What Is "Business Casual?”

Posted August 13, 2021

Sometimes event information will list the dress code as “business casual,” a blanket statement for put together but not formal business. So what does “business casual” actually mean? It can be challenging to decide what the right outfit is for a meeting, interview, or first day on the job, especially when you may be stressed out already. Many organizations adhere to a business casual dress code on a daily basis, but there isn’t a standard agreed upon definition.

common business casual outfits

Wearing the appropriate attire in any occasion can make you feel confident, comfortable and qualified. Learning about the most common business casual outfits can help you find a good balance between formal and casual at work. In this article we will discuss what appropriate business casual attire might look like.

What does business casual really mean?

Business casual attire is not a narrowly defined dress code however it is broadly defined as a mix of both semi-formal and semi-casual business clothing items appropriate for everyday work. For example, in a business casual setting, you could wear slacks and a polo or khakis and a blouse, but skip the jacket or tie. Think of business casual as your “Sunday best” with a professional twist. 

In many organizations where customers or clients visit the premises, such as financial institutions, law offices, or sales floors business casual is the required attire. Finding a few business casual options to switch up throughout the week is usually the way to go  for any job that sees to customer and client needs. To help you choose the right outfit, here are some examples of business casual attire:

Business casual for men

Acceptable options of business casual for men are pretty straight forward, it usually includes some kind of collared shirt paired with casual pants or slacks.

Business casual clothing options for men include:

  • Bottoms: Khakis, dark jeans, business dress pants, or pressed slacks.
  • Tops: Dress shirts that button down, sweaters or polo shirts
  • Shoes: Closed-toed options including lifestyle sneakers, loafers, or oxfords.
  • Optional accessories: Belt that matches your shoes

During colder months a tie and jacket, cardigan or sport coat is a great addition to your business casual wardrobe.

Business casual for women

Business casual attire for women offers a plethora of options, from tidy jeans and slacks to blouses or conservative dresses. When deciding what might be an acceptable outfit for work, go with the traditional business casual options. Then after your first day you can observe the environment and adjust accordingly.

Business casual clothing options for women include:

  • Bottoms: Khaki pants, chinos, slacks, dark jeans without holes, or knee-length skirts
  • Tops: Trendy blouses, tunics, sweaters, collared button-downs, or polo shirts
  • Full Length: Maxi-dresses, trendy jumpsuits, knee-length dresses.
  • Optional: Hosiery or tights, especially for added warmth during colder months
  • Outerwear: Cardigans, blazers or jackets
  • Shoes: Closed-toed such as lifestyle sneakers, oxfords, loafers, pumps, heels lower than 3”, flats, boots or booties.
  • Accessories: Simple scarves, belts or jewelry

Gender-neutral business casual

Gender neutral options are always acceptable business casual attire. If you’re uncomfortable with men’s or women’s clothes some Gender neutral options include:

  • Bottoms: Slacks, khakis, jeans with no holes, or other non-denim pants
  • Tops: Sweaters, button-down shirts, a tidy henley, or polo shirt
  • Shoes: Boots, loafers, lifestyle sneakers, oxfords, or dress shoes made of leather or canvas.

Business casual separated by industry

Business casual attire can vary from industry to industry. It may even be impacted further by individual company culture, meaning the same industry but different company dress codes. Here are some examples of how business casual might look in certain industries.

