The smart casual dress code is becoming more and more common in business situations, but what exactly is it?

You’ve just been hired at a new firm and your offer letter says that the office dress code is “smart casual.” Or, maybe you’re attending a conference that calls for a smart casual dress code to mix professionalism with comfort. But what is a smart casual dress code? Is it the same thing in the office and out of the office? Where’s the line between smart casual and too casual?

The answer is that it depends. Different situations run by various organizations may have different standards for a smart casual dress code. However, there are a few safe standards to adopt if you can’t get more details before making an appearance. These tips will be sure to boost your confidence on the job and get other people noticing you.

What is smart casual?

The term “smart casual” has been around for nearly a century and was a precursor to the term “business casual,” which was common for a while. Smart casual means well-dressed without all the formalities of a boardroom meeting. So instead of a tailored suit, starched white shirt, and tie clip, smart casual might mean khakis, a polo, loafers, and no tie at all. For women, the difference is similar: a colored blouse with a casual skirt and perhaps a blazer as opposed to a navy business suit and white blouse.

The problem with a smart casual dress code is that it’s an ambiguous term. What qualifies as smart casual at the industry conference in Dallas may not be the same as smart casual at the team offsite in New York. That said, there are some safe ways to stick to a dress code without knowing the nuances of the event you’re attending.

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Smart casual dress code: For women

Smart casual dress offers women many options in the workplace. Colorful tops, like blouses or button-front shirts, replace the sterile and stagnant white button-front of traditional office attire. Nice, neutral-colored slacks or a tasteful skirt add a hint of sophistication to the outfit, though in some cases it may be appropriate to wear a nice pair of dark jeans. (When in doubt, though, skip the jeans.) Pumps are appropriate footwear, though avoid open-toe pumps in most circumstances unless you’ve checked in advance. Add a sleek blazer for an extra touch of class.

Accessories are also a great addition to smart casual dress for women. While the boardroom woman may skimp a bit on jewelry, smart casual allows for larger, more fashionable pieces, like bracelets and non-wedding rings.

The final result of smart casual for a woman should be stylish and sophisticated while also adding personality and just a hint of flair.

Smart casual dress code: For men

Men tend to have fewer options when it comes to professional dress. Blazers, button-fronts, ties, belts, slacks, and shoes make up the typical dress code for men. But there’s a difference between the elegance of boardroom threads and what you might wear in the office or to some client events.

For starters, ditch the white collared shirt. Pick another color. Any color. If you want to push the limits, go with a polo shirt, or wear a patterned button-front to add some spice. If you choose to go with a tie, make sure it’s tasteful while still looking casual, though we recommend skipping the tie altogether for the smart casual dress code. Instead, add character with dark-colored pants (not khakis, though they are acceptable for smart casual) and snazzy loafers. Finish your look with a stylish sports coat in some color other than navy.

Keep it dressy, keep it fresh

Whatever you choose to meet a smart casual dress code, make sure that your look is dressy and fresh. The idea is to communicate more of yourself than the stock and standard boardroom outfit, so take advantage of the opportunity to express yourself while still looking fashionable and professional. When you can, find out what “smart casual” means for the event or office you plan to attend, but whatever you end up choosing, be sure to wear it with confidence and class. Those two attributes can make up for most mild fashion faux pas in the business world.

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What are you favorite smart casual outfits? Share your tips in the comments below.