Yesterday I was at The National Gallery running a session on Colour & Personal Branding in the workplace, and I noticed how it was the younger people in the group that were very much in the mindset of being comfortable in their clothes when at work. Practicality and Comfort played a big part in the question of what to wear to work.

The definition of the words both ‘smart’ and ‘casual’ is pretty straightforward, well for most but for me when someone says smart for work I think ‘suit’ and when Its ‘casual’ to me means my jeans and a jumper or t-shirt type top. It seems simple enough, however when employers put the term “smart casual” together, the lines become somewhat blurred and it proves to be a confusing concept for most professionals. For those that get it, it can work really well, but for some it’s a confusing time.

You could put two individuals in the same jeans, top and jumper and one will wear it well the other will look a complete mess. Now I know that grooming plays a bit part in this, i.e shaven, clean and tidy hair, smelling good as well as good shoes – and for me the shoes play a big part!

Personally, when I think of smart casual, I think of smart blue/black jeans and a tailored shirt, with maybe a v-neck jumper and certainly high boots or heels to complete the look.. I’ve always been the type that when given any occasion to dress up I relish the opportunity, so even when dressed down I will always have some make up on, my hair will be done and I don’t really own a pair of scruffy trainers.

What it doesn’t mean is old trainers, flip flops, torn jeans, a hoody, t-shirts or certainly not shorts.

Smart casual is particularly tricky to define in a working environment. Many businesses have a relaxed dress code, and often its not documented so no wonder people get confused. I can’t help but see this as an error as it’s such an easy concept to misinterpret. In this case it’s up to the employer to give the employee a sense of direction. Employees need to know how to dress for success without looking overly formal, they also need to feel confident and comfortable in their clothes. This subject came up yesterday at a Personal Branding session “the office is cold so I wrap up!” “I walk to work so I need to be comfortable”. These are typical comments that we hear everyday but what happens if there’s a last minute client meeting scheduled and everyone in the office is in trainers and jeans? These days you don’t need to go to a meeting wearing your best suit but there does still need to be at least a hint of professionalism or formality? No?

What employees do need to realise is that smart casual is not an open invitation to completely dress down. It’s about finding the perfect balance of both smart and casual. It’s about time the professional took pride in their appearance, clothes included! The concept of dressing to impress, no matter the dress code, can be a totally enjoyable process. Luckily, I’m on hand to share my smart casual dos and don’ts to clear up any confusion.

DO opt for a tailored jacket or blazer jacket as it will smarten up any jeans or casual trousers. Why not keep your favourite go-to blazer in the office for times when you need to dress to impress?

DON’T be lazy. As I said, this isn’t an excuse to throw any old number on. Be creative and experiment with items in your wardrobe that you wouldn’t normally put together. A smart dress with a colourful cardigan over the top? Chinos and a smart blazer? Tailored jeans and a classic white shirt – remember the accessories?

DO invest in a pair of good quality smart shoes in suede or leather. There’s so much variety out there in a whole range of colours and fabrics. For me opt for Plain oxfords as they’ll go with suit trousers on smart days and chinos on your dressed down days. For ladies a good pair of boots – maybe patent or leather, and ones that you can wear under trousers or over jeans.

DON’T wear trainers or any kind of sportswear. Trainers lower the tone of an outfit no matter how fashionable they might be. There are plenty of alternatives….enough said!

DO feel free to try colour, as colour will express your personality and confidence, And who ever got told off to wearing too much colour as long as it’s the right colour for your skintone?

So there we have it. No more excuses. No more I just threw it on. Hopefully from now on you’ll never be left staring blankly into your wardrobe looking for that perfect smart casual outfit again.