If you’re like many employees, you probably enjoy business casual work environments. After all, swapping formal suit jackets and stiff shoes for more comfortable options can certainly feel a whole lot better!
But if you’re starting a new job, you might wonder if business casual there is the same as it was in your previous work experiences.
It’s a fair question, especially since no clear, standardized definition of “business casual” exists. What’s business casual in one environment might not work in another. And even within the same company, what works at one location might not work elsewhere. If you’re working remotely, business casual might be defined differently than working in the office, and business casual for interviews is often different from what you’d choose to wear as an employee.
And so the conundrum continues.
But don’t sweat it. We’re here to help!
When the question arises regarding business casual dress codes, it’s generally best to dress more formally than the risk of being underdressed or too casual. But how can you truly play it safe and feel confident at the same time? Read on to find out.
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What is Business Casual?
Think of it this way—businesses simply want to know that their employees are always representing the company in the best way possible, which includes their wardrobe choices. Thus, the general consensus is that business casual is a professional yet more relaxed dress code. It doesn’t mean ripped jeans or tattered shoes, but depending on the work environment, it might allow for wrinkle-free khakis, loafers, and even hole-free jeans.
Basics of Business Casual Attire
No matter what your organization’s dress code is, you want to dress for success. Fortunately, there are some guidelines to consider so you have the bases covered, whether you’re interviewing, working remotely, or going into an office where business casual is the norm.
The next two sections cover wardrobe options that work generally well for most business casual environments, including tech and start-up environments. Using these business casual outfit tips for both men and women, you can choose your wardrobe with confidence.
Business Casual Outfits for Women
Business casual outfit options for women include a combination of the following: blouse, twinset, dress slacks, knee-length skirt, blazer, dress socks, and optional hosiery. Closed-toed shoes are generally preferred, though peep-toe shoes and sandals might be allowed in some work environments. In terms of colors, all hues are typically acceptable, though busy patterns might be frowned upon.
Some staples for any working woman’s closet include:
- Tops: cardigans, polo shirts, twinsets, sweaters, and button-down blouses
- Bottoms: corduroy pants, twill pants, khakis, and conservative skirts
- Dresses: sheath and A-line styles
- Accessories: closed-toed dress shoes, loafers, simple earrings and necklaces, leather belts, dress socks, and hosiery
Having a couple of casual tailored blazers and jackets is also a good option to include in a female’s business casual wardrobe.
Business Casual Outfits for Men
Business casual outfit options for men include a combination of the following: chinos, dress slacks, jacket, dark socks, and a button-down shirt. Dress shoes are generally preferred, though more casual loafers might be permissible in some work environments. Like women’s clothing, solid colors work best. Busy patterns should generally be avoided.
Some staples for any working man’s closet include:
- Tops: cardigans, polo shirts, sweaters, and button-down shirts
- Bottoms: wool or cotton pants, and khakis
- Accessories: leather belts, leather shoes, loafers, ties, and dark socks
Having a couple of casual suit jackets or sports coats is also a good option for men as part of their business casual wardrobe. Additionally, well-fitting dark jeans may be appropriate in some business casual offices.
The Tech Industry Exception
The tech and start-up industries are notorious for having a relaxed work environment. This trickles down to their wardrobe requirements. Still, there are standards. Management likely wouldn’t be thrilled to see their employees walk in with light-washed jeans with rips at the knees, or anywhere for that matter. For both men and women in the tech industry, jeans are generally fine, as long as they are dark blue or black without holes, cuts, or decorations. Women can also go for a simple, modest dress or casual skirt that’s around knee-length.
As for shirts, plain T-shirts are options at some companies, though simple button-downs work best for men. For women, blouses, silhouettes, and sweaters work well. Zip-up fleeces and sweaters are also acceptable in some work environments.
In tech companies, you probably shouldn’t dress too fancy, trendy, or upscale. Going with a classic style is the safest option.
What Not to Wear for Business Casual Dress Codes
Where some clear options exist for appropriate business casual attire, there are also some clear “don’ts” when it comes to deciding on an outfit. It’s best to avoid the following, even if your company has a business casual dress code:
- Ripped or holey jeans
- Workout clothing
- Tight clothing
- Revealing clothing—no chest hair for men or cleavage and thighs for women!
- Bold make-up
- Bold patterns
- Ratty sneakers
- Dirty or wrinkled clothing
Additional Business Casual Tips
Here are a few more tips to rock your business casual work environment.
Take a second look. Before you exit your home for work or an interview, take another look in the mirror. Do you feel comfortable? Is it professional enough? Anything you need to correct, like tucking in your blouse?
Consider your calendar. If you have an important meeting with clients or your manager, you might choose to wear something a bit more professional than if you simply have to go to the office for business as usual.
Dress up more for job interviews. Even if the position you’re applying for calls for business casual, you should wear an interview-appropriate attire, such as a tailored jacket or casual suit, for example.
Maintain professionalism when remote. Even if you don’t have a meeting scheduled, you never know when you might get a call from a coworker, client, or supervisor, so you want to maintain professional attire during your remote working hours.
Keep up with grooming. You should always maintain proper grooming and self-care for the work environment. For men, that means being clean-shaven. For both men and women, wearing a deodorant and minimizing the amount of perfume or cologne you wear is also important.
Know the dress code policy. Adhere to your company’s dress code policy. If you have questions, speak to your HR department.
Maintain professionalism, even on casual Fridays. Casual Fridays are usually days when companies allow their employees to wear jeans to work. Similar rules apply to business casual attire. Jeans should be neat without tears and holes. Top and shoe choices should be similar to what you would wear on any other workday with a business casual dress code.
When in Doubt, Ask
These tips will help you successfully design your wardrobe to support a business casual work environment. And when in doubt, ask. If you’re interviewing, ask the recruiter or hiring manager what appropriate attire is for an interview. Or, if you’re just starting out with the company, ask HR or your supervisor what’s considered appropriate business casual attire. From there, you can design your outfits to impress.