Your grandparents are absolutely right – again. Things really were simpler back in the day, and this is especially true of modern professional dress codes. Back then, you worked in an office, you wore a suit and a tie. Easy. No messing. Job done. Sure, it wasn’t fun, and it made for an awfully tear-out-your-eyeballs dull workspace, but at least it made sleepily dressing yourself in the morning easy.
Fast forward to today, and more and more offices are loosening their ties to allow for a new, more relaxed dress code – business casual. It’s brilliant news for those of us wanting to break free of the three-piece shackles, but terrifying news for those of us – 99% of us – who don’t quite know what such a nebulous and ambiguous description requires us to actually do. And with that, comes the risk of getting it really, embarrassingly, clear-your-desk-your-P45’s-in-the-post wrong.
So we called on Mat Pike, the style and travel blogger behind Buckets and Spades, to help us get through this particular dress code’s assault course. “The one thing that sets smart casual apart from business casual is that you must remember that you still have a job to do,” Pike explains. “But like smart casual, the rules are cloudy. Do you choose to wear the same thing as usual, but switch the shoes for sneakers? Or do you just ditch the blazer that day and loosen up the shirt a little? There are no right answers, and I hate to say it, but there are a lot of wrong answers.”
Let Pike steer your sartorial ship away from those wrong answers with these five must-consider points, all of which will have you dressing smartly, casually, comfortably and stylishly for your office from here on.
1. Keep It Clean For The Right First Impression
“You often hear how shoes will be the first item of clothing you’ll be judged on, but you can’t disregard how important your shirt choice is – it’s the piece that sits right in your co-workers’ and boss’s eyeline. Whether or not you’ve opted for a blazer and tie combo – a call that’s ultimately up to you – a fresh white Oxford shirt is a reliable choice. For more of a departure, or if you’re more of a denim guy, try a long sleeve medium-wash chambray shirt. I’d always suggest avoiding patterns when it comes to shirts, too. Clean and crisp is the look you want to achieve.”
Go-to brands: Uniqlo, Ralph Lauren, Folk, Norse Projects, Brooks Brothers
2. Trainers Are The New Brogues
“Sneakers can absolutely work in the realms of business casual, but anything that could even be considered for the gym should be left at the door. You want something more subtle, modern, clean and laced up for the office. Look for minimalist details, a slim silhouette and luxe leather, because these will fit perfectly into your work wardrobe as well as your weekend attire. Go for white, off-white or navy – they’re safe bets that should work with your slimmer suits too.”
Go-to brands: COS, Common Projects, Oliver Sweeney, Paul Smith, Grenson
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3. Slim Down On The Leg
“I’d always suggest sticking to the trouser fit you’re most comfortable with, but a slim leg is a failsafe option when it comes to business casual. Here’s where you can really experiment with materials, too. In warm weather, I suggest fabrics such as seersucker, chino cottons or even breathable wool. If you had jeans in mind you’ll need to stick to the slim rule, and in a dark indigo or black. Avoid, at all costs, rips, design details or overpowering faded patches. These things have the power to bring your entire outfit to its knees.”
Go-to brands: Jigsaw, Whistles, Reiss, APC, Levi’s
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4. Sling Some Simplicity Over Your Shoulder
“There’s a tendency to complicate things when it comes to bags – pockets for things that we only use once a year, materials to protect us from every weather imaginable, and meshes or ropes that wouldn’t look out of place on the face of El Capitan. A simple smart messenger bag, briefcase or tote bag would all be great choices for business casual though. Try to stay a good distance away from anything that you would class as retro, and only really consider pockets or sleeves that’ll house the essentials – your folders, your pens, your jam sandwiches.”
Go-to brands: Trakke, Reiss, Filson, Brooks England
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5. Tweak Your Accessories
“Accessories are a great way to bring up the casual and tone down the business. If you’re sticking with a tie then try a knitted silk one as an alternative, or stick a Nato nylon strap on your timepiece. A pocket square and socks can bring a laidback pop of colour too, but swerve gimmicky patterns and bright colours.”
Go-to brands: Drake’s of London, Timex, Pantherella, Uniqlo