cardigan; again, think about being comfortable while also polished.

Speaking of comfort, the smart-casual dress code lends itself to flats more so than heels. Sleek loafers and ballet flats go just as well with dresses, skirts, and suits as your standard black pumps. Of course, with flat footwear, you do have to be cognizant of hem-lengths. You don’t want pant legs to drag, or skirts to hit at an awkward or unflattering place. In general, flats work best with cropped/ankle pants and knee-length or above-the-knee skirts. If you’re concerned about appearing short or squat in flats, go for a pointy-toed pair, in either a solid color like brown or a fun print. Leopard print is right on trend this season and gives you a chance to work in some pattern for your smart-casual work style.

The key to conquering the smart-casual dress code is to keep silhouettes conservative, no plunging necklines or minidresses, and find less formal swaps for standard workwear, like jeans for dress pants and slip-ons for heels. Also, comfort and functionality are key. However, leave the joggers and zip-up sweatshirts at home. Instead, pair a clean t-shirt with pull-on pants and a cardigan for a cozy work-ready outfit. Regardless of how lax your work dress code can be, if you’re ever questioning if a garment or outfit is inappropriate, chances are it most likely is not proper work attire. So, go change, or at the very least slap on a black blazer.

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