An Overview of Business Casual Attire

Last updated: June 17, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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An Overview of Business Casual Attire
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These days, a business casual dress code is acceptable in most workplaces.

Business casual is often suitable for job interviews and the general workplace, but there are a few rules you need to follow. Can you wear leather shoes? Is it okay to wear bright colors? You might have these questions.

In this article, we'll look at the history of business casual and share tips on what to wear for both men and women. We also give the definition of business casual.

To make choosing the right outfit for work easier, we've compiled some of our favorite photo examples of casual outfits.

What is business casual?

Business casual is a style of dress that is a step down from business professional. This office dress code is a safe bet when unsure what to wear.

A business casual wardrobe might include a collared shirt, sport coat, chinos, and dress shoes. Today's modern office will likely have a more casual environment, and the dress code policy will reflect this.

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Did you know that 46% of people think business casual attire leaves an authentic impression in a job interview, while 49% consider it trustworthy? It’s also much simpler than traditional business wear.

The history of business casual

Leading up to the 80s, workplace fashion began to change. Men gradually said goodbye to crisp, tailored suits and neatly positioned ties. Women also had more wardrobe freedom as pants became an acceptable alternative to skirts.

As businesses started to evolve and computers became mainstream, this had an impact on fashion trends.

When creative, innovative minds entered the office world, society kept an eye on Silicon Valley. It's not just a place where tech thrives; it’s also the birthplace of casual business attire.

While we may have said goodbye to the shoulder pads, big hair, and long socks from the 80s, the term business casual is here to stay.

In fact, not only is the term here to stay, but the clothing style has also become more acceptable in a variety of workplaces. Start-ups particularly welcome this style, as it allows employees to be comfortable while still looking presentable.

Business casual examples

If you think business casual is the right dress code for your job interview or workplace, you may be wondering what to wear. The options you choose will depend on your personal style, the weather, and your body type.

To help you get on track with your wardrobe choices, here are examples of business casual for both men and women.

What to wear for men

Business casual for men is relaxed yet stylish. Your menswear outfits should be well-fitted with tailored cuts and plain colors.

While you should always avoid denim at work, light-hued chinos paired with loafers and a dark blazer works well.

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Layers will help you navigate the climate. You'll always look your best when it’s cold outside and the heater blasts inside.

You can get the look with a collared button-down shirt and fitted knit sweater.

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Collared polo shirts are comfortable and relaxed; polo shirts might not be the right choice for a professional job interview, though.

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A dress shirt with rolled three-quarter sleeves can get a modern twist, especially if you pair it with an open vest and corduroy pants. Nowadays, you can buy vents in a range of casual materials, including suede and puff.

These vests are flattering. You can wear them open, and you won't get that tight fit like a traditional waistcoat.

When matching a vest with a shirt and pants, make sure the colors complement each other.

A good rule of thumb is to match the vest with the shirt and the pants with the vest.

For example, you could wear a white shirt with a blue vest and tan corduroy pants. Consider a patterned vest if you want to add a bit of color to your outfit. But the colors in the vest should still complement the shirt and pants.

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What to wear for women

Business casual for women is about comfortable basics that can be accessorized with statement bags, jewelry, a cardigan, and your favorite shoes.

You can tuck loose shirts into business slacks or knee-length skirts. Match soft fabrics and colors with darker palettes, giving you more work options.

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When you own a pair of ankle boots, they’ll be a staple in your business casual wardrobe. Ankle boots come in various colors, and you can wear flats or heeled versions, depending on your preference.

Ankle boots go with pants and skirts, and you can wear them all year round.

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An open, deep blue blazer is a fresh twist on corporate black. It can be the perfect match for a crisp white t-shirt and black pants.

You can accessorize with a chunky necklace or an oversized bag.

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Statement jewelry pieces, subtle patterns, and pops of color will let you have fun with your workwear.

For example, a pair of checkered pants with a peach buttoned shirt is both modern and professional. Red pants with a black zipped tee are striking yet work-appropriate.

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While there are many business casual examples, it can be overwhelming to put an outfit together when you're not sure what is and isn't acceptable.

Here are some outfits you can put together for any work commitment.

