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What is smart casual dress in the workplace?

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​What is ‘smart casual dress’? This is a very common question among job seekers entering the workplace for the first time, and seasoned professionals jumping into a new industry. Times have certainly changed from the two-piece suit that was mandatory to land a job. We now live in an era where individualism is celebrated, remote working and Zoom calls from the dining room table are the norm, and office spaces have transitioned to a more relaxed, collaborative environment. These significant developments in the way we work has also translated to how we dress, so we’ve put together a 2023 guide of smart casual attire for interviews and everyday work situations across different Australian workplaces.

Office Environments

In most Australian office environments, smart casual dress typically means dressing in business-appropriate clothing, but not necessarily a full suit and tie. Men should wear dress pants or chinos, a collared shirt or polo, and dress shoes. A patterned or fun-coloured sock is also appropriate and will show your individuality.

Women should opt for tailored pants or skirt, a blouse, and modest footwear. Avoid casual blue jeans, sandals or flip flops, and anything too tight or revealing. Again, express your personality in the accessories you wear, jewellery, bright lipstick or coloured scarf.

Retail/Service Industry

For those working in retail or service industry jobs, smart casual still means dressing professionally, but with a more relaxed approach. Men may wear chinos, khakis or simple jeans with a button-up shirt or polo, while women may wear a dress or skirt with a blouse or casual top. Sneakers are often appropriate in these settings due to the amount of time you spend on your feet, but avoid anything too flashy.

Depending on the company you work for, you may be required to wear a specific colour, often black, in the scenario where you will be working as part of a team and need to look cohesive.

Creative Industries

In creative industries such as advertising or design, smart casual can have a more eclectic take. This is a great opportunity to showcase your personal style, but still, keep it professional. Men may opt for a trendy blazer, skinny jeans, and a statement shirt, while women may experiment with bold prints, unique accessories, and brightly coloured blouses. But keep in mind, while there may be room for more creativity, avoid anything too casual like athletic wear, and, as always, too revealing.

Manufacturing and Production

The main focus in these environments is safety. If you are working with heavy machinery and large production lines you will want to keep your attire simple. A good-quality jean will stand the test of time and will be your most valuable garment. For the top-half, opt for a simple polo or if you are more senior, a button-up shirt. Some companies provide branded polo shirts for everyday use, a massive help as you won’t need to ponder over what to wear each morning! All employees in this field will, at some stage, be required to wear proper steel-capped boots.

For interviews, chinos or jeans, a dress shirt for men or smart top for women is appropriate. Remember to ask if you will be taken to the production or shop floor so that you can pack your boots in preparation.

Smart casual can vary depending on the workplace and industry but the key to nailing it is to remain professional. Remember to think about the company culture and specific workplace environment when deciding what to wear.

Still not sure? If in doubt, ask the question. It is not unusual to ask this question directly to your prospective hiring manager, HR or even your recruiter. Always err on the side of classic professionalism.

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