My love hate relationship with ‘smart casual’

4 June 2018

Disclaimer: this post is also an excuse for me to wear as much black as I want and get away with it scot free.

When I was at School and University, I always thought dressing for work would mean sky scraper heels, midi-dresses, pencil skirts and looking like I just walked off the set of suits. And to be honest, most days I go for this look (solely because I’m extra). However, I’m the type of person that is all or nothing. ‘Go hard or go home’ if you will. By this I mean, I’ll either go 100% and look super smart, or I’ll look like I’ve been ill for several months donning that high fashion piece commonly known as a onesie.

I always get a little shiver down my spine when I get an invite to something that has a dress code instructing me to wear something ‘smart casual’. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!? Neat? Professional? Personal? En pointe? Chill? Informal? Who actually knows!

The Oxford Dictionary defines Smart Casual as ‘neat, conventional, yet relatively informal in style, especially as worn to conform to a particular dress code’.

My interpretation of this is chic, effortless, put together and quite often black.

Like I uncovered in my post ‘power dressing, I think fashion (especially in the corporate environment) is so much more than the clothes you wear. Whether you agree or disagree, the way you present yourself can be used to delve deeper into your motivations, cleanliness, reliability and even the amount of effort you put into a work-related task. And for this reason, defining smart casual is so much more difficult.

Whilst I do love to chill in a tracksuit, this does certainly not fit into the smart casual criteria. Nor is it appropriate attire for any of the Central London bars I usually end up in on a Saturday evening.

On weekends, I have started to go for a more relaxed look. I usually take an outfit that I’ve worn as work wear but then swap one or two pieces for something much more casual. If I’m not going anywhere special, I don’t particularly want to spend a lot of time on my appearance. I’d rather enjoy this time with friends (and let’s be honest the most important activity of all…eating). So, the less thought an outfit takes the better.  

For example, if you have a simple skirt suit and shirt, swap the shirt to a vest top, skirt to a pair of tailored shorts or joggers (And yes, I’m aware the ones I’m wearing need a bit of an iron).  Maybe lose the jacket (heavily dependent on the Great British weather) and pair with some bold accessories – you’re good to go.

Although I do love the simple but classic shirt, jeans and blazer look. I’m so here for that ‘off duty, corporate worker heading for a brunch on a Saturday, or the city worker at a rooftop bar on a Friday night’ look.

This outfit is the first of my ‘Saturday smart casual outfit’ attempts. 
I never used to be a trouser person. In fact, I’ve always thought they made my legs look like tree trumps and didn’t accentuate my waistline as well as skirts or dresses. But then it was like I woke up one day with the knowledge that slipping on a pair of black trousers with a drawstring or high waisted finish and complementing these with heeled shoes will help. Only took me 21 years to learn that. Ever since, I’ve been a trouser girl. I go crazy for trousers with pockets (or anything with pockets for that matter).

Although I’m a strong believer of stepping out of your comfort zone, I’m also a strong believer in taking baby steps. Whilst my comfort zone is solely black. By swapping a light coloured item to a darker coloured item you’re automatically on your way to a smart casj look.  

I also love a good blazer. And I certainly love this old Primark take on the classic Balmain blazer. I bought this well over two years ago and in cost per wear terms, it has served me well. I often mix and match this beauty at least once a week as part of my ‘office wardrobe’. As exemplified in my documented experiment (i.e. the pictures) throwing on a blazer over a shirt (vest top in this case) and jeans/ trousers is such an easy step in shifting an outfit from casual to smart.

Whilst I would usually lean towards the black or brown classic boots, heels or flats if I was looking to nail a smart casual look. I don’t necessarily think you should forget about trainers. Just think how good a pair of white trainers would look with this outfit, complementing the white stripe in this New Look vest top.

I hope my somewhat incoherent thoughts about the smart causal trend and what I’ve done to take my usual smart look from the office ‘to the streets’ has given you inspiration. As I don’t dare to wear casual attire in the office every day just yet, I’m hoping the exploration I’ve been doing on weekends will help me identify what smart-causal weekend summer looks work for me and make me feel comfortable. 

Outfit details

Vest Top – New Look 
Blazer – Primark (old) (similar)
Trousers – H&M
Boots – Missguided via ASOS (similar)
Clutch – Zara (as part of tote bag) (similar linked)

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