When preparing for a business-casual meeting or the first day at a new job, it can be difficult to select the right outfit. Because many businesses adhere to a business casual dress code, it is helpful to understand what clothing qualifies as business casual and examples of items you can wear in this setting.
To ensure you make a great impression with a presentable and professional outfit, consider this guide to dressing for a business casual environment.
What is business casual?
The term “business casual” usually refers to dress codes that are less strict than traditional business wear but still tidy, professional and appropriate for an office environment. For example, you might wear a full suit with a jacket and tie for a job with a business professional dress code, but for a business casual dress code, you could wear slacks and a dress shirt without the jacket and tie. If you’re attending an interview and are unsure of the office dress code, business casual is typically the best way to dress. Employers may have different definitions of what constitutes business casual attire, so it’s best to reference the official dress code policy for specific details when possible.
Why do companies have business casual dress codes?
Because business casual attire is less formal than traditional business clothing, employers often choose this dress code to maintain a professional image and environment while still allowing employees to feel comfortable and relaxed. A business casual dress code is common in organizations where customers or clients often visit the premises, such as law offices and financial institutions, or for employees in public-facing roles such as sales and customer service.
To help you choose the right clothing, here are a few examples of what usually constitutes business casual attire for women and men.
Business casual for women
Most business casual outfits include items such as slacks, khaki pants or knee-length skirts paired with a blouse, sweater or polo shirt. You can also choose a mid-length, professional dress. Some organizations might also permit cropped pants. Sleeveless blouses should be worn with a blazer, jacket or cardigan. You may also opt to wear hosiery or tights, especially for added warmth during colder months.
Business casual attire usually requires flat or heeled closed-toe, professional-looking shoes such as loafers, oxfords, pumps, heeled boots. Open-toe shoes may be acceptable in some business casual workplaces. You might also decide to include accessories with your outfit—some options include scarves, belts and simple jewelry.
Business casual for men
Men’s business casual usually includes business dress pants, khakis or pressed slacks and long-sleeve button-down shirts, dress shirts sweaters or polo shirts. You should also choose professional-looking closed-toe shoes such as loafers, oxfords and brogues with dark dress socks. You should also wear a belt that matches your shoes. While you may opt to wear a tie with your dress shirt, a jacket is typically not required in a business casual environment.
Gender neutral business casual
There are also several gender-neutral options for business casual dress. On the bottom, you have the option between slacks, khakis, or other non-denim pants. On the top, you can wear a sweater, button-down shirt or another tidy-looking style like henleys or polo shirts. Shoe options include boots, loafers or dress sneakers made of leather or canvas.
Items that are prohibited in business casual attire
Here are several things you cannot wear in a business casual environment:
- Flip-flop sandals
- Stained or wrinkled clothing
- Clothing with holes, such as distressed jeans
- Clothing that is too tight or too short
- Clothing that is oversized or too loose
- Bright colors, such as neons
- Flashy patterns
- Mismatched or clashing colors
- Shorts or short skirts
- Tank tops or strapless shirts
- Backless or low-cut tops
- Clothing that exposes the midriff
- Spandex or Lycra
- Clothing with large logos or text
Some companies also forbid facial hair, such as beards, mustaches, goatees or unkempt sideburns, as well as dramatic or brightly colored makeup.
5 Things to consider when choosing business casual attire
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you decide what to wear to a business casual workplace.
- Consult your company’s official dress code
Employers have different definitions of business casual—what’s acceptable in some workplaces may not be in others. For example, some companies allow employees to wear polo tees while others require all employees to wear full-sleeve length clothing. Some companies require that employees only wear dark, solid-colored clothing while others allow patterns and brightly colored prints.
Additionally, employers may require more formal business dress for certain situations, such as if you’re representing the company at a conference, trade show or networking event, or in client meetings. Always consult the employer’s published dress code policy to make sure your clothing doesn’t violate any rules.
- Beware of casual Fridays
Some companies allow employees to dress more casually on Fridays than other days of the week. However, every organization has a different idea of what they consider “casual.” In most cases, this means you can wear well-tailored, dark-colored jeans, but likely still have to adhere to all other dress code stipulations regarding shirts, footwear, and clothing length.
- Consider what other employees are wearing
It’s best to dress more formally during your first day at a new job. This will allow you to see what other employees wear on a typical workday and can model your attire after them. For example, if you’re not sure whether or not you have to wear a tie every day, be sure to wear one on the first day and observe other members of your team.
- Overdress for the interview
When you interview with an employer, it’s best to overdress than to underdress. If a company has a business casual dress code, consider wearing a full suit to your first in-person interview. This will allow you to make a positive first impression and also identify what others wear so you can model after their style in subsequent interviews.
- Medical and religious requirements
If you have a religious requirement or medical condition that prevents you from meeting an employer’s dress code guidelines, be sure to let the human resources department know before your interview or your first day. For example, if you have to wear religious garments or doctor-prescribed orthopedic sneakers. By letting the HR team know, your requirements will be documented and you won’t be penalized with a dress code violation.
As a new employee or candidate, it’s essential you look composed and professional. By understanding business casual attire and ensuring your clothing meets your employer’s dress code guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to making a great first impression.