Cracking the (dress) code: What the hell is "smart casual"?

There's a gap between the rules of college life and the rules of adult life that is difficult to surmount. In college, it's perfectly acceptable to rock up to a lecture wearing stained leggings, an over-sized t-shirt and a "hun bun" (a messy top knot, to anyone not in the know). Everyone understands, even sympathises; you just had to stay up late last night to finish an assignment, or go to a party, or for no other reason than to sit and watch godawful True Movies with your housemates.

However, when you are thrust from your cosy college cocoon into the working world (or the unpaid-internship world, which would be the more realistic phrase), you find that such things are just not appropriate. I should know. I have just emerged from the college cocoon, and one of my first tasks has been to deal with my first dress code.


smart casual

This is the first time in my life that I'm required to wear something that is neither a uniform nor my normal everyday attire, and I'm completely stumped. Yep, I'm talking those two dreaded words that no one ever wants to hear - "smart casual".

What the hell is "smart casual"? Let's start by ruling out what's inappropriate. The baggy t-shirt and leggings are a definite no-no, yet so is a full trouser suit. That leaves you with lots of room to maneuver - too much room, some might say. Are jeans acceptable? With skirts - how short is too short? The margin for error is just too wide.



Too casual for smart casual?

Too casual for smart casual?

After deliberating for ages on what to wear for my first day on the job, I finally settled on black Zara cigarette pants (anything from Zara automatically makes me feel sophisticated), a shirt and a sorta-kinda-sparkly blue sweater. Smart, yet casual. Right? Right?!

However, when I went into the office I discovered "smart casual" was to be taken very loosely - office wear spanned the entire spectrum of fashion, ranging from jeans and sneakers to smart suit jackets and a smattering of ties.

I'm now more confused than ever - does "smart casual" just mean "Don't look like a scruffy so-and-so"? And if so, can I wear my (clean) Converse like the guys do?!

Until I know for sure, I'm sticking with tailored, patterned trousers like these ones - a mere snip at €12 from Penneys - paired with a nice blouse and flats.


Do you have a dress code at work? What's your work wardrobe staple?

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