Khaki pants

One of the most versatile pieces of clothing you can own is a good pair of khaki pants. Khaki pants can be dressed up or down, making them perfect for any business casual event.

Pair khaki pants with a button-down shirt and a blazer to dress them up. Add a pop of color with your shoes, belt, or handbag to bring some personality to your look.

If you're dressing them down, pair khaki pants with a knit sweater or a collared shirt. Add some flair with jewelry, a statement watch, or a scarf.

Blazers and jackets

Like khaki pants, blazers and jackets can also be dressed up or down. For example, a blazer is an excellent choice for dressing up a pair of khakis or a summer skirt.

Pair a blazer with a button-down shirt and pants in a coordinating — though not necessarily matching — color. Since blazers are suitable for both genders, everyone can find one that fits well.

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For a more relaxed look, wear a jacket instead of a blazer. For example, pair a denim or leather jacket with a dress or skirt. If you choose a more relaxed jacket, keep your bottom half a little smarter to meet business casual expectations.

Skirts

A-line skirts are a flattering choice for any body type. You can wear them to work, a date, or a summer barbecue.

Add a blazer or cardigan to complete the look when wearing them for business casual.

Wear an A-line skirt with a polo shirt or ruffled blouse for a classic summer look.

Closed-toed shoes

Of course, there are always going to be a few open-toed shoes that can work in specific settings, but as a general rule, it is best to stick with closed-toed shoes when dressing in business casual.

Here are some options:

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  • Loafers: You can wear these with or without socks. If you are going to be wearing them without socks, make sure your feet are well-groomed.

  • Oxfords: These go with everything and can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.

  • Pumps: Pumps are not only comfortable but also stylish.

  • Wedges: Wedges are a great option if you want to be comfortable but also want to add a bit of height.

Simple accessories

Just because it's business casual doesn't mean you look like you stepped out of a Vogue photo shoot. The goal is to look polished, not overdone.

Opt for simple belts, scarves, jewelry, and bags. Avoid anything too flashy or gaudy.

Business casual vs. business professional

Keep in mind that business casual is not the same as business professional. If you are working in a corporate workplace, the employer may expect formal workwear.

Business professional for men would include a dark, full suit, tie, and dress shoes. For women, it could mean formal hair, a pantsuit, a button-down shirt, and dress shoes.

The legal profession is one industry that uses the business professional dress code.

Here is an example from the legal television show The Good Wife.

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5 Business casual tips for a job interview

If a recruiter has invited you to attend a job interview in a casual business workplace, there are a few tips that can help you style the perfect outfit.

1. Wear a dress or button shirt

Unless you are sure of the criteria, always wear a shirt. Men don’t need to wear a tie, but a clean buttoned-up shirt with trousers and dress shoes will make an excellent first impression.

Women can wear a shirt with a skirt or pants and an open blazer.

2. Iron your outfit

No matter what you choose to wear, always make sure it is clean and ironed. Taking care of your clothing will show you take pride in the finer details.

3. Choose the right shoes

Your shoes should also be clean and match your outfit. Men should stick to dress shoes or loafers, while women may like to wear short boots or heels.

Even though you may be interviewing at a casual business workplace, sneakers are not on the recommended list.

4. Style your hair

Wash and style your hair before the job interview. You should be yourself and wear your hair in a way that feels comfortable. But you should also make sure it’s neat and clean.

5. Stick to neutrals

If you are wearing business casual to a job interview, take a conservative approach. This means choosing neutral color schemes, such as navy, white, black, and grey. Go for block colors or classic prints such as stripes or polka dots.

Dressing well will give you confidence during a job interview.

What should you not wear in a business casual dress code?

While it's important to know business casual examples, you should also be aware of clothing items that are a huge no-no. Some of them include:

  • Shorts

  • Flip-flops

  • T-shirts with offensive or inappropriate logos

  • Ripped clothing

  • Clothing that is too tight or revealing

  • Crop tops

  • Heavy makeup

  • Running sneakers

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You don't need to have a closet full of business casual clothes, but it is vital to have a few key pieces that you can mix and match to create different looks.

For instance, a blazer is a great piece to have on hand. You can wear it with slacks, jeans, skirts, and even dresses. Likewise, button-down shirts, sweater vests, and cardigans also work with a variety of different bottoms.

