What is Smart Casual Business Wear?

In a working environment what you choose to wear will reflect your attitudes to work  and forms part of your personal brand. Work colleagues, particularly new ones, will make instant assumptions about you based on what you are wearing. This might seem scary but, you really only have 30 seconds to make a lasting impression and if it’s your first day in a new office you want it to be the right one!  Deciding what to wear was relatively straightforward when everyone basically wore a suit but these days many companies are adopting a smart casual dress code. This gives more scope for individual expression and is causing many of my clients to reassess their working wardrobes.

What not to wear

Interpretation of the smart casual dress code will vary from company to company. For most scruffy manthough the following will be deemed too casual and will not be acceptable:

  • Leggings
  • Jeans (with the possible exception of a smart dark wash)
  • Flip flops/Birkenstocks/trainers
  • Low cut tops or sky-high skirts
  • Shorts (unless tailored “city” shorts)
  • Tee shirts with logos/slogans
  • Anything “distressed” or scruffy – ripped jeans, frayed tops etc

Whilst wearing anything too casual is obviously inappropriate, looking too formal in a company with a smart casual dress code is also best avoided as it can give the impression of being a bit “stuffy”, unapproachable and out of touch.

Striking the right balance

Swap your suits for tailored trousers, skirts and dresses, and your formal shirts for shaped or wrap around tops. If you want to add a jacket then a waterfall jacket or piece of knitwear in this style would work well.

For men, chinos or smart slacks will strike the perfect note. Swap your formal shirt and ties for shirts with button down collars. A blazer or sports jacket is a great wardrobe staple, worn with trousers its strikes just the balance when you need to appear smart but don’t want to revert to a suit. Make sure your jacket has some texture or detailing though so that it doesn’t look like you’re just wearing one half of a suit.

Get the colours right

Business-Casual-Fashion-Women-For-Summer-Season-0010Gain an understanding of your own colouring and what colours make you look professional and approachable. This is determined by hair and eye colour along with skin tone, and everyone falls in to one of six different palettes. It’s really important to make sure that the colours of your work clothes match with your skin tone and hair colour. If they are too strong then they will drain the colour from your face, too pale and they can make you look washed-out. if you haven’t already done so, get your colours analysed.

Colour also plays a key part in how others perceive you. Dark colours are authoritative whereas medium shades from your colour palette will help you to appear approachable, something to consider if you’re in a team leader role.


Anything that suggests that you didn’t take the time or effort to look good comes across badly. So make sure your hair and nails are neat and that clothes are clean, pressed and in a good state of repair. For women, a subtle make-up looks professional.

Aim to fit in

Most of us want to fit in or, if we are going to stand out, for it to be for the right reasons. If you are new to a company take a look at what your colleagues and, more importantly, the management team are wearing. Particularly in the early days when you are looking to establish your professional credentials, aim to be at the smart end of smart casual.