A Guide To Smart-Casual Attire for Work With Top FAQs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 July 2021

Many organisations opt for smart business casual style over formal business attire because of its versatility, accessibility and comfort. Knowing what smart-casual attire is can ensure you meet the organisation's standards and fit in with the rest of your colleagues. In this article, we explore what smart-casual attire for work is and the items you can wear as part of a smart-casual dress code to help you select the most appropriate outfits for the workplace.

Related: Your Guide To What To Wear for an Interview

What is smart-casual attire?

Smart-casual attire is a professional dress code that incorporates fashionable pieces into an outfit to achieve a clean, yet comfortable, semi-formal appearance. A smart-casual wardrobe typically includes comfortable and versatile clothes. Ideally, most pieces can work with one another to form a variety of outfits for your professional life.

Here are some key attributes of smart-casual attire:

  • Not too formal: smart-casual combines some formal items, like ties, heels, blouses and jackets, with more casual items, like T-shirts and jeans.

  • Not too casual: a casual dress code involves just the casual items, like graphic T-shirts, jeans and sneakers and doesn't require formal items at all. But smart-casual blends the two styles for a combination that's professional and laid-back.

  • More colourful: many business attire and formal clothing items come in neutral colours, duller shades and subtle patterns, but smart-casual allows you to pair more brightly coloured clothing and more noticeable patterns with neutral tones and patterns.

  • Comfortable: one of the main reasons for smart-casual attire in the workplace is that employees feel more comfortable, which can improve productivity and job satisfaction.

  • Flexible in style: there are so many options for smart-casual attire, letting you have flexibility in the styles you want to wear.

Related: Tips From a Recruiter: How To Stand Out When Changing Careers

What is acceptable as smart-casual attire for work?

There are a wide variety of clothing options to choose from in the category smart-casual attire for work, including skirts, dresses, trousers, slacks, sweaters, collared shirts or blouses and possibly a blazer or a jacket depending on the occasion. Here are some specific examples for different people:

Smart-casual attire for women

There are many options when putting together smart-casual women's outfits. From skirts to khakis and blouses to button-down shirts, make sure you choose versatile pieces you can pair with others in your wardrobe. If you're unsure about more fashionable styles, opt for basics that make you feel comfortable and confident. Here are examples of smart-casual clothing for women:

  • Skirts and trousers: add slacks, chinos, non-ripped, dark-coloured jeans and corduroy trousers to your wardrobe. You can also explore knee-length skirts like pencil skirts or A-lines, and you can get any of your bottoms in solid colours or subtle prints.

  • Tops: nearly any top can work well in a smart-casual outfit as long as it's clean, has no holes and is wrinkle-free. Examples of smart-casual tops include sweaters, henleys, button-downs, blouses and nice T-shirts.

  • Dresses: dresses are versatile, comfortable options for workwear. Invest in different colours, a simple black dress and one or two with subtle patterns that you can pair with your accessories, shoes or a sweater.

  • Shoes: you can wear low heels, fashion boots, loafers, clean tennis shoes, flats or open-toe shoes, though some organisations prefer closed-toe shoes.

  • Accessories: aim for simple jewellery, handbags, scarves and belts that coordinate with most of your outfits to get the most versatility. You can also add in more stylish jewellery to make your outfits a bit more formal.

Smart-casual attire for men

A smart-casual wardrobe for men is based upon a few essential items that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. The ideal smart-casual outfit includes a combination of formal and informal pieces:

  • Trousers: Get a quality pair of non-ripped denim jeans with straight legs and a dark wash—blue and black are standard—for a classic look that fits into numerous environments. You can also invest in chinos or khakis of different colours, such as navy and tan.

  • Shirts: Examples of smart-casual shirts include short- and long-sleeved button-downs, henleys, classic T-shirts and sweaters, which can easily pair with different pants and shoes. If you feel comfortable with colours and patterns, you might also invest in statement pieces that you can pair with solids.

  • Jackets and blazers: Jackets are a great option to mix up your outfits and they look great in both formal and informal settings. An unstructured, dark blazer can create a smart, professional look while also feeling casual.

  • Shoes: Invest in a couple of pairs of professional shoes, such as oxfords or loafers for more formal occasions, and a pair of clean leather, canvas or suede sneakers for casual situations.

