What is Business Casual? The Definitive Guide to Business Casual Dress

What is Business Casual?

In Western culture, business casual is a dress code that can be associated with casual wear with elements of refined pieces to create a professional ensemble.

Business Casual Job Interview

This term can be somewhat confusing to potential job seekers. There is a fine line between what is accepted and what is not.

A balance between professional and relaxation is important and easy to achieve! The elements of business casual dressing consist of traditional informal wear that you can wear to your white-collar workplace.

It has been noted that is best to error on the side of dressing too formally rather than too casually, particularly in a new professional setting. Business casual is the dressed-down version of business professional. This translates to keeping the suit jacket but losing the tie or wearing more casual pieces like chinos or sweaters.

Business casual man on laptop

We need to stress this:

How you proceed in dressing for success is dependent on the climate of the workplace you are applying to

You must think of factors like the industry, the number of employees, size of the company, culture, the average age of the workforce, among many other things. Try not to focus too hard on the logistics of this style but instead, you should dress for success!

It is important that you are comfortable when dressing in this style because it will directly reflect your first impression. Do not be intimidated by the confusing definition that is business casual. After reading this you will be able to create the perfect balance of professionalism with a more relaxed style.

Why Does Business Casual Matter?

Business casual matters because it is important when you are making a first impression with a potential employer. First impressions are important and how you present yourself relies not only on your approach, but your clothing as well. Yes, clothing does not determine your credibility or competency but it does set you apart from others.

Acing the business casual style will create the perfect ensemble that adds an air of professionalism for any job you are seeking. The decisions you make when gathering pieces for an outfit really do impact the reality of your interview and future job. It is important to have a perfect balance between casual and professional.

The Basics of Business Casual: What Should You Wear?

There are many ways to bring the business casual look to life! You do not have to go out and spend a fortune on a whole new wardrobe when dressing for success. Most likely, you have pieces in your wardrobe that will pair nicely with items that you can find at a local department store (or thrift store.)

Before heading to your local department stores be sure to check out thrift stores! Most of these key pieces can be found in great condition at a very low price. You might even find a brand new item with the tags still attached! The thrift is also a great place to look for accessories as well whether that be a nice belt or briefcase that will jumpstart your business casual style.

What You Need in Your Closet:

Having key pieces that are versatile will supply you with endless combinations in dressing business casual. Investing in quality pieces will also supply you with durability and reliability. Items like a custom-tailored dress shirt would be perfect for your business casual outfit. Having a custom-tailored dress shirt will not only elevate your appearance but showcase professionalism in the best way. It is always important to dress consistently as well.

If your attire screams business attire Monday through Thursday and then your Fridays are saved for cut-offs and band tees, that is not ideal. Most workplaces do have casual Fridays but make sure to leave your Led Zeppelin shirt at home. Your clothing should always fit you properly. You do not want to make a sloppy first impression when greeting your potential employer.

Business Casual Tips:

Dos and don't

It is important to stay away from items like sneakers, flip-flops, graphic tees, sweatpants, neon colors, revealing clothing, or shorts. Jeans are also a borderline item and should be avoided if possible, dependent on the culture of the workplace. 

Instead, look towards pieces like khakis, shirts with collars, polo shirts, loafers/dress shoes, chinos, seasonal sport coats, ties, or a custom-tailored dress shirt. These items will create a professional look for any interview!

Recycle your gear

Your wardrobe does not have to be completely thrown out when wanting to dress more business casual. You probably already have some items that will go well with staple professional pieces. Items like structured blazers, custom-tailored dress shirts, sport coats, and ties will help you achieve the perfect business casual look. These pieces are staples that will help you hug the line that is business and casual.

Blazers for sizzle!

Blazers are great for creating a professional business outfit. You do not have to purchase a new suit to achieve a business casual look. A blazer can be paired with comfortable slacks and a solid color cotton t-shirt to create an ensemble worthy of the title.

Two men business casual blazers

Not all workplaces require suits but if your business casual workplace does you should invest in something high quality. If so, leaving the tie at home will ground the suit in a more business casual style. It will add some personal touch and achieve a professional look.

