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How to avoid common ‘smart casual workwear’ mishaps (an ultimate guide)

Times are changing and more businesses are relaxing their employee dress codes. A survey conducted on behalf of Simon Jersey – which covered 2,000 UK workers – showed that 36% of people would describe their current workplace dress code as ‘smart casual’.

By comparison, a mere 5% labelled their dress code as ‘very smart’, with a further 24% describing it as ‘smart’.

Clearly, smart casual dress is the way forward for many organisations, but there’s a problem…

One in three people don’t know what ‘smart casual’ means!

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The aforementioned research found that 34% of UK workers don’t understand what they are supposed to wear in order to comply with a smart casual dress code. In fact, 7% of the respondents said they would wear a suit just to be on the safe side!

This is a bigger issue than you might think.

Not only do employees risk embarrassing themselves if they make the wrong clothing choices, our survey also indicated that the way you dress could affect how your bosses perceive you and could even have an impact on your wider career progression.

Astonishingly, two-thirds of those polled felt the way they dressed WOULD have a bearing on their promotion chances. Meanwhile, a similar number (64%) said the effort that somebody puts into their appearance can give an accurate indication of how good they are at their job.

Perhaps most alarmingly, as many as 37% of the managers who took part in the survey admitted they had overlooked somebody for a promotion or pay rise because they consistently dressed inappropriately.

It’s important that you get things right. To give you the best possible chance of making the best impression, make sure you follow our expert guide…

How do you define a ‘smart casual’ dress code?

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Helen Harker, Design Manager at Simon Jersey, explained what the smart casual dress code is in a nutshell:

“In general, smart casual for work is anything that helps you create a professional look, with a relaxed feel that allows you to stay comfortable and show your personal style.”

Of course, everybody will have their own styles and tastes, but if you stick to these core principles you won’t go far wrong.

What are the biggest dress code mistakes that workers are making?

Helen explained some of the biggest errors that people commonly make when attempting to pull off the smart casual look.

  • Showing too much flesh

“Your clothes can be more casual but you should still keep to the usual workwear rules. Make sure skirts and shorts aren’t too short or tight and that tops aren’t too revealing.”

  • Being scruffy

“Casual workwear doesn’t mean you can come in wearing an un-ironed shirt and dirty trainers. You should still aim to create a professional image by being presentable.”

  • Heavily branded clothes

“Whether it’s your favourite football club, sports brand or Pokémon Go team, you should save big logos for the weekend. They’re too distracting for work.”

  • Being a slave to fashion

“Heavily ripped jeans may still be on trend but they show too much flesh for work and don’t look professional. Only incorporate fashionable pieces that help you maintain your professional image.”

Foolproof smart casual workwear tips

Perfecting the smart casual look can be tricky, but you’ll soon conquer it if you follow these handy tips.

Be prepared!

Helen said it’s imperative that you do your research and make sure you’re adequately prepared before you start a new job.

“If in doubt just ask! If you’re starting a new job, it’s well worth checking with your manager what people tend to wear and take cues from what they wear in the interview. You can also take a look at what everyone else is wearing because smart casual can mean different things for every firm. Whereas some companies just mean you can loosen your tie, others will think jeans and trainers are acceptable,” she commented.

Be safe, not sorry!

Helen also suggested that if you’re still in doubt, lean towards ‘smart’ rather than ‘casual’.

“It’s always best to go safe and go smarter to make a good impression, rather than risk looking underdressed,” she added.

Strike the right balance

If you’re wearing a t-shirt, jeans and trainers, you’re probably going to look too casual. Think a little more strategically and mix and match your garments.

You can easily wear a t-shirt and jeans if they are accompanied by a smart blazer and a nice pair of shoes. By the same token, you can get away with wearing some trendy canvas shoes if they are paired with a buttoned shirt.

Balance is key.

Think about colours and coordination

The colour of your clothes can have a big impact on how the overall look comes together. While you should never be afraid to experiment with pops of bright colour, you shouldn’t overdo it.

Try to form a neutral base and then use accessories to add a bit of personality to your outfit.

What staple ‘smart casual’ items should you have in your wardrobe?

Helen believes that in order to truly master the smart casual look, you should have these six essential items in your wardrobe.

1) Smart jeans/trendy trousers

“These are almost universally acceptable and can go anywhere.”

 2) The perfect white shirt

“Dress with jeans or skirts and accessorise however you like for a smart yet laid-back look.”

3) Patterned shirts/blouses

“Look smart while showing your sense of style.”

4) Well-fitting t-shirts

“In a variety of colours. Can be dressed up with a smart jacket if needed.”

5) Laid-back jacket

“A jersey jacket will go with anything and is extremely comfortable to wear.”

What does the future hold? Are we going to become even more casual in the workplace?

The data from our survey highlighted how much things have changed in recent years, with 55% of respondents stating that, in their opinion, people are now dressing less smartly for work than they did 10 years ago.

Only 9% of the poll felt that employees are now dressing more formally than a decade ago.

There’s clearly been a big shift in our attitudes towards workwear, and Helen believes that certain industries have changed more than others.

“There’s definitely been a ‘casualisation’ of uniforms over the past few years, particularly in the hospitality industry. That’s due in part to the rise of casual dining and of customers’ changing expectations. They expect the people serving them to be relatable and dress in a similar way to them. Jeans are almost universally acceptable now, particularly black and dark denim, as are casual shirts and trainers,” she continued.

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“However, one thing that remains the same is presentation. Whatever uniform is chosen it should always be clean and crease-free to maintain a professional look and to reassure customers that they’ll get a quality service.

“This does depend on the industry though and there’s definitely still a place for a suit and tie – particularly in front-of-house roles and for senior staff – it’s just not what is expected in every business.”

How can employers introduce a smart casual dress code that fits in with their branding?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the growing popularity of smart casual workwear will eventually signal the end for the workplace uniform.

This is definitely not the case, though.

Helen explained that a relaxed dress code doesn’t necessarily mean that a workforce will no longer be “on brand”.

“There’s a couple of different ways this can be achieved. Firstly, you can co-ordinate your team with colour. Choose one of your brand colours and have all staff wearing something in that colour. Whether they all have the same top or perhaps an apron (for service teams) you can ensure they all look like members of the same team,” she added.

“Alternatively, you can choose a uniform that creates the right image for your company then brand it with embroidery.”

What is your smart casual style?

Whether you prefer a patterned shirt or a more plain t-shirt, you can find it all on our site.

Don’t forget to share your style with us on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.