  • Accessories: To accessorise, opt for classics such as leather belts—match the colour to your shoes—and wristwatches.

Gender-neutral smart-casual attire

Some of the most basic and attractive smart-casual outfits are gender-neutral. For example, a pair of grey slacks, a white button-up shirt and a simple black jacket with loafers can look great on anyone in nearly any professional setting. Here are examples of gender-neutral smart-casual clothing items:

  • Tops: Opt for gender-neutral tops like button-down shirts (including short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirts), henleys, T-shirts, sweaters, vests, jackets and blazers.

  • Bottoms: Nearly all trouser types make great gender-neutral bottoms. Go for items like khakis, chinos, jeans and slacks.

  • Shoes: Many shoe options, like oxfords, loafers and boots are gender-neutral. You can even find some open-toe sandals to go with your gender-neutral smart-casual outfit, too.

  • Accessories: Consider wearing watches, rings, necklaces, bags, scarves and belts that enhance your gender-neutral outfit.

Related: Business Casual Attire for Men and Women (With Examples)

Frequently asked questions about smart-casual attire at work

Here are some FAQs to help you better understand smart-office attire:

Can you wear jeans as part of smart-casual attire?

Yes, you can wear smart-casual jeans for women, men and gender-neutral styles. Jeans are incredibly versatile since you can create a formal look with nicer shoes, stylish accessories and more formal tops, like blouses, dress shirts, nice sweaters and blazers. They can pair with a T-shirt, henley or casual sweater for a more casual look.

Typically, dark-wash jeans provide the most versatility, but a medium wash can be good for less formal smart-casual outfits. Black jeans can replace chinos or slacks in a more formal smart-casual outfit.

Can you wear sneakers for smart-casual dress code?

Yes, you can wear sneakers as part of a smart-casual dress code for women, men and gender-neutral styles. You can pair sneakers with jeans, khakis and chinos. You may even wear sneakers with some skirts for a more athletic smart-casual look for women.

Can you wear leggings for smart-casual dress code for women?

You can wear many styles of leggings for a smart-casual dress code. Wear leggings that are in good shape and don't have any holes to keep your outfit professional. Consider pairing a nice pair of black or dark grey leggings with a blouse or a T-shirt and a jacket. You may also wear leggings under a knee-length dress or skirt in cooler weather.

Some organisations may prefer employees not to wear leggings. Check the employee handbook or consult your manager or human resources about this style choice to make sure you follow the dressing guidelines.

What is the difference between casual and smart-casual?

Casual attire is more comfortable and laid-back than smart-casual. Though casual attire incorporates many of the same items as smart-casual attire—like T-shirts, jeans, sneakers and leggings—smart-casual attire adds more professional clothing items and only incorporates the nicest versions of those more casual items. Here's an example:

  • Casual: An outfit like a graphic T-shirt, light-coloured jeans and sneakers or a tank top, short skirt and sandals may be considered too casual for a workplace that enforces a smart-casual dress code.

  • Smart-casual: An outfit like a plain T-shirt, dark-wash jeans and nice sneakers or a short-sleeved blouse, a knee-length skirt and flats are likely acceptable in a workplace with a smart-casual dress code.

What is the difference between smart-casual and business smart-casual?

Informal smart-casual attire and business-casual attire are similar styles of clothing. Both give you a professional appearance without wearing suits or other formal professional clothing. The main difference is that smart business-casual attire may incorporate more stylish and formal pieces, while informal smart-casual options might include clean sneakers, dark-coloured jeans and structured t-shirts.

What are the benefits of smart-casual attire at work?

Here are some of the benefits of wearing this attire in the workplace:

  • Personal style: when you get to wear smart-casual clothes, you have more options to showcase your personality through colours, patterns, accessories and clothing items.

  • Comfort: smart-casual clothes are typically more comfortable to spend a workday in as opposed to formal clothing that may fit differently and not allow you to display your personal style as much.

  • Accessibility: smart-casual clothing is typically more affordable than business and formal attire. That's because there are many affordable items that are nice enough for smart-casual style but not made of materials or found in stores that are more expensive.

  • Reduced time spent getting ready for work: you may even save time getting ready for work when you're able to wear smart-casual clothes that take less time to put on. You may also save time having to do your hair, makeup or other appearance routines if you're wearing smart-casual clothing.