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Your Guide To Smart Casual Slay In The Workplace

It's smart, not hard.

Style

Your career is arguably one of the biggest aspects of your life. And the long and the short of it is, you can't achieve your dreams when you don't show up for yourself. That includes the way you look.

No matter where you work, there's a rise in casual work environments these days.

It's long been proven that your wardrobe influences your attitude. This is why your everyday work style has a bigger impact on your career than you think. Even if you don't work in the corporate world, the past few years introduced a bevy of networking workshops, seminars, and conferences for almost every industry. It's no surprise that the wardrobe for these events mirrors that of the working world.

I would love to spend my mornings sipping coffee and catching up on the latest news instead of scrambling around my house picking the perfect yet effortless work look. Turns out, you don't need an endless closet to be stylish at work, especially in the world of smart casual.

Look 1: Denim + Blazer

Tom Foltz

Smart casual is an elevation of your everyday style and, for many, that includes denim. This is not only a fundamental piece of clothing when building a smart-casual wardrobe, but it's also extremely affordable. The versatile nature of denim makes it simple to mix it up by alternating combinations to create fresh looks effortlessly. This look offers the most comfort, flexibility, and sustainability. You can update this look over the seasons by adding or subtracting layers, playing with heavier or lighter fabrics, and adding the right seasonal footwear.

While style experts will tell you to stick to dark, non-distressed denim, personally I believe you can have a bit more fun. It has to be styled a bit differently (adding a more modest top to spice up the professionalism, for instance), a rule to keep in mind is less is more. You don't want to teeter the line too much.

​Look 2: Midi Skirt + Loose-Fitting Top

Tom Foltz

The comeback of tea-length skirts and sneakers allow for an extra look in the smart causal box. This is a more polished look than the first one but it still allows for the same ease and comfort. You can reserve this look for a client meeting or out of office lunch; pair it with your favorite flats for that annual review you're prepping for. An essential aspect of pulling off this look is to dress it down. A chunky sweater, long-line cardigan, or loose-fitting tee is what categorizes this as smart casual. Don't overdo it and risk losing the "casual" part.

Look 3: Cigarette Pants + Loose-Fitting Tee

Tom Foltz

The most polished of the looks, this is a fan favorite for the constant meeting-goer. In reality, this would be completely "business" if not for the loose and relaxed fit of the cigarette pants. Since it means an athletic silhouette, there's a sense of ease and comfort that accompanies the style. Like the prior look, you can dress this down to make it even chicer. Instead of flats, opt for white sneakers or loafers. This adds fun and a bit of mystery, having your coworkers asking, "Who is that impeccably styled woman?"

Tom Foltz

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Featured image by Tom Foltz

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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