Business casual remains an elusive dressing protocol to master for many employees. What is business casual and what exactly are the guidelines for the dress code?
To understand how to dress ‘business casual,’ you need to know what clothing items do NOT fit into the category. Business casual does not include jeans, t-shirts, flip flops or sandals, shoulder baring sundresses…and casual shorts. If you find yourself reaching for these items to head to work, think again!
The biggest mistake most employees make in defining business casual is embracing the ‘casual’ aspect without minding the business. The casual in ‘business casual’ is a very loose term. Business casual is more laid back than a full suit and tie, but the dress code isn’t weekend cozy. Leggings are not business casual, unless you’re wearing them under a dress or skirt for warmth in the winter.
While every company defines their dress code uniquely, here is a quick primer on how to master ‘business casual’ for interviews, events and the office.
The list of business casual attire for women is fairly extensive. Oxford shirts, short or long sleeved blouses, camisoles with a cardigan or blazer, trousers, khakis, and knee-grazing skirts and dresses are all appropriate. While I prefer my work wear to hit the knee, it’s only because I’m a bit taller. Length of skirts and dresses should be appropriate (no super minis), but they don’t have to be matronly. Use your discretion and the office handbook for guidance. Every woman tends to define short differently, as evidenced by Corporette’s poll on office work wear length.
Opt for shoes with closed toes, as showing your feet in the office reads way too casual. Save the toe-bearing sandals and peep toe heels for evening or weekends.
Business casual for men includes khakis or any hued twill pants. Polos, oxford shirts and blazers also work well. Again, keep shoes closed. Casual loafers or oxfords play well in the business casual code.
Individuals who identify as gender fluid and non-binary do not have to adopt the gender-neutral typically male-focused clothing options like khakis and plain shirts. Select clothing that is office appropriate and true to you.
For office wear, I typically choose accessories that won’t distract from my work. Dangling bracelets annoy me when I try to type. And some earrings may feel too heavy during an eight-hour day. Use discretion and common sense when selecting accessories for the office. But also use accessories to express your individuality and punch up an outfit. Accessories also can pull in elements of alternative styles like steampunk inspired jewelry, velvet chokers layered with pendant necklaces or even bohemian leather bracelets. Again, consult your office’s dress code, as there may be exclusions.
Business casual is difficult to interpret for many employees. While not entirely casual, but not suit and tie formal, business casual embodies khaki comfort and simple skirts and dresses. However, jeans are not appropriate for the biz casual code—yes, that even means dark wash jeans. And stay away from toe-baring shoes and anything that reads beachy breezy. Business casual is all about professional comfort. Clothes need not be formal and constricting, but they also shouldn’t channel lounge wear either. When in doubt, however, consult your company’s policies…or HR.