What is Business Casual?
According to a Gallup poll, 43% of U.S. workers have a “Business Casual” dress code. Business casual has, for the most part, supplanted formal attire (suits and neckties) as the predominant dress code of the modern workplace. The issue is that there is no universally accepted definition of business casual. Some people say you don’t need a tie, some say you do. Some would say that jeans are okay for business casual, yet there are businesses that explicitly prohibit jeans from their business casual dress code. My own (loose) interpretation of business casual is this:
- Dressing professionally without the assistance of a matching suit.
The most important part of this guide is here, taken from Basic Wardrobe 3.0 : “Fit is king, nothing can make cheap clothes look better like a good fit, and conversely, nothing can make expensive clothes look cheap like a bad fit. Tagged clothing size varies widely by manufacturer, a small isn’t always a small and a large might be a medium.
Check out the guide to ‘How Clothes Should Fit ‘ for more info.”
I believe that if your shirt does not have a collar, it is not appropriate for the workplace. This includes t-shirts, henleys, sweatshirts, tank tops, etc. (Layering pieces don’t apply here; we’ll talk about that later.) So what you’re going to be looking at is primarily button-ups and polo shirts.
This is going to be your go-to piece for business casual attire. With or without a tie, a button up shirt is always a good choice. Keep in mind that there are shirts made for tucking into your pants so they stay in when you sit down, and there are shirts made for leaving untucked. You should be wearing the former at work. Start with some shirts in white or light blue, as these are very versatile and will work with most of your wardrobe. Move on to more bold colors and prints later on.
Polos are generally acceptable in the workplace; however I like to think that button-ups are a better choice. You can’t dress up a polo shirt much more than it already is, so unless you feel really strongly that you want to wear a polo I would stick with a button up.
Of the three pants I’ll showcase, slacks will be the most formal. In fact using the pants from your suit is a great way to get some business casual wear out of a piece of formal attire. Slacks will generally be darker in color (grey, navy or black) and have muted patterns, if any.
Khaki pants got a bad rap thanks to the oversized, pleated garbage that came out of many a 90’s workplace. However they will most likely be the most versatile, and most used, pair of pants in your business casual wardrobe. You don’t have to stick to the tan color either; grey chinos look great and mix well with bold colors just as well.
You will have to decide whether your office is ok with jeans, either from a written dress code or from what others are wearing. If they are allowed, it doesn’t mean you should be wearing your vintage distressed pair to the office. Jeans you wear to the office need to be dark wash, with no visible holes or distressing. Go with a straight/slim cut, not bootcut. From a distance, someone might have a hard time telling if they are jeans at all, or just dark slacks.
A blazer is the quickest way for you to upgrade your look at the office. However, don’t use your suit jacket. While some fabrics and textures allow for you to use a suit jacket as a separate, most don’t. The trick is to follow epicviking’s advice from the Blazers guide : Keep the jacket fairly unstructured, the shoulders should not make a sharp corner. It should be shorter than most suit jackets. Lastly, the armholes should be high.
The navy blazer is a staple of any office wardrobe. I like to stick to dark buttons as opposed to the brass buttons that traditionally adorn the jacket, but it’s really a personal choice.
Perfect for the colder months, a tweed sportscoat has a nice rough, textured look. The best part is that you can mix in some very bold patterns and colors, whether it be your shirt, tie or pocket square and the jacket keeps it all from speaking too loudly.
A cotton blazer is essential for summer, especially if you live in a warmer climate. I like to go for lighter colors in my cotton blazers and tan is a perfect choice. Now I wouldn’t pair it with your khaki chinos, the tones are too close together, but with slacks or jeans instead.
When the temperatures start to drop, layering up with a sweater is a great way to upgrade your style and give off a more refined look.
Some people say merino or cashmere are the only options, but I have a few cotton versions that suit me just fine. Keep the colors dark and muted when you start out, I would say get a navy and gray version first.
My wife hates cardigan sweaters, she says they look like you’re trying too hard. I tend to disagree. I like to think of my cardigan as a sweater that is a little more fun than the pullover. Keep the bottom button undone.
Even if you don’t have to wear a tie, I still think you should, at least once in a while. The good news is that you can go with some less formal ties in a business casual workplace: silk knit
shit even a bowtie
if you feel you have the confidence to pull it off.
I hesitate to even break into this section but I felt it should be mentioned. Don’t wear sneakers to the office. Just don’t. I think you can get away with things like CDB’s, loafers, suede bucks and maybe (MAYBE) boat shoes with business casual. I like to lean more on dress shoes for my work attire but it really isn’t required (Actually I just realized I’m wearing suede saddle shoes today, so there ya go.) Read shoe guide for info on what exactly you should be buying.