Color Pallet

Colors are also important when deciding on an outfit that falls under business casual. You want to stay away from super loud and bright colors like neon greens and oranges.

Colorful Business casual man

Instead, focus your attention on neutrals which are versatile. Having neutral colors like black, white, brown, tan, navy, and grey are perfect because they will never go out of style. These colors surpass all seasons and will continue to provide great business casual ensembles. Neutral colors are also easy to match which will provide endless combinations in your business casual style.

Darker greens and blues would be ideal as well! Neutral colors and darker tones would be perfect when dressing for the colder months. Warmer tones like burnt orange or mustard yellows are great for the transition month that is Autumn.

For the warmer months like summer, colors like mint, light pink, lavender, and baby blue are perfect to incorporate into your business casual looks.

Patterns and Stripes

Patterns can be incorporated into your outfit. However, make sure to avoid loud and distracting patterns.

Stripes are also a great way to add some personal touches to your business casual look. You should stick to pinstripes which help create a clean silhouette for your business casual attire. It would be best to avoid horizontal stripes because it screams baseball cap and sneakers.

For the warmer months, seersucker and linen are a perfect fabric to implement in your business casual arsenal. Your suits can also be lighter in color. For example, suits in lighter shades like blue, tan, or grey are perfect to wear to your workplace.

You can also pair a dress shirt with slacks which will still satisfy the business casual dress code. Even pairing a breathable cotton tee in a neutral color with chinos and a belt would work as well.

Outerwear

Outwear items like cardigans would be a great option for colder weather. Instead of throwing on the Christmas sweater that was knitted for you, you can pair a nice wool cardigan with your business casual look. Leave the bolder patterns for more casual occasions and you'll be golden.

Business Casual Outerwear

You can even be a little more adventurous with this clothing piece. Your cardigans can bring a pop of yellow or red to your workplace. These brighter colors would be paired nicely with neutral colors underneath. So button-downs or cotton t-shirts in colors like white, black, grey, etc. would be perfect!

Sportscoats and blazers are also perfect for this dress code. Tweed sportscoats or corduroy jackets are a perfect option for the colder months. They provide a hint of professionalism as well as personality. Linen blazers would be perfect for the warmer months but still serve business casual.

The Correct Way to Wear Business Casual:

As mentioned before, business casual does not mean sporting luxury suits to the office but it does not mean entering the office in sweatpants and flip-flops. Business casual attire offers a perfect balance of both casual and professional. You will succeed with quality staple pieces and comfortable secondary pieces.

It is also important to note that your pieces should fit you well. Avoid ill-fitting or oversized clothing when dressing for a business casual atmosphere.

Checklist for Dressing Business Casual:

  • Tucked in a polo shirt or custom-tailored dress shirt, etc.
  • Neutral or pastel colors preferred, solids are ideal
  • Loafers or closed-toed shoes in black or brown
  • Muted slacks/chinos or neutral-toned
  • Stick to monochromatic colors for a solid foundation when it comes to your attire
  • Layering piece (cardigans, blazers, jackets)
  • Business casual accessories (leather bag, leather belt, watch) in black or brown
  • Dark socks or dress socks (avoid athletic socks)
  • Jeans are pushing it and risky at best
It is better to be overdressed than underdressed. Showing up with professional attire is better than being too casual and potentially jeopardizing a future career

    Common Mistakes When Dressing Business Casual:

    It is important to dress with items that are tailored to your body. Having oversized pieces or ill-fitting pieces will come across as unprofessional and sloppy. Here are some common mistakes and how to fix them:

