Forget Business Casual…Think Smart Casual


Jean pocket w/sequins

Last night and this morning I have been delving into Sherry Maysonave’s Casual Power.  In summary, it was written at the end of the 90s to help people understand how to dress as more corporations adopted casual dress.  I have been madly bookmarking and making notes but the bottom line is this:  how you dress in the professional world absolutely matters, whether you work for an agency, a small business or a corporation.  I completely agree with Ms. Maysonave’s conclusion that “dress (and I would add “style) is a powerful business tool.”

I have worked at a variety of agencies, design firms and one big corporation (Target).  The dress code requirements have been all over the board and I am certain that my interpretations have been too.  Now that I am better informed, it’s so much easier to make better choices and I can use my clothing choices to help communicate who I am.

Ms. Maysonave cites a statistic that says 55% of communications is based on visual/physical presentation.  That motivates me all the more to help me and you get it right!

So how do you shift your thinking from business casual (and in some cases just casual) to a smart casual?  A few basic guidelines:

  • Incorporate layers on the top half with jackets and sweaters.  A jacket is great for meetings and a sweater is perfect for every day.  Why?  Because you look put together, like you’re conscious of your appearance and we get to know you better.
  • Make sure your casual pants or jeans are smooth and show no signs of being worn, crumpled up or left in the dryer too long.  Why?  Because you can tell and it kind of looks like you just rolled out of bed.
  • Ensure your midsection and behind are securely covered.  Why?  It’s embarrassing, shocking and uncomfortable seeing cheeks and muffin tops.  Save those special areas for that special someone.
  • Save hats and caps for cold weather, sunny weather or clubs, not for work.  Why?  Because, as one of my former bosses once told me, “I can’t take you seriously.”  Granted I was wearing kitty ears on Halloween, but point taken.
  • Don a good pair of shoes/boots!  Why?  They help to add polish, color and style for those of us who tend to dress with classic pieces.
  • Select jewelry carefully.  Why?  Too much bling can make you look cheap.  Look for pieces that accent your outfit.  You don’t want it to blend in or fight the outfit.  Practice makes perfect here.
  • Ask yourself a few questions.  What does this outfit say about me?  Do I feel empowered in what I’m wearing?  Will other people take me seriously?  Am I prepared for an impromptu meeting?

Don’t assume that because your place of work is casual, it’s appropriate for meeting with clients, partners, vendors, etc.  Why?  Being on the client side and having to wear suits every day, it was REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE when our agency showed up in jeans.  They apologized profusely and we forgave them because it was an impromptu meeting but I believe it put them at a disadvantage professionally.  Subconsciously, we had all the power in that meeting and they knew it.

In all honesty, I will say that when I worked at places with a more professional code, I felt more professional, more successful, more important and more confident.

Trust me, this will not be the last time I talk about this topic!  It is so important to get smart casual right so you can keep your career moving forward.  Good luck and, as always, let me know if you have questions, additional suggestions for readers and comments.

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6 Responses to “Forget Business Casual…Think Smart Casual”

  1. Emily-Sarah Says:

    Good points. The agency-in-jeans event is very true — even if your workplace is casual, you must keep your clients in mind (and be prepared for drop-ins and ASAP meetings). I absolutely feel more professional (and look more put together) when I am dressed as such.

  2. fabuliss Says:

    Hi Emily-Sarah. Thanks for validating my thoughts!

    I was sometimes conscious of the philosophy that part of my job is to help my boss and my company look good.

    And I was very uncomfortably conscious when I, or one of my colleagues, was not up to snuff especially when meeting with clients.

  3. teahon Says:

    I worked at a business casual place eons ago that decided to have a dress-up day. It was funny to see how some people interpreted the call to dress up (one woman wore a black sequin and chiffon gown). But the interesting thing is that everyone did comport themselves a little differently that day…for the better.

  4. fabuliss Says:

    Thanks for weighing in on this Teahon. A dress-up day is a crazy good idea!

    I watched How Do I Look tonight (haven’t seen it in a long while) and was again, validated on how important smart casual is. The young woman went up against three other equally qualified women in an interview challenge – none wore a suit. The subject of the show scored the lowest in terms of what they would likely pay her based on her appearance.

    So amazing how this is all connected – dress better –> add personal style –> feel better on the inside –> worth more to others.

  5. Chris Says:

    Wow, love your blog. This topic really hit home for me because I work in an office where jeans are the norm, but I meet with customers a few times a week (who are also in jeans!), but I need to look professional without completely overdressing, and overwhelming, my clients. Any help on this topic would be appreciated – I think a lot more people are having to deal with this issue nowadays.

  6. fabuliss Says:

    Thanks for the note, Chris! Are there any specific questions that would help you out? Please let me know…would be happy to address them :)

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