Business casual wardrobes are meant to offer employees some respite from dressing up in fancy clothes at work every day. The demand for business casual dress codes is high enough that more than 60 percent of businesses now accept this form of attire in the workplace. But even though these dress codes are meant to relieve stress, they often end up causing confusion around what business casual actually means. Let’s clear some things up.
As the name implies, business casual clothing is business-appropriate while also more casual than formal business attire. This can have slightly different meanings for different genders. For example, business casual for men may constitute slacks, a nice button-down shirt, dress shoes, and accessories. For women, business casual may include dress pants or a skirt paired with a blouse and perhaps some accessories.
The important thing to remember is that business casual is about business first and casual second. Restart Your Style said it best: “Business casual is not dressing up a casual outfit; it’s dressing down a business outfit.”
Still have questions? Not to worry. We’ll dive into more specific business casual examples in the following section.
Examples of Business Casual Attire
The exact definition of business casual tends to vary depending on industries and norms in a given workplace. For example, one workplace may define it in a way that feels overly formal to another workplace, or vice versa. Thus, it’s helpful to understand the policies and observe the norms in your own workplace and dress accordingly.
That being said, following a few basic principles will ensure you never show up to work looking wildly out of place. Start with the guidelines below, and then modify your wardrobe depending on your workplace.
Business Casual Examples for Women
Business casual options for women can vary a bit depending on the season. In warmer months, here’s a simple formula:
- Start with a pair of dress pants, a nice skirt (pencil-cut or knee-length skirts are both great options), or a simple sheath dress. If wearing pants, note that in some offices dark denim pants may fall under the category of business casual; in others, denim may be a no-go.
- If wearing a skirt or dress pants, pair with a button-down blouse or a formal sleeveless or short-sleeve shirt.
- When it comes to footwear, consider closed-toe flats or pumps or open-toe heels.
- If you’d like, accessorize with jewelry.
- In order to stay cool, choose clothing made from lightweight materials such as linen, silk, or breathable cotton.
- Top off your look with a fashionable laptop bag.
As the weather gets colder, the previous formula can be modified in a few ways.
- If wearing a sheath dress, consider pairing it with a business-appropriate jacket, blazer, or cardigan, or opt for a long-sleeve dress.
- Consider swapping out blouses for turtlenecks or layer a cardigan, vest, or jacket over a blouse.
- Opt for closed-toe versus open-toe shoes.
- Feel free to accessorize with jewelry. You may also consider adding scarves into the mix.
No matter what you wear, make sure your clothing is clean, wrinkle-free, and well-fitted.
Business Casual Examples for Men
Business casual options for men tend to be fairly straightforward. In warmer months, a business casual wardrobe should likely consist of the following:
- Dress slacks, chinos, or khakis. (In some offices, it may be acceptable to wear dark jeans; in others, denim may be off limits.)
- A short- or long-sleeve button-down shirt
- Dress socks paired with dress shoes such as loafers or Oxfords
- Accessories such as a tie, pocket square, fancy watch, or formal laptop backpack
In colder months, that basic formula can be modified in the following ways:
- Swap out short-sleeve button-downs for long sleeves.
- Consider pairing a button-down top with a sports jacket, blazer, or sweater.
- Opt for thicker socks and fashionable boots to keep your feet extra warm.
- Avoid hoodies or other very casual attire.
Just as for women, it’s important for all your clothing be clean, wrinkle-free, and tailored to your body. No matter the season, it’s a good idea to avoid T-shirts, shorts, sneakers, and any other clothing you’d lounge in. For a classic option that is guaranteed to be formal enough, don a casual suit sans tie.
These guidelines should help you adopt a business casual appearance suitable for most industries. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to dress more formally than to show up to work looking dramatically more casual than your coworkers. It’s also important to consult your company’s dress code, which should give you some insights into how business casual is defined in your workplace. (If your company doesn’t have a formal dress code, it’s okay to ask questions.) By sticking to these guidelines, you’ll ensure you never feel out of place in a business casual environment.