As you know, perfection lurks in the details. In the ever-changing landscape of fashion in the workplace, business casual can vary from a mixture of blazers and work-appropriate tops to heels and button-downs.
Practically the problem with defining how to dress business casual is the lack of an across-the-board definition. This can become frustrating as more offices adopt a business casual dress code, or even adopting newer variations like “smart casual.” However, there are some unspoken rules that apply to most offices.
Generally, business casual is defined as no jeans, no shorts, no short dresses or skirts for women, optional ties for men, and a rotation of button-downs or blouses. Business casual dressing is more a list of “don’ts” as opposed to “do’s,” although they are meant to be guidelines for a professional appearance.
Business Casual for Women
Appropriate business casual outfits for women include a skirt or dress slacks, blouse, sweater, twinset, jacket (optional), and hosiery (optional) with closed-toe shoes. Sandals or peep-toe shoes may be acceptable in some offices but save flip-flops for the weekend.
Preferably any working woman should have the following staples in her wardrobe:
- Khaki, corduroy, twill, or cotton pants or conservative-length skirts
- Sweaters, twinsets, cardigans, polo/knit shirts
- A professional dress — try a sheath silhouette
Keep in mind that solid colors are generally preferable to busy or bold patterns.
Business Casual Wear for Men
Particularly for men, appropriate business casual generally attire is dress slacks or chinos, a button-down shirt, dark socks, and dress shoes. Avoid wearing polo shirts to an interview, even if they are acceptable for the job in question. Do not wear jeans or shorts. Athletic socks are also a no-no.
The following suggestion will be helpful for you in order to solidify good standing in a new position:
- Khaki, gabardine, wool, or cotton pants, neatly pressed
- Cotton long-sleeve, button-down shirts, pressed
- Leather shoes, in black and brown
- Leather belt, in black and brown
- A selection of ties
More Dress Code Rules to Consider
Look Before You Leap: If you are new to a job, avoid dressing like you’re heading to a picnic until you understand the company standards.
It’s wiser to dress on the conservative side rather than showing up underdressed. Check with HR or a colleague to determine what exactly business casual means for your company.
During job interviews, it’s always best to opt for the more formal version of business casual. Even if you show up and your interviewer is clad in shorts or a short skirt, that doesn’t mean it would be appropriate for you to dress that way. During a job interview, you want to make a good impression, and part of that is dressing professionally. Here are outfits you shouldn’t wear to a job interview, regardless of the dress code.
Maintain Consistency: If you wear professional and conservative outfits Monday through Thursday, don’t show up Friday looking unrecognizable in ragged shorts and a concert t-shirt. That’s true even if your office has “casual Fridays,” when dressing down a bit is appropriate. While it’s acceptable at many companies to wear jeans, for instance, you should opt for your best jeans, not a pair with stains or ripped cuffs.
Your outfit should always be formal enough (even on casual Fridays) that you can comfortably attend an unexpected meeting with your boss or client. No matter what kind of company you work for, maintaining a consistent image helps to establish trust and credibility with you as an employee.
Consider Your Calendar: If you’re meeting with clients or scheduling a business lunch, dress on the conservative side out of respect for the people you’re meeting with. Save the casual comfort for a time when you’ll be in the office all day.
What Not to Wear When Business Casual is the Dress Code
When the dress code is business casual, it’s not appropriate to wear your favorite old t-shirt, ripped jeans, ratty sneakers, or flip-flops. Remember the “business” part of business casual, and leave your old comfortable clothes at home: outfits should still be clean, pressed, and fit properly.
Avoid clothing with logos or potentially offensive words or graphics.
Men do not have the option to skip shaving or to go without a belt. Women should not wear anything that’s too tight, flowing, short, or low cut. Make sure that bra straps aren’t visible. And it’s a good idea to keep makeup natural and low-key.
There’s No Dress Code, What Can You Wear
What do you wear when there’s no dress code at all, and almost anything goes? How casual is too casual? Here are tips for both men and women for what to wear to work and job interviews when there’s no dress code at all.