Because many companies have a business casual environment, it is important to understand what type of clothing is appropriate for this dress code. Learning what business casual means and how you can follow this dress code allows you to make a positive impression in the workplace. In this article, we discuss what business casual attire means, why companies choose to have a business casual dress code and key factors you should consider when choosing business casual attire.
What is business casual?
The term “business casual” typically refers to a dress code less strict than traditional business wear yet still professional and appropriate for an office environment. For example, you might wear a suit and tie for a job with a business professional dress code, but, for a business casual dress code, you could wear slacks and a dress shirt without a jacket and tie.
Employers may have different definitions of what constitutes business casual attire, so reference the official company dress code policy before an interview.
Why do companies have business casual dress codes?
Employers often choose a business casual dress code to maintain a professional environment, while still allowing employees to feel relaxed. A business casual dress code is standard in organizations where clients often visit, such as law offices and financial institutions, or for employees in public-facing roles, such as customer service.
Here are a few examples of what usually constitutes business casual attire:
Business casual for women
Most business casual outfits include items such as trousers or knee-length skirts paired with a blouse, sweater, button-down shirt or polo shirt. You might also choose a mid-length, professional dress. You should wear a jacket or cardigan over a sleeveless blouse or shirt. You may also opt to wear stockings or tights, especially during colder months.
Business casual attire often stipulates flat or heeled closed-toe shoes such as loafers, oxfords, pumps or heeled boots. Open-toe shoes are sometimes an option for business casual workplaces. You should usually wear simple accessories to complement your outfit.
Business casual for men
Men's business casual typically includes business dress trousers, khakis or pressed pants and button-down shirts, sweaters or polo shirts. You should also choose professional-looking closed-toe shoes with dark dress socks. It is a good idea to wear a belt that matches your shoes. While you may want to wear a tie with your dress shirt, a jacket is not required in a business casual environment.
Gender-neutral business casual
There are also several gender-neutral options for business casual dress. For trousers, choose chinos or other non-denim pants. Pair these with a sweater, a button-down shirt or something like a polo shirt. Shoe options include boots, loafers or well-kept leather or canvas shoes.
Items to avoid wearing in a business casual setting
Here are several items of clothing you should not wear in a business casual environment:
- Worn sneakers
- Stained or wrinkled clothing
- Damaged or distressed clothing
- Tight or very revealing clothing
- Oversized clothing
- Bright colours or neons
- Extreme patterns
- Mismatched or clashing colours
- Shorts or mini skirts
- Tank tops or strapless shirts
- Backless or low-cut tops
- Clothing that exposes the midriff
- Clothing with large logos or text
7 things to consider when choosing business casual attire
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you decide what to wear to a business casual workplace:
- Consult your company's official dress code
- Dress appropriately on casual Fridays
- Consider what other employees are wearing
- Overdress for the interview
- Communicate medical and religious requirements
- Dress from top to bottom
- Tailor your uniform
Consult your company's official dress code
Employers have different definitions of business casual—what's acceptable in some workplaces may not be in others. For example, some companies allow employees to wear polo shirts, while others require all employees to wear long-sleeve clothing. Some companies require that employees only wear dark, solid-coloured clothing, while others allow patterns and brightly coloured prints.
Additionally, employers may require more formal business dress for specific situations, such as if you're representing the company at a conference, trade show, networking event or client meetings. Always consult the employer's published dress code policy to make sure your clothing adheres to the requirements. When you are uncertain about how formally to dress, ask your superiors for guidance.
Dress appropriately on casual Fridays
Some companies allow employees to dress more casually on Fridays than other days of the week. However, every organization has a different idea of what they consider casual to mean. In most cases, it means you can wear well-tailored, dark-coloured denim, but you will likely still have to follow all other dress code stipulations regarding shirts, footwear and fit.
It is often easier to dress down a formal outfit than to try and dress up one that is too casual. You can usually pair a nice blouse or button-down shirt with a pair of good jeans and appropriate shoes. Brightly patterned socks are also a good option for casual Fridays.
Consider what other employees are wearing
It's best to dress more formally on your first day at a new job. This will allow you to see what other employees wear on a typical workday without feeling too casual. Once you've had some time to observe what colleagues wear day-to-day, you can adjust your attire and style to suit the atmosphere. For example, if you're not sure whether or not you have to wear a tie every day, be sure to wear one on the first day and see what other members of your team wear. Seek long-term employees to learn about the attire, accessories and hairstyles they favour.
Overdress for the interview
When you interview with an employer, it's best to overdress than to underdress. Even if a company has a business casual dress code, consider wearing a full suit to your first in-person interview. You can always take off your jacket and remove your tie if you arrive and feel your outfit is too formal.
Having options will allow you to make a positive first impression while you identify what others wear so you can model your wardrobe choices on their style in subsequent interviews if you are invited back. You can also opt for business professional attire throughout the interview process to continue making a positive impression with all interviewers.
Inform the right people of medical and religious requirements
If you have a religious obligation or medical condition that prevents you from meeting an employer's dress code guidelines, be sure to let the human resources department know before your interview or prior to your first day at work. For example, you may want to inform them if you have to wear religious garments or doctor-prescribed orthopedic athletic shoes. By informing the company via the proper channels, your requirements will be documented, and you can avoid any miscommunications in the future.
Dress from top to bottom
One way to organize your business casual look is to think about how you will wear your hair and what sort of footwear you choose to complement your outfit. Again, it is always wise to refer to the employer's dress code for specifics about facial hair. For men, a well-groomed look might include a medium length haircut: not too short and not longer than your shirt collar. For women, a loose ponytail, if you have long hair, is often acceptable on business casual days, and smart, short hairstyles can complement any ensemble anytime.
Neutral footwear is a safe bet for both men and women. Loafers, slide-ons and oxfords are popular choices. Coordinating your hairstyle with your shoe style is a clever way to pull your look together and exercise your creative expression.
Tailor your uniform
If you work in an organization that requires you to follow uniform guidelines, you may be able to personalize your uniform while still adhering to the rules. For example, a restaurant might ask that you only wear black attire. You can wear business casual black pants and a top that fits your style while still following the guidelines. If the company provides a uniform, see if it will provide tailoring services to ensure you look professional in well-fitting clothing.