Starting a New Job

Business Casual for Women: What to Wear

May 6, 2021

Business casual is a standard dress code, and it's a good option if you're not sure what to wear to an interview or a networking event. Since many companies use it, it's important to understand what type of clothing is appropriate for this dress code. When you're putting together a business casual outfit for a professional setting, revisiting the basics can help. In this article, we talk about what business casual attire for women means, the benefits of a business casual dress code, some examples of business casual clothing for women and tips for choosing great business casual outfits.

What is business casual for women?

Business casual attire is semi-formal, professional clothing that people often wear in office settings. The best business casual outfits achieve a good balance between professional and more relaxed looks. These dress codes are common in organizations where people sometimes speak to customers in person, like law offices, financial institutions and retail stores. Different companies, industries and career levels often have their own definitions about what is considered business casual. Women's business casual, in particular, differs depending on the office, profession, location and even season.

A similar dress code often confused with business casual is smart casual. While business casual attire includes classic business staples such as khakis and buttoned shirts, smart casual clothing adds trendy pieces like leather sneakers, bold prints and statement accessories. If you're not familiar with a company's dress code, choose more conservative business casual attire until you see what others are wearing. You can also check the business's official dress code and look at what employees are wearing on their website before an interview or your first day on the job.

Read More: Guide to Business Casual Attire

The benefits of a business casual dress code

A business casual dress code is great for both employers and employees because it helps maintain a professional environment while letting people feel relaxed while they do their work. It also helps you avoid spending as much on professional work clothes and dry cleaning.

You'll be able to wear some of the same outfits you wear to work on a fun trip to a park or museum with your kids, so you won't need an entirely separate wardrobe for work. You'll have a lot more closet space as well. Doing a great job is much easier when you don't feel restricted or distracted by uncomfortable clothing, and a more relaxed dress code makes a company culture feel more open and friendly.

Some examples of business casual attire for women

A good example of a business casual outfit is a pair of flats, some slacks and a button-down shirt. You could also choose a skirt with a blouse or a longer dress. Here are some common sticking points of business casual clothing for women:

  • Necklines: When wearing a blouse or a dress, choose a modest neckline that allows you to be comfortable throughout the day. Button-down shirts, sweaters, turtlenecks, and cardigans are good choices as well. You should be able to move around and lean over without checking your neckline to make sure you're covered. Also, be mindful of see-through fabrics, like mesh or lace. Shirts that require a strapless bra, items that are too tight, or items that show your back or midriff should be reconsidered.
  • Sleeves: Three-quarter-length sleeves are flattering on everyone, and full-length sleeves always look professional and polished. Short sleeves are a good option during warmer months, but check your office dress code and make sure you're familiar with what's allowed. In many workplaces, air conditioning can make things feel chilly, even in the middle of summer. Dress in layers or keep a spare cardigan or blazer at the office to stay comfortable.
  • Hemlines: Any dress or skirt you wear to work should be long enough to feel comfortable as you perform activities throughout the day, but not so long that it touches the floor or gets in your way. The best lengths hit at or just above the knee, enabling you to move around easily while staying covered.
  • Flats: The right shoes give you the flexibility to dress your work outfits up or down. Flats or loafers look great with any outfit, and there are many brands available that are as comfortable as sneakers.
  • Heels: If you wear heels, make sure they're less than 3 inches tall to keep professional and comfortable. Generally, close-toed shoes are preferred, but some offices allow open-toed heels or dressy sandals. Check your business's dress code and safety regulations before you wear open-toed shoes to work.
  • Boots: Ankle boots with low heels are ideal for business casual outfits. However, some workplaces may not allow knee-length or stiletto boots. Other businesses may require steel-toed boots for people who regularly visit warehouses, factories or construction sites.
  • Jewelry: An attractive piece of jewelry or two can make your outfit look more formal and professional. However, avoid excessively large or bold items. Many businesses have rules against large-gauge ear piercings and nose, eyebrow or lip piercings. Also, don't wear so many rings or bangles that you have difficulty typing or taking care of other routine tasks.
  • Hair: You should look neat, clean and well-groomed in business casual attire. Stay away from messy hairstyles, and choose a natural-looking hair colour. If you have long hair and you work in health care or around food, pull your hair into a bun or a ponytail.
  • Makeup: Makeup isn't mandatory for business casual attire, but if you wear it, you should strive for a natural look. Avoid glitter, false eyelashes or excessive mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow or blush. Use transparent or translucent lip gloss or lipsticks with light or neutral colours.

Tips for choosing great business casual outfits

The right outfit can leave a lasting impression, but sometimes choosing what looks best is difficult. Here are some tips to help you look your best:

1. Select suitable colours

For a professional look, choose neutral colours such as tan, gray, black, navy, white, brown and beige. Bold colours can add interest to an outfit, but opt for small pieces of colour instead of entire outfits. For example, you might choose a pair of black dress pants and a subtle, pink blouse with black accessories. You can also try an all-neutral outfit with a colourful handbag or shoes and a matching belt. Neutral colours also match with more items, and you can use different combinations of the same pieces to create several unique looks.

2. Dress appropriately on casual Fridays

Some companies let people wear casual clothing on Fridays, including well-tailored jeans and t-shirts, and some companies may allow sneakers. Casual Friday is a great time to try out an outfit with bright colours or eye-catching patterns. However, avoid distressed or ripped jeans and shorts. Also, stay away from shirts with political messages or jokes, or images that could be offensive to some people.

3. Communicate any medical or religious requirements to your employer

If you can't comply with an employer's dress code because of medical requirements or religious beliefs, make sure to let the human resources department know before your interview or your first day. That way, you won't be penalized if you wear a religious garment or orthopedic sneakers, for example.

Read More: How to Talk About Race, Gender and Social Issues at Work

4. Choose classic clothing

When you shop, don't follow the latest trends. Instead of getting clothes that will look dated in a few years, buy classic pieces that will last for much of your career. Everyone needs a nice blouse, slacks, a belt, and a blazer. Look for items with even stitching and durable fabric. After you find a brand you like, get a few pairs of slacks and some blouses in some commonly used colours like beige, grey and black. Then, you can pair these staple items with other pieces.

5. Get alterations when needed

If pants are too long or a blouse would look more flattering with darts, have it altered or do it yourself. A few small, inexpensive changes can make the outfit you got on sale at your local department store look as good as an expensive designer option. Clothing that fits properly is more comfortable as well.

6. Consider a personal shopper

If you're not sure what styles you need to look your best in a business casual environment, get help from a personal shopper. These are independent contractors or store employees who help you choose the clothing styles that look most attractive on you. They can look through your closet and help you decide what to keep and what to get rid of. They can also go shopping with you and help you learn how to select the best styles for you. Whether you're a recent graduate attending an interview or a seasoned professional considering a career change, the right outfit goes a long way toward leaving a lasting impression.

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