The 'smart casual' dilemma
Dress codes are usually fairly straightforward. If you're going to a wedding (or similar occasion), then you know that you should wear something smart - usually a suit for men, a dress for women. Likewise, if you're going out with friends you can dress casually, in jeans and a top. It's the area in the middle - referred to as "smart casual" - that presents me with a dilemma. This can be interpreted in so many different ways! One person might veer towards the smart side, whilst another might opt for more casual attire. For many of us, myself included, this is a difficult dress code to get right.
I currently work in France as a language assistant. I had no idea what I would be expected to wear to school. You see, in British schools teachers dress smartly. Most male teachers will wear a suit; most female teachers will wear a dress, skirt or suit. On the whole, teachers will wear similar clothing to those who work in office jobs. Even the language assistants I had at school conformed to this (rather strict) dress code. Was I supposed to do the same in France?
Packing was a slightly stressful affair. I was only taking one suitcase, so my choice of clothing was limited. In the end, I decided to take mostly casual clothes, with a few items which I would look relatively smart in. When I arrived in France, I realised there was no need to have worried. Here, the teachers wear jeans to school! I followed their lead: if they wore jeans, it was clearly not an issue if I did too. In fact, I have only seen a handful of teachers wearing suits!
Having spoken to several other assistants, it was clear they also had the same dilemma as me. Perhaps it is because of cultural differences. In Britain and the US, education is a more formal affair and uniforms are important. Here on the continent, it seems to be far more laid back; uniforms don't exist for students, and there is no set dress code for teachers either. Luckily it made my life a lot easier!