  • Agencies: In a creative environment setting—advertising, marketing, etc.—it’s certainly acceptable to add a bit of creative flair to your business casual look such as a pop of color with a scarf, or a patterned tie or shirt.
  • Education: In a classroom or office educators tend to wear khakis and a polo with loafers or lifestyle sneakers. Dark, non-ripped jeans with a nice shirt and flats, is also acceptable. Many combinations of business casual styles work for educators including long dresses with cardigans for women, or slacks and a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up for men.
  • Entertainment: For behind the scenes jobs within the entertainment industry, such as casting agents, producers, and front desk workers the usual business casual with a bold style choice is common. Bold styles might include stylish clothing, unique hairstyles, statement jewelry and other pieces to stand out.
  • Fashion: A strong sense of style is expected in the fashion industry. Traditional “business casual” rules usually don’t apply in the fashion world. So most who work in this industry wear items that truly express their individual style and are aligned with current fashion trends.
  • Finance: In the finance industry, it’s still highly recommended to wear suits to the office, or at least a shirt and tie. A more formal business attire is expected in most finance offices. Luxury watches, fine jewelry and designer handbags are common accessories for this industry. 
  • Tech: In some newer tech industries, it’s common to wear hoodies, t-shirts, sneakers and other casual outfits any day of the week. In more traditional technology companies that contract with the government for example business casual, smart casual, and business formal might be more acceptable. 

What not to wear with a business casual dress code

Here are several things you should avoid wearing in a business casual environment:

  • Well-worn or dirty athletic sneakers 
  • Flip-flops or slides
  • Stained or wrinkled clothing
  • Clothing made to look worn such as distressed jeans
  • Clothing that fits too tight or too short
  • Clothing that is baggy or too sloppy looking
  • Clothing with inappropriate logos or text
  • Neon colors
  • Distracting patterns
  • Booty shorts or short skirts
  • Tank tops or strapless shirts without a blazer or cardigan
  • Backless or low-cut tops
  • Crop tops
  • Spandex Leggings or athletic wear

Tips for dressing in business casual attire

Since business casual can vary so much from company to company use the following tips to help guide your style choices:

1. Consult your company’s official dress code

Employers will often have an official dress code written somewhere in their employee handbook or workplace policy guide. Take a look and see if your company is one that allows open-toed shoes, t-shirts, and jeans, or if they require a more formal dress code of long sleeve dress shirts and slacks. Some companies may have requirements on colors like having dark and solid colors while others may allow tasteful patterns and brightly colored shirts. 

Certain companies may also require more formal business dress under certain circumstances, such as presenting at a client meeting, representing the company at a conference, trade show or networking event. It’s always a good idea to double check the company dress code just to make sure your outfit is at least compliant. 

2. Show up virtually

Just because you don’t have to be in person for the meeting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show up with your best foot forward virtually. Even though not everyone will have on their “Sunday Best” it’s a good idea to dress as though you are serious about your job, at least from the top up. Now is a great time to wear those statement blouses or dress shirts in bold colors and look your best even over an early morning Zoom meeting.

Turn your camera on, it will help show active listening and allow you to send and receive both verbal and nonverbal communication cues. Even if the majority of your team has cameras off, a great way to stand out is to show up, look good and be seen in the company meetings. Getting a ring light can also enhance the quality of your video feed so feel confident investing in one. 

3. Beware of casual Fridays

When they say casual Fridays they don’t mean show up in your pajamas or gym wear. If a company allows employees to dress more casually on Fridays than other days of the week it is best to take note of what others are wearing before straying too far from your daily business look. A great guideline is to take a look at what the managers or your mentor wears on Fridays and take their lead. Avoid wearing anything with writing that could come across offensive or political, steering clear of writing on clothing in general is a good rule of thumb for casual Fridays. 

4. Overdress for the interview

As an interviewee it is acceptable to over dress the part. When you’re unsure of the company dress code in an interview going for business formal with a suit and tie, or dress suit will come across professional and respectful. It’s not a good idea to go in to an interview in casual attire with the guess that the company culture is accepting of hoodies and t-shirts. It’s always better to dress for the job you want not the job you have, so if you want to be the head of your department one day think of what that person would wear and rock it at the interview. 

Even though business casual has a very wide range, try not to stress to much on being right. Wear what makes you feel confident and comfortable even if you are the best dressed in the room. The likelihood of someone saying you’re over dressed is low, but you will probably get a lot of compliments. Confidence is key in the workplace, and your clothes should only enhance your confidence.

The Careerbliss Team

Your career happiness is our #1 priority here at CareerBliss. To help you succeed in your career, we offer a wide variety of tools and resources to help you out along the way. Check out company reviewssalary informationcareer advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

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