“Business casual” is the trickiest code to crack. There isn’t an exact definition as to what constitutes business casual. In a nutshell, it is the informal version of business professional attire. As Wikipedia puts it, “business casual is a kind of middle ground between formal business wear and street wear.” Translation: Mix traditional business formal pieces with everyday clothing items (save for your weekend wear).
While business casual is applicable to a wide variety of workplaces, it is often interpreted in varying degrees. Needless to say, there is a delicate balance that must be reached to achieve the perfect business casual look. Depending on your work environment, you should be able judge what level of business casual you ought to be wearing based on your superior’s attire. If your office is on the more formal end of the spectrum, lean toward clothing items that fall into the business professional category. However, if you’re in a laidback workplace you may have more flexibility when it comes to incorporating casual items into your daily ensembles. Regardless of where your office falls on the scale between casual and dressy, you should aim to look professionally dressed, but in a relaxed yet pulled together type of way.
There’s a wide range of options for business casual wear–skirt/pant + blouse, dress + cardigan/jacket/sweater, skirt/pant + sweater/cardigan… The possibilities are endless. Unlike business professional, you can wear a wider variety of colors and prints as well.
Here are some basic tips for achieving the perfect business casual look:
- Follow these commandments on 9 to 5 style.
- Steer clear of denim. Instead, opt for bottoms in cotton, silk, or blends.
- Avoid anything neon or shiny, unless it’s an understated accessory. This includes sequin tops, rhinestone pants, and neon bellbottoms. Disco style was left in the 1970s for a reason.
- If you would wear it to a club, you shouldn’t wear it to work. Just because a top is “dressy” doesn’t mean it’s office-friendly. Modesty is key.
- All clothing should be clean, pressed, and wrinkle-free.
- Hats are not okay for the office, ladies. Please leave your fedoras at home.
- Closed-toe shoes are ideal. But, if your office is more lax, nice sandals (not thongs or flip-flops) during warmer months are probably okay.
Now for some outfit inspiration… Below, I’ve put together five simple yet stylish looks for the “biz-cas” gal.
Style Tip: If your skirt or dress is too short, add tights!
One of the best basic business casual outfits is a simple pair of cotton-blend trousers, a nice blouse or tank (floral and print tops are always nice) with a pretty cardigan layered over. Top it off with a pair of comfortable ballet flats or oxfords for an easy yet professional “business casual” ensemble.
Like I said before, putting the term business casual into a box and labeling it is a difficult task to do since there are many different interpretations of what constitutes the ideal outfit. At the very least, keep in mind that you want to preserve a professional image. And ultimately, you want to look polished, stylish, and put together. In the words of Tommy Hilfiger, “You want to look fashionable and put-together, not like you hit every sale rack this season.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
What’s your go-to business casual outfit?
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Next up in my Dress Coding series is casual work attire!
P.S. When in doubt, remember this tip: Keep it 50% formal (as in business formal attire). For instance, if you’re going to wear a casual sundress, throw on a sharp blazer. It is always best to err on the side of caution than to risk a run in with the fashion police.