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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 June 3, 2020

                        How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

                        How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

                        We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

                        However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

                        Let’s take a closer look.

                        Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

                        A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

                        Builds Workers’ Skills

                        Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

                        Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

                        Boosts Employee Loyalty

                        Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

                        If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

                        Strengthens Team Bonds

                        Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

                        However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

                        Promotes Mentorship

                        There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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                        Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

                        Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

                        How to Give Constructive Feedback

                        Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

                        Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

                        1. Listen First

                        Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

                        Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

                        You could say:

                        • “Help me understand your thought process.”
                        • “What led you to take that step?”
                        • “What’s your perspective?”

                        2. Lead With a Compliment

                        In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

                        You could say:

                        • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
                        • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

                        3. Address the Wider Team

                        Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

                        You could say:

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                        • “Let’s think through this together.”
                        • “I want everyone to see . . .”

                        4. Ask How You Can Help

                        When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

                        You could say:

                        • “What can I do to support you?”
                        • “How can I make your life easier?
                        • “Is there something I could do better?”

                        5. Give Examples

                        To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

                        What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

                        You could say:

                        • “I wanted to show you . . .”
                        • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
                        • “This is a perfect example.”
                        • “My ideal is . . .”

                        6. Be Empathetic

                        Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

                        You could say:

                        • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
                        • “I understand.”
                        • “I’m sorry.”

                        7. Smile

                        Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

                        8. Be Grateful

                        When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

                        You could say:

                        • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
                        • “We all learned an important lesson.”
                        • “I love improving as a team.”

                        9. Avoid Accusations

                        Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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                        You could say:

                        • “We all make mistakes.”
                        • “I know you did your best.”
                        • “I don’t hold it against you.”

                        10. Take Responsibility

                        More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

                        Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

                        You could say:

                        • “I should have . . .”
                        • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

                        11. Time it Right

                        Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

                        If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

                        12. Use Their Name

                        When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

                        You could say:

                        • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
                        • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

                        13. Suggest, Don’t Order

                        When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

                        You could say:

                        • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
                        • “Try it this way.”
                        • “Are you on board with that?”

                        14. Be Brief

                        Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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                        One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

                        15. Follow Up

                        Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

                        You could say:

                        • “I wanted to recap . . .”
                        • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
                        • “Did that make sense?”

                        16. Expect Improvement

                        Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

                        By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

                        You could say:

                        • “I’d like to see you . . .”
                        • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
                        • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
                        • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

                        17. Give Second Chances

                        Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

                        You could say:

                        • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
                        • “I’d love to see you try again.”
                        • “Let’s give it another go.”

                        Final Thoughts

                        Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

                        More on Constructive Feedback

                        Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

                        Reference

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