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Business Casual vs Smart Casual

business casual vs smart casual

Smart Casual vs Business Casual – What’s the difference? When it comes to workplace attire, one size certainly does not fit all. Smart casual dress code is a dress style that is not overly formal, whereas business casual is more relaxed than business smart, but still professional. Different types of jobs and work environments require different levels of formality in clothing – smart casual attire may be appropriate for one workplace, but a full business suit may be necessary for another. Knowing the difference between smart casual and business casual can help you make an appropriate choice, that is both comfortable and fits the professional atmosphere of your work environment.

Read on for a full business wear guide that will get to the bottom of the difference between smart casual attire vs casual business attire, so you know how to dress in either scenario. 

The Difference Between Smart Casual vs Business Casual

Smart Casual Clothing

Smart casual dress codes relate to a dress style that is not overly formal. It is more elevated than usual casual wear but less formal than business suits. A smart casual look can often be the right choice for workplaces that are customer-facing, but don’t require a more professional overall look. Smart casual wear offers:

  • Flexibility: By creating and combining pieces
  • Various top-half options: sweaters, shirts, blouses, simple t-shirts
  • Various bottom-half options: Smart or tailored jeans or chinos, skirts
  • Footwear: Can be smart trainers, loafers, flats or boots
  • Accessories: Minimalist jewellery, smart belts and even scarves can all add to the look

 

Smart casual outfits are often very easy to achieve for employees. Smart casual looks can be created in a variety of different ways, so if you’re an employer looking to make your dress code at work as accessible as possible, smart casual may be the way to go.

Business Casual Attire

Business casual dress codes are just that; more relaxed than smart business dress codes, but still professional. It includes items such as:

  • Chinos, smart jeans and blouses as being acceptable
  • Suit trousers without jackets are also a great option
  • Fitted shirts without ties
  • More relaxed-fitting shirts, skirts or trousers, and brighter colours or patterns would also be acceptable for business casual attire
  • Dress shoes, dress pants, and a dress shirt are all options but should be teamed with more casual wear to relax the overall look

 

The focus with this type of work wear should be comfort over formality but showing that you have ‘made an effort’, rather than your Saturday in front of the TV clothes. If jeans are worn it is often best placed to dress-up your top half with a smarter shirt or a suit-style jacket. A pocket square wouldn’t be appropriate for business casual, for example, but neither would a t shirt.

As time progresses, this style of dress code is becoming more informal and the reality now is that certain comfort items like trainers, for example, would often be acceptable in the majority of work settings. This however, falls more into the term of general “casual” wear.

Whether it’s a “smart casual” or “business casual” dress code that you need to meet, dressing appropriately is essential for making a good impression on clients and colleagues alike. Having an understanding of what is considered acceptable for either dress code in business will help you to feel confident about your choice of outfit for work.

Examples Of Smart Business Attire

Smart workwear is traditional business attire, and it’s the perfect choice for those that want or need a more formal look for the workplace.

Smart business casual outfits usually consist of: 

  • Coordinated separates
  • Suits, crisp shirts, ties, and tailored trousers
  • Fabrics such as wool, tweed and cotton are often used, and the colour palette is typically neutral shades of black, navy, grey and beige
  • Blazers with a skirt, knee-length shift dress, pressed shirts, or tailored trousers
  • Simple, plain jewellery if worn
  • Polished closed-toe shoes and belts
  • Briefcases, handbags or smart laptop bags complete the look

smart business attire

Examples Of Casual Business Attire

Casual work wear is a more relaxed version of smart business. It doesn’t mean you can turn up to work in your flip flops and a summer dress, and shouldn’t be considered ‘dressing down’. Instead, this style of work outfit promotes a relaxed yet polished look and has become increasingly popular in modern workplaces as it allows a bit more personality to shine through than the smart business attire option, letting the fashion forward employees in your workplace express themselves more freely.

