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What Smart Casual Dress Code Really Means and How to Wear It to Look Cool

What Smart Casual Dress Code Really Means and How to Wear It to Look Cool

Dress codes have their place, especially for business or special occasions. Smart and formal wear is pretty easy to make a decision on, and casual usually indicates jeans are acceptable and everything in between.

But what about smart casual? It can sometimes feel ambiguous and leave us wondering and questioning what exactly is appropriate.

The Smart Casual Dress Code Dilemma

Work is when we have most of these dilemmas. It’s more acceptable to risk getting it wrong at a social gathering, but work and business is where we want to make a good impression.

Suits, ties, smart dresses, and trousers are easy to pick out, but when you get the memo stating smart casual dress code you can start to worry whether you’re going to get it right. It can be hard to identify the subtle differences between smart causal, business casual, and just plain casual.

The Importance of Getting It Right

In work and business, dress code can mean so much more – which is why it’s more important to get it right. Many people dress inappropriately purely because they’ve misunderstood the smart casual concept. While smart may drum up a blazer and casual makes you think of your favorite well-worn jeans, the two together do not make a smart casual outfit. Making a good impression and fitting in with a company’s dress code is paramount, and will save embarrassment on a first day in the office.

What Exactly Is Smart Casual?

While some companies have different variations or leniency on a smart casual dress code, the majority of companies will stick to a certain look that smart casual brings.

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So what exactly is smart casual to most people? And what do we need to know in order to make the most of our wardrobe? What you ultimately want to aim for is a good balance of comfort and effort.

To eliminate any confusion, and not to be left to our own interpretation only to turn up and realize we made a huge judgement error, here is a guide to what smart casual really means.

Smart Casual Dress Code For Men

Shirt

    A good fitted shirt can bring both a smart and casual element to your outfit, depending on what you prefer. A single-colored shirt is obviously the safe option, but it’s okay to pick something more unique and patterned to bring some personality to your look.

    Blazer

      A blazer is a great alternative to a suit jacket because it shouts sophistication as well as casual. Dark colors or light single colors can be versatile and be used in many different combinations of outfits. If you’re bold enough, a patterned or brighter colored blazer or jacket can be the centerpiece and still be acceptable.

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      T-Shirt

        T-shirts can be hard to decipher in terms of whether it’s deemed too casual. However, it’s perfectly acceptable as long as you stick to plain colors; teamed with a good fitting blazer and slacks, it can be both comfortable and professional.

        Ties

          Ties don’t have to be overly formal and a bow tie can add a bit of personality into the mix.

          Trousers

            Jeans can be perfectly acceptable in a smart casual setting, but make sure they’re well fitted or dark in color – no holes or rips. Chinos are a good option, as they’re comfortable and always manage to look pretty smart, especially when teamed with a good blazer and shirt.

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            Shoes

              You can pretty much get away with wearing anything on your feet as long as they’re not trainers. Slip-ons are a good option, or some smart boots are a good way to compliment an outfit.

              Smart Casual Dress Code For Women

              Tops

                Women probably have a better array of options when it comes to different tops. The key is to keep your top-half on the smart side, and you can pretty much get away with what you choose for the bottom. Keep it conservative with floral or an elegant plain blouse, shirt, sleeveless, or flowy option.

                Blazer or Jacket

                  Of course, a light fitted blazer or jacket can instantly make an outfit look a bit more smart, and any color goes.

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                  Skirts and Dresses

                    Again, skirts or dresses are a great option for a smart casual dress code, as you can’t really go too wrong. Make sure the skirt is not too high above the knee and is teamed with a smart top. As for dresses, summer or floral is a good choice, but make sure it’s not too strappy or flimsy like you’re ready for the beach.

                    Trousers

                      Tailored trousers or chinos are acceptable as smart casual wear. A nice pair of fitted jeans with no rips or holes can be a staple part of your wardrobe because once teamed with a blazer or pair of heels it can instantly become chic.

                      Shoes

                        Most shoes are good to go as long as they’re not dirty or tatty. Sports trainers are considered a bit of a no-no unless they’re plain and fashioned, but pumps, slip-ons, and heels can all make an outfit fit the brief.

                        If you’re ever in doubt of what smart casual entails, always lean on the side of smart when picking your outfit to be on the safe side. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed when work and business are concerned. But teaming up a good balance of comfort with that professional vibe will more than likely be a winner.

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                        Jenny Marchal

                        A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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                        Last Updated on October 21, 2019

                        How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

                        How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

                        U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

                        Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

                        Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

                        But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

                        To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

                        What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

                        You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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                        You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

                        If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

                        1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

                        Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

                        Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

                        While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

                        2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

                        It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

                        “While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

                        In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

                        Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

                        3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

                        Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

                        For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

                        4. Good leaders are students.

                        In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

                        I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

                        Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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                        As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

                        5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

                        It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

                        “As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

                        This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

                        6. Good leaders understand themselves.

                        I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

                        Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

                        Final Thoughts

                        Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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                        Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

                        After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

                        Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

                        If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

                        More About Effective Leadership

                        Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

                        Reference

                        [1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
                        [2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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