Style SOS: What does smart-casual actually mean?
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I’ve recently changed jobs and no longer have to wear suits, but I’m stuck on what I can wear? How can I look good and office appropriate for this new environment? – Ryan, via email
A new job can be stressful enough without worrying about what to wear, but don’t fear, not having to wear a suit is actually a cause for celebration. A whole sartorial world has opened up to you, and all you have to do is embrace it, which isn’t as tough as it sounds. Instead of going straight from fully suited and booted to rocking up to the office in your sweatpants (which is something you can do, eventually), start by de-suiting in steps.
If a shirt, tie and jacket has been your go-to for years, suddenly wearing just a shirt or a polo can feel quite naked. This is where smart separates can be your friend, particularly the blazer. It’s smart but unstuffy, and there are so many different styles, from the classic goes-with-anything navy to a lighter unstructured style. You can wear it over a shirt or over a polo shirt, even over a t-shirt with some smart chinos if you’re feeling it.
However, if after years of corporate life you’re feeling ready to ditch the jacket, but still want to look smart, then don’t just lose the jacket and tie but keep the rest, you’ll look like a dad at a wedding who’s one more drink away from doing the YMCA. Instead, stick with a pair of formal trousers, but go for a shirt collar that doesn’t require a tie, like a granddad collar or camp collar shirt. It has the formality you might be missing but still works in a less formal environment.
If you’re in a super relaxed environment where anything goes – tech or something cool and media-y – then there are no specific rules you need to follow, except remembering it is still a workplace so even if you’re aiming for comfort, you do still need to look competent. A workwear jacket is an interesting option. Created originally for French factory workers it, has been co-opted by modern men who are more likely to be found in an office full of MacBooks than a factory full of machines. The beauty of a workwear jacket is in its simplicity – it goes with anything. Over a t-shirt and chinos, check. Over a knitted jumper and jeans, check. And it works all year round, great as an outer layer in the summer and as in-between layer in winter.
On your legs, if you’re not ready for the previously mentioned sweatpants, formal trousers or chinos are the best options. They can be dressed up or down (depending on how smart you need to look on any given day), and if you opt for a couple of pairs in neutral colours – navy, grey, khaki – you can just rotate them. What about jeans? It used to be that jeans at work were a big no-no but those days are gone, mostly. A quick glance around most offices with a relaxed dress-code will show you that jeans are acceptable. But, (yes, there are caveats) if you’re going to wear jeans, they need to be rip free and ideally dark blue or black. Not only are they smarter but they go with anything.
If you’re used to wearing suits, you’re probably used to living in smart shoes. You can still wear your brogues with a pair of chinos, but maybe consider something a bit less formal. A pair of desert boots go really well with jeans or chinos and loafers work with formal trousers. Trainers are acceptable these days too, just keep them minimal and simple and they’ll go with anything.
Now that you’ve sussed the office dress-code, you can focus on crushing it at work (and beating all those young’uns at office ping pong).
Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Illustration: Ryan Gillett