Casual business outfits usually consist of: 

  • Relaxed fitting long-sleeved shirts or blouses
  • Chinos, conservative-length dresses & skirts, or smart jeans
  • Accessories such as scarves, jewellery, and belts should be modest and colours should remain neutral
  • Closed-toe smart shoes such as loafers, low heels or flats remain the best choice

 

Which Industries Suit Smart Or Casual Business Attire?

The type of dress code that you will need to adhere to at work, will largely depend on the industry that you work in. Generally speaking dress codes at work are discussed concerning office-based jobs rather than scientific, technical, physical or manual jobs that will require specialist equipment and safety clothing to be worn.

In office-based roles, a more traditional, clean-cut professional look is expected in industries such as law, finance and banking. On the other hand, more creative companies or technology firms are more likely to have a more relaxed approach to dress codes.

It’s important to consider the company culture as well when deciding what type of work attire to wear, by researching online or speaking to friends who work in similar roles. This will give you an understanding of what is considered appropriate for that specific workplace. Overall, it’s better to err on the side of caution and dress smarter in the early stages of starting a new job.

After that, you can get a better feel for the look that your colleagues are going for, and emulate it in future outfits.

If you’re an employer trying to make it easier for new starters to understand your smart casual vs business casual dress code, then you might provide them with some examples of the outfits other employees opt for before their first day. A list of clothing pieces can be incredibly helpful and help your new employee feel comfortable before joining the company on the first day.

Why Have Dress Codes In The Workplace?

Dress codes in the workplace help maintain suitable standards within an office or corporate environment and ensure that employees are wearing clothing that meets specific guidelines for health, safety, or professionalism.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dress codes across all workplaces, and it’s up to individual organisations to set their expected standards and requirements, there are some common principles to consider.

Employees should dress suitably for their job function and should adhere to appropriate levels of decency and respect when choosing outfits. Even within one company, different departments or roles may use different variations of the same set of standards.

For example, British Airways has a smart, unified dress code for its employees that ranges from suits and blazers for aircrew to smart overalls and jumpsuits for ground staff. Despite the outfits being different in style, they are all part of the same organisation and project a polished look of a high standard.

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Dress Codes At Work

ProsCons
Dress codes in the workplace can have a significant impact on the way that employees are perceived and their productivity.Some individuals view dress codes as restrictive, which can negatively impact morale among employees.
Dress codes provide clear expectations of what is appropriate, and make sure that everyone remains professional and focused while at work whilst eliminating any confusion about the type of attire that should be worn for the job.Dress codes may create feelings of conformity or limit individuals from expressing their style while in the office setting.
If everyone follows the same dress code, it removes the need for employees to be concerned with fitting in, and following the latest trends when trying to create their look.Dress codes can be difficult or confusing to navigate if there are specific rules governing attire, such as whether certain footwear or jewellery is acceptable.
Dress codes can help foster a sense of pride in the workplace as a well-defined dress code helps model professionalism and unify everyone along a shared standard of excellence.In extreme weather, dress codes may be too restrictive and need to be relaxed.

What To Wear When You’re Not Sure What To Wear To Work

If you’re not sure what to wear when going to work, the best thing to do is to check with the HR team, your line manager or colleagues on what is expected. If this isn’t possible, such as if it’s your first day and you didn’t ask at the interview, it can be helpful to err on the side of caution and go for a tried-and-true classic look.

Start with a basic colour palate, such as black, navy or grey – these colours are all timeless staples and you’re bound to have something that suits in your wardrobe. An easy option is to build from there selecting appropriate garments like slacks or mid-length skirts paired with simple blouses, turtle neck jumpers or crisp shirts.

Complete the look with a well-tailored jacket and appropriate footwear – think loafers, flats or low-heeled pumps. This is a fail-safe business look that will fit into any office environment. You can then dress it up or down in the following weeks or months as you get used to the normal protocol in your organisation.

What To Wear To A Job Interview

A job interview is a situation where you should always dress smartly, regardless of how casual you think the role or company may be – unless specifically told to come in relaxed or casual clothing. This is a time to put your best foot forward by making a great first impression to show potential employers that you care about the job you are applying for. A simple way to do this is to arrive smartly dressed, on time and prepared with questions about the role.

