Men have it so easy. Their professional clothing lingo is limited to a suit, button-down, polo, khakis, and maybe jeans on casual Friday. The rules are fairly simple to follow.
For women, the rules are unspoken, nebulous, and can be a matter of preference rather than regulation. Not to mention men are much less likely to be shamed for their fashion choices. And when it comes to business casual, any semblance of rules go out the window.
Is an a-line dress too formal? Is a pinafore dress too casual? Is denim too 70s? Is a bomber jacket too masculine?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to win with some onlookers. But there’s no reason you can’t be confident and comfortable when dressing in smart casual attire. Here are some helpful hints to consider when stocking your wardrobe.
The Smart Casual Dress Code for Women
What’s the Occasion?
Are you on a job interview or heading to happy hour? If you’re heading to an interview, it’s better to go more business than casual and if it’s happy hour, go more casual than business. But what does that even mean?
For job interviews, the old adage says “dress one step nicer than what you’ll wear to that job everyday.” So if you’re an artist who wears smocks, go with a smart casual outfit, and if you’re going to be a lawyer, don’t have a button out of place on your best suit.
But what if you have no idea what the office dresses like on a day to day basis? If you’re unsure of how the office dresses, air on the side of professionalism. Avoid flashy colors and the latest fashion trends. You don’t want to wear anything that will distract an interviewer from your words and credentials. Wear a pair of dark slacks, a button-down shirt, and a sharp blazer or a simple, smart dress. Don’t wear your highest pair of heels, and make sure it’s not something you’ll nervous-sweat through!
If you’re going to a professional event in a more casual environment, you can don something more comfortable. If you want to go with a casual pair of jeans, make sure to wear a dress shirt and cardigan or a blazer. Make sure in these casual situations you still have one business piece of clothing on to keep it classy.
What Does Your Day Look Like?
Though your office might dress business casual, not every day will look the same for you. As a result, you need to dress in a way that matches the role you’re assuming that day.
- Are you meeting with a big client today? Dress smartly. Dress to impress, dress like you’re on an interview all over again, because, in a way, you are. You’re selling your company to this client, so dress in a way that makes you feel confident and shows these customers that you’re a put-together, prepared individual they want to work with.
- Are you behind your desk all day? If it’s the end of the quarter and it’s going to be a late-night of you writing as many reports as you can before the deadline, air on the comfortable side of dressing smart casual. Your clothing should never distract you from your work, and if you’re in an uncomfortable dress that rides up when you sit, opt for a polo and khakis or a sweater and comfortable dress pants. At the end of the day, your work is more important than your appearance, especially when you’re parked behind a desktop all day.
You wouldn’t wear the same clothing for mountain biking and running, even though they’re both workouts, so don’t wear the same clothing every day to work. Think ahead of what your day will look like when you plan your outfit the night before.
How Do You Feel in It?
When we think of clothing, we’re stuck in a loop of thinking about what others will think of your look.
We don’t always stop to think about what we think about the clothes we’re wearing. And why shouldn’t we? We’re the ones wearing it all day!
You could look like the sharpest one in the room with the most put-together outfit in the office but not get a single thing done all day because you can’t focus because of how uncomfortable you are. While this doesn’t mean that you should wear sweats to work – because wouldn’t we all if we could – you should be wearing something that makes you feel:
Wear something that makes others think you know what you’re doing, makes you feel like you can take on the world, and doesn’t make you want to peel it off your skin as soon as you get home.
The Ultimate Advice
Fashion constantly evolves. It’s some people’s full-time jobs to be on top of the moving pulse of modern fashion.
Unless it’s your job to write the top story on New York Fashion Week, give yourself a break. You don’t need to be a fashion guru to prove you deserve your position as lead CAD engineer or director of sales.
Some people will always judge you, no matter what you wear. You’ll quickly learn that no matter how hard you try, there’s no way to please those who enjoy judging others. It always says more about them than it does about you.
While you should adhere to the standards of professional dress, there are no hard and fast rules to stick to anymore. The most important thing when picking out your wardrobe is finding something you feel confident in. If you feel like you can take on the world in that pantsuit, jumper, or blazer dress, wear it, girlfriend. The world’s waiting.