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Business casual is a common dress code found in many offices today, and it serves as a great default option if you’re unsure what to wear to an interview, networking event or on your first day at a new company. When putting together a business casual outfit, it can help to revisit some basic fashion rules.
In this article, we offer tips and examples of business casual attire, plus answer FAQs, so you’ll feel comfortable and confident for work or your next job interview.
What is business casual?
Although there isn’t a universal definition for business casual (sometimes called corporate casual), the dress code is typically regarded as semi-formal professional clothing. While less formal than traditional business attire, a business casual outfit should still come across as businesslike. The key to dressing business casual is to strike a balance between professional and a more relaxed, comfortable style.
How to dress business casual
Adding to the ambiguity of the term “business casual” is the fact that different companies, industries and career levels often have their own definitions as to what constitutes business casual. For example, a tech company may allow its employees to wear outfits that lean more toward casual than business casual, while a financial firm will likely expect its employees to dress on the other side of the business-casual spectrum. In the table below, we offer a quick comparison of what typically works for a business professional, a business casual or casual dress code:
|Business professional||Business casual||Casual|
|Pantsuits, two-piece suits, skirt suits, blazers, dark colors||Matching pieces, solid colors, simple patterns||Mix and matched pieces, bold colors, patterns, graphics|
|Pressed button-down shirts, collared shirts, blouses, wool slacks||Long-sleeve shirts, sweaters, blouses, chinos, cotton slacks, pencil skirts, dark jeans||Short-sleeve shirts, T-shirts, hoodies, blouses, khakis, cropped pants, shorts|
|Dress shoes (closed-toe)||Loafers, boots, Oxfords, flats||Sneakers, sandals, flats|
Business casual ideas
Here are some clothing pieces typical of a business casual wardrobe. Assembling your wardrobe with key pieces can get you started on a business casual look piece by piece:
Tailored dress slacks
Chinos, khakis, dark jeans without any holes
Modest skirts (knee-length, A-line)
A sheath dress to pair with another layer
Button-downs, collar shirts (solid, striped or simple pattern)
Blouses (in an assortment of colors)
A chambray shirt
Sweaters and cardigans
Blazers and jackets (black, gray or tan to start)
A coat (single-breasted isn’t too formal)
Closed-toed shoes (loafers, Oxfords, wing tips, flats, boots, booties, pumps)
A pair of dressy sneakers (for “Casual Fridays”)
Scarves, belts, suspenders
Minimum jewelry (watch, ring, bracelet, avoid any jewelry that makes noise)
FAQs about dressing business casual
Here are some frequently asked questions about business casual attire, including what makes business casual different from “smart casual”:
Are jeans business casual?
Though most offices allow jeans, some offices don’t and you should always check with human resources for the company’s dress code. However, a general rule to follow is to choose dark jeans with no distressing. If your industry veers toward the creative side, you might choose trendier denim designs. If you work in a conservative field, though, you may want to match jeans with a conservative top or jacket and nice shoes. As always, take your cues from coworkers to see how well denim is received in your company’s culture.
How is business casual different from smart casual?
A similar dress code that’s often confused with business casual is smart casual.
Smart casual and business casual are two distinct types of business attire. While business casual includes classic business staples such as khakis and button-down shirts, smart casual adds trendy clothing pieces such as leather sneakers, bold prints and statement accessories. When in doubt, err on the side of business casual until you’re familiarly confident with the company’s dress code.
What are suitable business casual colors?
The idea of business casual workplace attire is to provide employees comfortable clothing options while still maintaining a professional appearance. When planning the perfect business casual wardrobe, think of it as a hybrid between casual and professional wear.
Choose neutral colors, such as tan, gray, black, navy, white, brown and beige. Bold colors can add interest to an outfit but opt for small pops of color instead of entire outfits. For instance, 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 colorful handbag or shoes and a matching belt.
What does finding a balance mean for business casual?
This general rule means, above all, try and achieve a balance between casual and formal. Get to know your office and its company culture. Look for people who you respect or hold a position you aspire to and mimic their level of formality.
When in doubt, always err on the more professional side of corporate casual during your first week of work and start dressing down if the office seems more laid-back. Check out this table of do’s and don’ts for a few quick rules to keep in mind as you start to assemble your business casual wardrobe:
|Business casual do’s||Business casual don’ts|
|A tailored fit||Sizes that are too big or too small|
|Coordinated colors (with pops of color)||Mismatched colors, bold or loud colors|
|Classic, tidy style||Distressed, torn or ripped style|
|Modest lengths, proper hemming||Too short or overlong (wrinkles)|
|Tasteful jewelry pieces||Jewelry that clangs or clinks|
Dressing for a business casual job interview
When going on an interview, opt for a more conservative, polished look. A good example of a business casual interview outfit is a pair of loafers, slacks and a pressed, white button-down shirt.
Researching the company before your interview can help you determine what to wear. Many company websites and social media accounts feature photos of their employees at work. Keep in mind, you’ll want to dress slightly more formally than what you see online but these pictures should give you a general idea about the company’s dress code. You could also ask the human resources professional or recruiter who scheduled your interview for tips about the company’s dress code.