Business Casual vs. Smart Casual: What's the Difference?
Updated 25 April 2023
Some jobs require a specific dress code for the office or work zones. Business casual and smart casual are two common types of business attire that you can wear to the office, depending on company policy. Understanding the difference between the two can help you choose the right clothes and align with a company's requirements. In this article, we explore the differences between business casual vs. smart casual and identify some benefits of casual business wear.
Business casual vs. smart casual
Business casual and smart casual are just two kinds of workwear, each with its own specific approved clothes. Professionals in many industries can wear business and smart casual, but which one you wear may depend on the situation. For example, you might wear business casual attire to an important interview and smart casual to a company-sponsored picnic or another event. Here is how these two options compare:
Business casual attire is a professional dress code with some casual elements. Casual business attire is often a requirement in certain office spaces and professional buildings. Here are some different options you might consider:
Options for men
Here are some business casual options for men:
Collared shirt or button-up: Men can wear a collared button-up shirt or nice dress shirt for business casual. Typically, a tie isn't a hard requirement, but you can choose a professional tie that accents your shirt or completes the outfit.
Denim, chino pants or dress pants: Clean, professional pants are an important part of the business casual attire. Men can wear dark denim pants, chino pants or straight dress pants. In some cases, shorts might be acceptable.
Belt: Men often wear a belt with business casual attire to both complete the outfit and provide waist support for the pants. If you tuck in your shirt, wearing a belt can help fill the space between your waist and torso and blend your shirt and pants.
Sneakers or loafers: Business casual requires loafers or casual dress shoes, but sneakers can be acceptable if they're plain. Sneakers in plain colours with no logos or graphics are typically acceptable for business casually.
Options for women
Here are some business casual options for women:
Blouse or jumper: Women often wear a nice blouse or jumper for business casual. Sweaters are also acceptable in some cases, depending on the employer's discretion.
Dark denim or dress pants: Women can also wear denim pants or dress pants for business casual. Denim is typically dark and unadorned with graphics or logos and dress pants are pressed and neat.
Mid-length skirt or dress: Women can wear dresses or mid-length skirts for business casual. Skirts typically come to at least the middle of the thigh or the knees and dresses are acceptable at the discretion of the employer.
Heels, sneakers or dress shoes: Women can also wear heels with their business casual attire or plain sneakers or dress shoes. Some employers may approve sandals in warmer weather or other open-toe shoe options.
Belts and accessories: Women can wear a belt with their skirt or pants, which can help complete the outfit. Accessories such as jewellery, watches or other items are acceptable but may depend on your employer's preferences.
Here are some gender-neutral business casual options:
Collared shirt, button-up or blouse: You can wear a button-up shirt, blouse or collared shirt that's neat, clean and of plain colours or patterns. Some companies may accept bolder colours or patterns, but it's a good idea to ask about any uncertainties in the company dress code.
Khakis, chinos, denim or skirts: You can wear khaki pants, chino pants, dark denim or even a skirt or dress for business casual. Pants are typically darker in colour, like navy blue or black, but you can also wear tan or brown.
Heels, sneakers or dress shoes: You can wear any kind of business casual shoe, including heels, professional sneakers or dress shoes. You can also wear loafers or other open-toed shoes, depending on your employer's preferences.
Smart casual differs from business casual in several ways. Smart casual is slightly less formal than business casual but still requires a professional, clean look for both men and women. Here are some different options you may consider:
Options for men
Here are some smart casual options for men:
Jacket or blazer: Men can wear a pressed, neat jacket or blazer. Jackets are typically plain colours and designed with basic patterns. Consider greys, navy blues or black for colour options.
Button-down shirt: Smart casual typically requires a button-down shirt, whether you're wearing a jacket or just the shirt. Button-down shirts are plain colours with basic patterns or no patterns and don't require a tie.
Trousers or chino pants: Men can wear plain trousers or chino pants for smart casual attire. Trousers and chino pants typically require a belt and you can tuck your button-down shirt into your pant waist for a more clean, professional look.
Sneakers, loafers or dress shoes: Men can wear professional sneakers with basic patterns and colours. Dress shoes and loafers are also acceptable options, with colour options like brown, tan, black, navy blue or grey.
Options for women
Women have several options for smart casual and focus on a clean, professional look with slightly bolder colours and patterns. Here are some common smart casual options for women:
Coloured or patterned blouse: Women can wear a neat, clean blouse with different colours or basic patterns. This might include dots, stripes or floral patterns and colours like white, red, blue or black.
Cardigan or blazer: Women can also wear a cardigan or blazer for smart casual attire. Women can choose bolder colours like green, blue, red or lavender.
Neat dress pants or skirts: Women can wear professional skirts or neat dress pants. In some cases, dark denim is also an option for smart casual.
Professional sneakers or dress shoes: Typically, women wear plain professional sneakers or comfortable dress shoes for smart casual. Heels aren't often part of smart casual attire but can be an option if you choose.
Here are some gender-neutral options for smart casual:
Jackets, blazers or cardigans: You can wear a professional jacket, sports jacket, blazer or cardigan for smart casual. You have the option for more colours, depending on the outfit. You can wear colours like red, blue, green and tan.
Trousers, chino pants, dress pants or skirts: You can wear trousers or chino pants in plain colours. You can also choose dress pants for a more professional look or a skirt or dress with colours like blue, black or navy blue.
Professional sneakers or dress shoes: You can choose plain colour sneakers in grey, blue, black or other gentle colours. Dress shoes are also an option, such as brogues, oxfords or heels in some cases.
Read more: Guide to Smart Casual Attire
Benefits of wearing business or smart casual attire
Wearing business and smart casual attire offers many benefits, including:
Business and smart casual attire allow the wearer to express themselves with more customisation options. With traditional business attire, you may be more limited in colours, patterns and shoe options. Business and smart casual attire allows for thousands of combinations. Greater self-expression can make you happier at work and may act as a conversation starter with your co-workers.
Business and smart casual clothes may be more comfortable for some people. You can wear skirts and dresses which allow for greater movement and chino or dress pants. Greater comfort in your clothing might make your workday easier and more comfortable, and you might be more resilient to temperature changes. Comfortable professionals can focus more on their work, which might increase the company's overall productivity.
Wearing business or smart casual attire might help save you money on clothes. Smart and business casual attire tend to be more affordable than traditional business wear like suits. You might spend less on your clothing and still get a good mix of options to wear to work. You can mix different pieces of clothing instead of focusing on wearing a few suits or blazers each week to work. You can buy clothes from major retailers or discount outlets to save money, whereas traditional business wear might be more difficult to find at these stores.
Better company image
Companies that choose business casual or smart casual over a more relaxed dress code can benefit from a more professional company image. Visitors to the company can see that the company cares about its employees and its professional image and you can impress your customers and partners with a commitment to the look. This might even give the company an advantage in the industry if customers are more willing to work with a business that looks more professional.
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