Q&A: Are Jeans Business Casual? (With Examples)
There is not a clear consensus on whether or not jeans are appropriate business casual wear for the workplace, especially because different industries and types of jobs have different expectations for their employees. As attitudes about dress code change, some companies have progressive attitudes about business casual attire, while others have more traditional expectations.
Determining whether you should wear jeans in a business casual work environment depends on your ability to adapt to workplace expectations and style them appropriately. In this article, we explore the different situations where you can wear jeans at work and explain whether jeans are acceptable for a business casual dress code.
What is business casual attire?
Business casual attire is a broad term that describes clothing considered appropriate for office wear, but it does not include traditional business clothing such as a suit and tie. Many companies use a business casual dress code because the definition is so flexible and can allow employees to express themselves, while still maintaining a tidy and modest appearance. There is a range of clothing that can be considered business casual, often including:
Knee-length or longer skirts
Close-toed dress shoes
Are jeans business casual?
Jeans are usually considered business casual, with some exceptions. Business casual jeans should be clean and in good condition, free of any tears, fading or fraying. Avoid bright-colored jeans or styles that have flashy details, in favor of classic styles that you can pair with accessories or layers as needed. On their own, jeans are more casual, but you can easily style them to suit an office environment. Dress your jeans up with a button-down shirt and a sharp-looking jacket to transform an outfit from casual to business casual.
Understanding dress code at work
Whether or not you can wear jeans at work all depends on the context. Jeans may be appropriate for some situations and unacceptable in others, even within the same company. When you are adjusting to a new workplace or shopping for a new wardrobe for the office, figure out if jeans fall within your company's dress code for different situations before wearing them to work. Use these tips to understand the particular dress code at your job when it comes to jeans:
Ask human resources
Most human resources departments will have a dress code in their employee handbook. Some companies are quite specific, while others might have a broad dress code that varies by department. If you have questions about vague language and feel concerned about whether you can wear jeans to work, reach out to a manager or a human resources representative for clarification.
Pay attention to how your coworkers and managers dress. If most people in your workplace consider jeans to be within their business casual dress code, you can confidently incorporate them into your regular wardrobe. By being observant of the example others set, you can also pick up on patterns such as wearing jeans only on Fridays or during company parties.
Dress for the occasion
Even if your coworkers do not usually wear jeans around the workplace, there may be occasions where they are appropriate, such as team-building activities, company retreats or some types of fieldwork. The type of work you do can also indicate whether jeans are appropriate, as someone who represents a company to clients may have a different interpretation of business casual than someone who works independently behind the scenes.
How to dress up jeans for work
The way you style your jeans can make a huge difference in whether or not an outfit is appropriate for a business casual dress code. The same pair of jeans will look different with a T-shirt and sandals than with a sweater layered over a collared shirt. Follow these steps to dress up a pair of jeans for a business casual outfit:
1. Go dark
Dark-wash or black jeans are an excellent choice for a business casual outfit because of their similarity to traditional slacks. The darker fabric also hides fading and other signs of wear that could make the jeans look too casual. Dark jeans are flexible and can be paired with a T-shirt and a light cardigan for a casual workplace or a button-up shirt for a more formal environment. Though dark jeans are the norm, medium-wash or light-wash jeans can be appropriate in some more casual work environments.
2. Choose an appropriate style
There are many different styles of jeans appropriate for the office. As long as there are no distracting flourishes and they are not excessively tight-fitting, you can choose the cut that you like best. When trying on a new pair of work jeans, the waistline should overlap with the shirt you plan to wear with it, and the hem should rest at or below your ankle. Straight-leg and boot-cut jeans with a mid-to-high-rise waistline are both popular in office environments.
However, some popular styles of jeans are not considered business casual, and you should avoid wearing them in a business setting. These include:
Jeans with embroidery, glitter or rhinestones
Jeans with holes or frays
3. Select a comfortable fit
When wearing jeans at work, choose a comfortable pair that you can move around in for a full workday. Make sure that your jeans are comfortable when you are standing up and sitting down to accommodate a variety of office tasks. The denim should not be too thick or too thin to balance usefulness with a professional look.
Add accessories to make a simple pair of jeans look much more professional. Choose formal accessories to balance out a more casual pair of jeans. Simple necklaces and watches in dark or metallic colors, leather shoes, belts, ties, handbags and briefcases all add visual interest to a business casual outfit. You can also accentuate your look by wearing light makeup or trying a new hairstyle.
5. Add a blazer
If you still feel that your outfit with jeans looks too casual for the office, add a blazer, sport coat or a sharp jacket that matches or complements the wash of your jeans. Blazers are great to wear with jeans because they can be easily taken off and put back on to suit different dress codes.
Examples of business casual outfits with jeans
You can combine basic items to create many different business casual outfits to wear with jeans. Here are a few examples of how jeans can be incorporated into a business casual outfit:
Dark blue blazer, white button-up shirt, wristwatch, high-rise dark-wash jeans, black pumps
Neutral-color collared shirt, black belt, straight-leg jeans, Oxford shoes, sport coat
Patterned blouse, black boot-cut jeans, leather belt, ankle boots
Wearing jeans at an interview: don't do it
When applying to work in an office environment, it is best practice to wear formal business attire. Leave your jeans at home and instead wear a matching two-piece suit with formal shoes and a tie or some simple jewelry. Even if the company advertises casual wear in the workplace, your interview is a special occasion. Putting extra effort into your appearance shows employers that you care about making a great first impression.