Let’s face it, “business casual” is a perplexing term that can be interpreted in many ways. You might get away with an open-collared shirt and jeans in one office, while in another workplace you might be expected to show up wearing a tie or a skirt.
While “business formal” usually refers to a suit and tie for men, and dress pants with a matching jacket for women, “business casual” is its less buttoned-up cousin. You have some freedom to inject your own unique style into your outfit with accessories and atypical silhouettes, while maintaining a stylish and professional appearance.
So what does that really mean? Whether you work in a creative or corporate office, we solve this vague dress code once and for all. Here’s our guide to dressing “business casual.”
Tops: button-down shirts and blouses
Women: A “business casual” top can be a silk blouse or a crisp button-down shirt. At a creative company, play with silhouettes like bell sleeves or ruffles. You can add some tasteful flair by accessorizing with a dressy belt or statement necklace.
Men: A tailored button-down shirt in solid colors or subtle plaids is a polished look. Show off your layering skills with an unstructured sports jacket or half-zip sweater.
Care tip: Ink stains can strike when you least expect them. Blot the stain with some rubbing alcohol—which works on most fabrics—and place a paper towel over it to absorb the liquid. (Avoid using club soda, which can set ink stains.) While a professional is most equipped to clean silks, you can toss cotton shirts in the washing machine using cold water, and then hang them to dry.
Bottoms: dress pants and chinos
Women: Choose dressy work pants that have enough room to tuck in your top. For dresses and skirts, ensure hemlines fall no more than 1” above the knee, and stay away from casual fabrics like jersey or linen.
Men: Dress pants or chinos are your go-to options. Keep them well-pressed with a steamer to maintain a professional appearance.
Both: Dark denim works in casual offices, but make sure there are no tears, rips or distressed patterns. Ladies can opt for sophisticated cuts like wide leg trousers or skinny jeans, while men can go for modern straight/slim-fit styles.
Care tip: If you find yourself wearing your lunch, use a mix of soap and water to get as much of the stain out as possible. Once you’re back home, pre-treat with a stain removal stick and launder according to the
Shoes: classic pumps and leather loafers
Women: Slip into ballet flats or classic pumps with a heel no more than 3” high. In less formal offices, suede or leather ankle boots are a fashion-forward yet professional option.
Men: Sleek leather loafers are a great choice, but you can have some fun with hybrid dressy-casual leather sneakers in a creative work environment.
Both: Leave the flip flops and athletic shoes at home, unless you ever find yourself working outdoors.
Care tip: To keep your leather shoes looking their best, wipe any dirt off with a soft damp cloth and gentle soap. Follow up with shoe polish to buff your footwear back to their shiny glory. For suede, use a suede brush to scrub away any blemishes. Refer to our leather guide for more tips on caring for leather footwear.
General tips for dressing business casual
“Business casual” can be confusing, but you can follow these general guidelines to avoid an awkward office fashion situation.
- The type of office you work in and the nature of the workday are important clues to deciphering this dress code. Corporate settings may be restricted to dress pants while startups and creative companies may allow for jeans.
- How your fellow colleagues dress for work will also give you some insight. For example, they may be dressed to the nines for client meetings, but for regular workdays they might show up in casual yet polished ensembles.
- It’s better to play it safe and go for something more formal, not less (so no sweatpants, please). If you’re really in doubt, it never hurts to ask your boss to define your workplace’s version of “business casual.”
Now that you have a better understanding of this perplexing dress code, you can start putting together work outfits that will impress your coworkers and clients. Knock ‘em dead. You can also get business casual looks delivered to your door by scheduling a Rinse laundry or dry-cleaning pickup.
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