Why has business casual attire become increasingly common?

Many workplaces have adopted business casual attire as the standard dress code for their employees. There are a few reasons for this change.

First, business casual is generally more comfortable than traditional business attire. Here are some other benefits of business casual attire.

More affordable

Business casual attire is often more affordable than traditional business attire. This is because you can buy less expensive clothing items that can be used for both work and informal settings. On top of that, many brands charge more for business attire than casual clothing.

Increased creativity

Employees who are allowed to dress casually may feel more comfortable expressing their creativity. This can lead to increased productivity and higher morale in the workplace.

Better self-expression

Some jobs require employees to wear uniforms or other specific clothing. This can be restrictive and make it difficult for employees to express their personalities.

Business casual attire allows employees to dress in a way that reflects their individual style. It can make them feel more comfortable in their work environment.

Lower maintenance costs

Since employees don't have to wear as much expensive clothing, there is less of a need for dry cleaning and other maintenance costs. As a result, businesses that allow business casual attire may help their employees save money.

Business casual vs. business professional: how do they differ?

Many employees don’t know the difference between business casual and business professional attire. To help clear up the confusion, here is a breakdown of the two types of dress codes:

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Business casual dress is typically worn in less formal office environments. However, it is also common for business casual to be the dress code for client meetings or other professional events where a suit would be too formal.

Business casual dress usually consists of slacks, a blazer, a dress shirt, or a skirt below the knee. Jeans are also often allowed in business casual workplaces but should be clean and free of holes.

Business professional dress is ideal for more formal office environments. It is also the standard dress code for job interviews.

Business professional dress usually comprises a suit, dress shirt, and dress shoes.

The main difference between business professional and business casual dress codes is the formality of the clothing. Business professional is the more formal of the two dress codes, while business casual is less formal.

When deciding what to wear for work, it is essential to consider your office's dress code. If unsure, it is always better to err on being too formal rather than too casual.

So when should you wear business casual? When should you switch to business professional?

It depends on the occasion. For example, let's say you're going in for a job interview. In this case, you would want to dress in business professional attire. However, business casual may be more appropriate if you're working in a less formal office setting.

Where to buy business casual outfits for cheap

When it comes to buying affordable and stylish business casual attire, there are a few key places to shop. Firstly, many high street stores now offer excellent ranges of business casual clothing, including tops, trousers/skirts, dresses, and shoes.

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Second-hand stores are also an excellent place to find cheap business casual clothes, as long as you're prepared to sift through the racks to find the hidden gems. Also, don't forget about online shopping. Sites like ASOS, Missguided, and PrettyLittleThing often have great sales.

Plus, stores offer a vast range of sizes and styles to choose from. Here are some stores to check out:

  • ASOS

  • Crew Factory

  • Old Navy

  • Banana Republic

  • J.Crew Mercantile

  • Gap Factory Store

  • H&M

  • Zara

You can also find business casual clothes at many department stores. However, the prices there are often slightly higher than at standalone stores. Still, it's worth checking out the sales and clearance sections to see if you can snag a bargain. Department stores to check out include:

  • Nordstrom Rack

  • Saks Off Fifth

  • Macy's

  • Bloomingdale's Outlet

  • Neiman Marcus Last Call

When shopping for business casual, opt for quality over quantity. A few well-made, timeless pieces will serve you much better than a closet full of cheap, trendy clothes.

Don't forget accessories. They can take your outfit from meh to amazing. A few key pieces to consider include:

  • A tailored blazer or cardigan

  • A well-fitting pair of trousers or khakis

  • A button-down shirt or polo

  • A skirt that falls to the knee or below

  • A dress with a conservative neckline

  • Closed-toe shoes with a low heel

What to wear when there's no dress code

Let's say you're in a business setting without a dress code. What do you wear? Do you opt for a more relaxed look or dress to impress? These guidelines will help you make the best decision.

If you're not sure what to wear, it's always best to dress more formally. That means no jeans, shorts, or t-shirts. Instead, wear slacks or a skirt with a collared shirt or blouse.

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You can also add a blazer or cardigan to your outfit for an extra layer of polish. Of course, there will be exceptions at times. If you know everyone in the office dresses casually, you can probably get away with dressing down a bit.