When it comes to what you should wear, unless you are told otherwise, a suit is always an appropriate option. If a full suit feels too formal for the role you’re applying for, consider teaming classic separates such as trousers and blazers together to create a sharp look. Aim to stick to two or three colours when choosing your outfit so that it looks sleek and professional. Avoid anything too distracting or loud such as patterns, logos or overly bright colours.

Accessories should be kept to a minimum and should always be appropriate for the role you’re applying for. Again, aim for simplicity when choosing your accessories: A smartwatch, a pair of classic earrings and a neat belt will finish the look.

business casual dress code

How To Dress For A Business Meeting

Business meetings are an everyday occurrence for most professional organisations, but whether you choose to wear smart business or business casual outfits will depend on a few factors.

  • Is the meeting the first time you will be meeting someone or a new group of people?
  • What is the setting? If the meeting is taking place in a business setting, such as a conference room or boardroom, it’s typically expected that you dress smartly. A suit would be suitable for both men and women, but if you’re going for something more relaxed but still professional, then tailored separates can work just as well.
  • For meetings over lunch or dinner, opt for something smart but not too formal such as a pleated skirt and blouse for women and trousers with a shirt for men. This will prevent you from feeling too restricted. You can always check with the venue on the expected dress code too.
  • If you are meeting for coffee, business casual may be more suitable than smart business attire.
  • Who is attending the meeting? Is this a meeting between colleagues you’ve known for years, high-level directors and business owners, or friends looking to go into business?

 

Staying smart and professional when dressing for business meetings will stand you in good stead whether you’re heading out to meet clients or attending a new job interview.

What Not To Wear At Work

You should now have a good understanding of what is acceptable to wear in the workplace in both smart and casual business scenarios, but there are somethings that should never be worn at work. Clothes that are too revealing, too excessive, sloppy, impractical or informal can harm the way your coworkers and clients view you.

Avoid wearing clothing with large logos or writing, excessively high heels or over-the-top jewellery, any type of risky fashion statements such as unbuttoned shirts, or overly tight-fitting clothing that shows too much skin. Everything from underwear to outerwear, and accessories should be appropriate for the workplace setting. Paying attention to detail when picking out work clothes will portray you positively in the office environment and will demonstrate you take your job seriously.

How To Put Together A Professional Work Wardrobe On A Budget

Unless you ‘live to work’, it’s unlikely that you will want to spend a lot of money on your work outfits. Even if you’re a ‘work to live’ type of person, or have a limited budget but want to project an image of professionalism, you will still have to spend a significant amount of time each week at work. As such, choosing good quality pieces that will last, and can be mixed and matched are top tips when it comes to putting together a work wardrobe on a budget.

  • Look for pieces that will work not only for the office but for other social occasions too.
  • Choose neutral colours such as black or navy and fabric combinations like cotton and wool that can be easily dressed up or down.
  • Investing in items such as a blazer, trousers, skirts and a range of shirts and blouses. Look for pieces with detail such as buttons, pleats or embroidery to add extra interest to your look.
  • Invest in good quality classics such as black trousers, a navy blazer or a classic white shirt that will last for many seasons to come.
  • Look for pieces in sales and second-hand stores, or clothing sites like Vinted. This can be a great way to save money on classic wardrobe items.
  • Finally, accessorise with jewellery, scarves or bags that will make the outfit look more put together and add an extra element of style.

 

With some careful planning and clever shopping, you can build a professional-looking work wardrobe that will carry you through smart business and business casual settings whilst remaining stylish and sticking to your budget!

Summary

We hope this business attire guide has helped explain the difference between smart casual vs business casual wear, so you can make an appropriate choice for you or your business’ needs. Regardless of the option you go with, it’s important to ensure the choice of clothing reflects professionalism and respect for the company that you operate, work in, or are visiting.

Investing in quality pieces that you can mix and match will help you look polished regardless of the occasion, and remember first impressions count, so it’s best to dress in styles that are conservative and professional looking even if the office is more relaxed in its dress code.

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