How to go about picking out a casual work outfit

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Image from Flickr creative commons via …love Megan

Depending on where you work and the nature of your work, you may find that you have a dress code to adhere to. If you work in a high-powered professional role, it’s likely that your work ‘uniform’ will consist of a smart suit, shirt and a tie for men, whilst women may be required to wear skirt suits or smart dresses and blouses. Tradespeople on the other hand should wear heavy duty casual clothes that allow ease of movement and incorporate high visibility elements to increase health and safety. Some offices adopt a policy of smart casual dress code, meaning that employees are allowed to wear some more casual items but they have to have a smarter edge. So how do you go about picking out a casual work outfit?

As we discussed above, workwear doesn’t have to be purely smart. You’d be forgiven for assuming that work clothing is all suits and ties, but when you consider the sheer diversity of jobs and job industries, you begin to realise that just as every company is different, so differ the dress code policies. Many offices also have what’s known as ‘casual Friday’ where all employees, including management dress down in a bid to welcome the oncoming weekend.

Whilst the idea of business casual sounds appealing, it can be a little confusing for most people. Many HR managers attempt to define the rules and set boundaries about what is smart casual and what is in fact, plain casual. However, it’s not so simple, as many people’s opinion about smart casual differs. Some people find the wearing of jeans inappropriate, whereas others say that jeans are fine as long as they have no rips and are not overly baggy. There are others still who feel that smart casual is somewhere in between a full-blown suit and jeans. They say that men should be able to get away with wearing trousers or khakis and a shirt with a collar. Women on the other hand can wear trousers or a knee-length skirt and a blouse or a shirt with a collar. Jeans and athletic wear are not permitted.

It seems therefore, that there is a general lack of consensus about the notion of smart casual and that it can actually make deciding what to wear for work more problematic than having clear cut rules. Although a good indication is to see what other employees are wearing and try to match their style. Furthermore, if you find you’re receiving strange looks from the managers, it may be an indication to change your work attire.

Let’s take a look at some examples of casual business attire for men. You should always choose shirts that have collars and make sure you tuck it in to your trousers. For business casual, it’s not necessary to wear a tie. If you’re totally unsure, it’s best to play it safe and stick to a white button-down shirt, although any colour of shirt is acceptable.

When it comes to trousers, styles such as khakis, dress pants, trousers and corduroy pants are all acceptable. Jeans are generally not considered to be business casual although check with your employer if you’re unsure. It’s always better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed, so if you’re unsure about an item of clothing, it may be safer not to wear it and stick to the safer options.

Rather than wearing a blazer, layer a jumper over the top of your shirt for a more casual look. Stick to formal work shoes in traditional black, grey or brown colours.

Okay so now we’ve covered what is appropriate for men to wear, let’s focus on the rules for casual office attire for women. For a good indication of the sorts of styles you should be wearing, take inspiration from the men. Of course, as a woman, you’ll want to distinguish yourself in a way that makes you look both stylish and feminine. Try a pair of linen pants teamed with a fitted top. Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight fitting but opt for styles that fit your form and emphasise womanly curves. In terms of shoes, black heels are an obvious yes but make sure you keep a comfy pair of flats by the side of your desk to pop on when your feet start to hurt. Ballet flats are chic yet comfortable and make an ideal choice of footwear for business casual.

The main thing to remember about smart casual dress codes is that it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Oh, and if you have a client meeting, ensure you’re wearing your smartest clothes.

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