    • Wearing shirts that are far too casual is a common mistake usually made. In order to fix this mistake invest in custom-tailored dress shirts or collared shirts that will provide you with a professional look.
    • Jeans are considered casual but for the workplace, they are not ideal, especially if they are distressed in any form. Avoid wearing athletic-type pants and street-style jeans. Chinos are a great option that provides comfort and professionalism. Be sure to also pay attention to the pant leg itself. A pant break determines where your pants meet your shoe. You do not want to be swimming in fabric so having pieces tailored is ideal for any business casual setting. An ideal pant break would rest between a quarter break or half break.
    • It is imperative that your outfit is cohesive. Your shirt and pants must match since those are the most vital pieces. The relationship between colors and patterns will either make or break your outfit.
    • Sometimes footwear and business casual can be a little confusing. Sneakers tend to be a common mistake when dressing for a business casual atmosphere. It is important to choose wisely when it comes to footwear. Avoid wearing any type of slip-on or flip-flop when dressing business casual.
    • Belt and shoes not matching. This might seem irrelevant but when your accessories do not match it throws off the interactions between color and patterns that you worked so hard to achieve. For example, your belt needs to match your shoes. These accessories are vital to the composition of a business casual outfit. Any leather that you might have within your outfit needs to match. Having these items match will elevate your professional yet comfortable ensemble.
    • Wearing hats like fedoras. Try to stay away from accessories like this because they will serve as a distraction and are not suitable for a business casual atmosphere.

    Build Your Own Business Casual Style

    It is important to dress for yourself while also keeping to the business casual dress code. There are plenty of options that fall under the category that give you unique ways to express your personal style. You have a variety of colors, fabrics, styles, and overall fit that are at your fingertips. There are so many combinations you can interchange when dressing business casual. It is important to have key pieces that will help you achieve these endless combinations.

    Do not be afraid to create your own unique look when dressing for business casual. Presenting yourself through your self-expression will set you apart from the crowd. Finding your personal style through the business casual look will emphasize your individuality.

    Hipster Business Casual

    Building your own style can be determined in many ways. Here are some examples that would meet your business casual needs:

    • Different styles of dress shoes - Chelsea boots, Oxfords, Loafers, Derby, Monk Strap, and Brogues
    • Various business style accessories - ties, belts, pocket squares, watches, and leather satchels

    These items will tie in your business casual ensemble perfectly! It is always a good way to liven up your business casual attire. Many of these items come in different colors and fabrics will add to your unique style and preference.

    You can wear ties that vary in color and pattern but stay away from bold patterns which would provide a distraction. Whether your place of employment requires them or not it is always a great way to add personality. Solid colors and neutral patterns are always a safe bet when it comes to wearing ties for your business casual outfit.

    You can also add a tie bar which elevates your uniqueness even more by adding detail. It also keeps your tie in place which is always a plus!

    Watches are a classic go-to when deciding on accessories to pair with your business casual look. Silver is a safe bet because it pairs nicely with anything. You also cannot go wrong with brown or black leather, nylon, metal, or whatever you desire when it comes to bands for your watch.

    Business Casual Watches

    Belts are also a great way to liven up your business casual look. The choices range from leather to braided leather which are perfect options for business casual.

    Pocket squares are also great additions to your blazers. The interaction between the colorful pocket square and blazer will add a unique touch to your attire. These accessories come in a variety of colors and patterns like ties.

    Each of these accessories would be great with a custom-tailored dress shirt.

    Business Casual Connoisseur

    As they say, being overdressed is better than being underdressed! If you are overdressed you are still presenting yourself in a professional light. With being underdressed you are potentially jeopardizing your interview by coming across as nonchalant or not serious about the job.

    Ensure to keep in mind that different professions have varying standards when it comes to dressing business casual. Working for a start-up will be different from working as a banker or a lawyer. This can be confusing at times but you also can gauge the appropriate attire from the employees that work at your desired job.

    Business casual projects a professional, yet relaxed way of dressing. This dress code does not mean that you can get sloppy with your choices.

    Business Casual Man with a Plan

    Maintaining a consistent dress code at your workplace will build up trust and credibility as an employee.

    Ultimately, a business casual style should bring you comfort. It is important that you are comfortable to provide the best success for you and your potential job. Things like a custom-tailored dress shirt or comfortable chinos will provide a successful ensemble when dressing business casual.

    The recipe for business casual is a balance between comfort and professionalism. Your appearance will play a key role in your success. The goal is to have your work and work ethic define you and being comfortable and professional will guarantee that success!

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