Career Talk

/ 4 years ago /

 Article by Lucy Skoulding

Our guide to building your smart-casual work wardrobe

Forging a work wardrobe is an art, especially when the dress code is smart-casual.  I mean, what does smart-casual actually mean? What types and styles of clothing fit into that category? Read on for some tips on how to nail this look for summer and impress your colleagues no end.  

One piece of advice; you can’t ever be too formal in the workplace, unless you turn up in a tux, in which case you might get strange looks. It’s better to err on the side of caution than be too casual.

Another thing; look at what the high-up people in the company are wearing and try to match their level of dressing. The way you dress in the workplace can influence people’s opinion of you, even if that seems materialistic. So power dressing, here we come.




You probably already know that culottes are a fashionable choice for the workplace right now. But did you also know that they are light and comfortable; the perfect summer item? You can grab them for under £20 from ASOS and New Look. Plus, here is an item you can dress up for work, but also save for the weekend if you pair them with trainers.

Wear with: a collared shirt, a chiffon top, or a plain tee, depending on how smart you want to go. Then choose a gorgeous pair of heels or some flat ballet pumps to go with them.

Long pleated skirt

work wardrobe long pleated skirt

Long pleated skirts come in different materials, from chiffon to leather and you can choose both plain and patterned designs. They are the perfect smart-casual summer option, appropriate for work since they fall to the knee but floaty enough to feel like you’re dressing for the season.

Wear with: a strappy cami or long-sleeved top tucked in to your skirt. Then choose either open-toe heels or sandals.

Pencil dress

work wardobe pencil dress
French Connection

Pencil dresses are classic and great for showing off your figure. Choose one which sits on or just below the knee, and decide whether you want to add a belt. Check out Boohoo or H&M for some smart work dresses at great prices.

Wear with: a light cardigan and a low-heeled shoe. Make sure that the dress fits you properly and is comfortable to sit and walk in. You don’t want it to be too tight in the hot weather.

Three-quarter length trousers

work wardrobe crop trousers

This is a staple item for your summer work wardrobe. Go for a black pair if you want them to go with everything, or a lighter colour if you want them to look more seasonal (as long as you won’t spill your lunch on them). You can find these trousers for reasonable prices, but it is worth investing in a pair which fit you well.

Wear with: a plain top or blouse and summer blazer. You can choose whatever shoe you like with this outfit; it looks equally great with flats or heels.

A-line skirt with high-neck top

work wardrobe a line skirt
Motel Rocks

If you want to tan your legs, this is the choice for you! This is a great piece of clothing to get you in the mood for summer, and perfect to wear on a Friday because it looks equally good on a night out. Just make sure you don’t go too short!

Wear with: a high-neck top or jumper, and flat shoes. Pack a sparkly top in your bag if you’re going straight out on the town afterwards!



work wardrobe chinos

This look is probably as casual as you want to go, but works very well as long as it matches the office vibe. Before you try this out, take a note of what other people are wearing. If there are chinos aplenty as you walk around the office, you can go ahead and rock this look.

Wear with: a collared but casual shirt in a colour which goes well with your chinos.

Trousers and waistcoat

work wardrobe waistcoat

This sounds very formal, but you can easily make this fit the smart-casual dress code. Choose a pair of trousers with a matching waistcoat, then through a casual blazer or jacket over the top.

Wear with: a casual shirt, in whatever pattern you like, a jacket or blazer, and smart shoes.


Trouser and jumper combo

work wardrobe jumper
All Saints

This is definitely a winner. Choose smart trousers but soften this look with a jumper on top. Go for darker colours with a light shirt underneath for ultimate sophistication.

Wear with: smart shoes and a light-coloured shirt.

Smart jeans and shirt

work wardrobe jeans and shirt

Just like the ladies, here is your perfect dress-down Fridays option. You should still distinguish between office and loungewear on these days, so making a pair of jeans look smart is the way to go. Men’s clothes can be pricier than women’s sometimes, but at least with these items you can wear them at weekends too.

Wear with: a casual shirt or smart jumper.

The full monty

smart casual suit

I have some pretty good news. You can go all-out suit without looking like you’re trying too hard. The key is choosing materials and patterns which don’t look like a traditional suit then just completely owning the outfit. Power dressing to the max!

How to wear: Achieve the smart-casual suit look by choosing suede trousers, a patterned shirt, and a tie. Team this with a casual blazer and add a belt.

If dressing for work has been a worry, hopefully you feel a bit more confident now. From my experience, the key with the ‘smart-casual’ dress code really is paying attention to what your colleagues are wearing and matching their level of formality. Remember that office wear does not having to be boring either. You can still inject your fashion sense into your outfits and spice them up with accessories. Equally, don’t feel like you have to spend all your money on clothes for work. Many high-street and online shops have the items mentioned above at very reasonable prices, and even better is when you can buy clothing which works for both weekends and work days.

Connect with Debut on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for more careers insights.

More from this category


Career Talk

/2 years ago

Real Talk: meet the speakers

Debut and ERIC Festival are teaming up for two events centered all around entering the world of work. Meet the speakers involved.

Read more


Career Talk

/4 years ago

5 keys to success on a marketing internship

Anybody can get it, the hard part is keeping it. These keys to success will ensure your position on a marketing internship.

Read more

For the full Insight section, Download Debut today

Debut is available to download in the iOS App Store & Google Play Store