How to style business casual for different occasions

Getting business casual right can be quite tricky. Here are some examples of what you can wear for different occasions.

For meeting clients

It's imperative to look approachable when meeting clients. A blazer with a dress shirt and slacks is always a good choice. You can also add a tie, but make sure it's not too formal.

If you're meeting clients outside of the office, you can ditch the blazer and go for a sweater or cardigan instead. Women can also wear a blouse with a skirt or pants.

As for accessories, keep it simple with a watch and maybe a pair of cufflinks. Remember that when you meet a client, you represent your company. So it's important to look polished and professional.

For happy hour with colleagues

After a long day at work, you probably just want to relax with your colleagues. But that doesn't mean you should show up in jeans and a t-shirt. A polo or button-down shirt with chinos or dark jeans is a good option.

If you're going to be outdoors, you can add a sweater or light jacket to your ensemble. For ladies, a nice pair of dress shoes or boots can elevate the look.

For interviews

An interview is your first chance to make a good impression on your potential employer. You want to look professional but not too stuffy.

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A blazer or cardigan with slacks, a skirt, and a button-up shirt is always a good choice. However, if you're going for a more creative role, you can add some personality with a patterned shirt or fun accessory.

Attire also differs from one industry to another. Let's say you're interviewing for the role of an event planner. In this case, you should dress more like the people you'll be working with.

A stylish dress or pantsuit would be a good choice. But if you're interviewing for a job in a more casual industry — for instance, at a tech or start-up company — you can dress down a bit.

For men, this means a nice pair of jeans with a collared shirt or sport coat. For women, it could be a blouse with trousers.

For in-office meetings

If you have an important meeting, you'll want to look polished and put together. A suit is always a good option, or you can go for a dress with a jacket.

In most cases, meetings are scheduled on a day-to-day basis. So, you can show up with whatever you wore to work that day.

But if you know in advance it's going to be an important meeting where you might meet a potential investor or client, take the time to pick out the right ensemble.

For presentations

When presenting, you want to look confident and authoritative, so a suit or a dress with a simple top is a good choice.

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You can also add a pop of color with your accessories to make you stand out. However, don't overdo accessories since there's a thin line between classy and tacky.

For events and conferences

You'll want to look smart and professional when attending an event or conference. A blazer or jacket with trousers or a skirt is a good choice. You could wear chinos or dark jeans with a shirt or blouse if it's a more casual event.

Business casual FAQs

What else is there you need to know about business casual? Here are some FAQs.

Can you wear jeans in business casual?

No. The first rule of business casual is not to wear denim jeans.

Can you wear sneakers for business casual?

Sneakers are not a good fit for a job interview. Depending on the workplace, you may be able to wear dark, non-athletic canvas shoes to dress down your formal attire.

What isn’t business casual attire?

Casual business attire is not casual dress. You should avoid sleeveless tops, flip flops, athletic or leisure wear, denim, Hawaiian shirts, and baggy tracksuits.

What to do if there isn’t a dress code?

It’s always better to overdress than underdress in the workplace. If you're unsure, wear dress shoes, dress slacks, a shirt, and an open blazer.

Everything you need to know about business casual

Business casual has become an acceptable dress code in many workplaces. You no longer have to wait for casual Friday to wear a casual business outfit.

It’s a step down from business professional, with open jackets and polo shirts replacing buttons and ties.

What started in Silicon Valley has become a go-to trend for those wanting comfort, style, and professionalism. We gave you a history of the term and shared examples of what to wear for men and women.

We compared it to professional business attire and answered some FAQs. With this information, you should be well-equipped to dress for success!

Whether preparing for an interview or starting a new job, smart casual could be the right choice.

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Business casual attire blends professional and relaxed elements, often including slacks or khakis, a collared shirt, and closed-toe shoes for men, with similar guidelines for women plus skirts or dresses. For a detailed guide and tips on achieving the perfect business casual look, visit https://www.terra-quest.com/

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Janet Locane
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A business look is very important when you have to impress not only customers but also business partners.

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Rehn Nelson
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Business Analyst at Kaeppel Walmart

For men go with a tie , you can always take it off. Know the physical location you are going for your interview; will help you to determine the type of clothing. Be prepared for possibility of being asked to go to lunch

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