How to Dress Up in Business Casual?

Last updated: May 23, 2024
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How to Dress Up in Business Casual?
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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.

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

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

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 you're unsure of what to wear.

A business casual wardrobe might include a collared shirt, sport coat, chinos, and dress shoes. Today's modern office is likely to be 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?

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.

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 is blaring 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 with an open vest and corduroy pants. These days, vests come in a range of casual materials, including suede and puff.

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

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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 a range of colors, and you can wear flats or heeled versions, depending on your personal 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 is 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 a good 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.

Business casual FAQs

What else is there you need to know about business casual? Let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

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. No longer do you 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 now 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 you're preparing for an interview or starting a new job, smart casual could be the right choice.

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