When preparing for an event that requires business casual attire, such as a meeting, interview or first day at a new job, it can feel challenging to select the right outfit. While many organizations adhere to a business casual dress code, there’s no single, agreed-upon definition of what it means.
Wearing the right clothing has the ability to make you feel confident, comfortable and capable. As such, learning about the standards of business casual attire can help you can strike a balance between dressing too formal and too casual. In this guide, we'll define business casual attire with examples of appropriate business casual outfit ideas for men and women.
What is business casual?
Business casual attire is broadly defined as a code of dress that blends traditional business wear with a more relaxed style still professional and appropriate enough for an office environment. For example, in a business casual setting, you could wear slacks and a dress shirt without a jacket and tie. With more jobs becoming remote and more virtual meetings happening, you may only have to worry about your attire from the top up.
If you’re attending an interview and are unsure of the appropriate attire, you should first ask your point of contact arranging the interview if they can confirm the company’s dress code. If that’s not possible, then business casual is typically your best dress option. Employers may have different definitions of what constitutes business casual attire, so you should reference the official dress code policy for specific details if available.
Business casual attire 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 outfit, below are several examples of business casual attire.
Business casual ideas for women
There is a wide array of business casual dress options for women from tidy jeans and slacks to blouses and sweaters. If you’re unsure what is considered acceptable in a specific setting, it’s best to select more traditionally-accepted business casual outfits. Then you can observe your surroundings and adjust accordingly.
Business casual clothing options for women might include:
- Slacks, khaki pants, chinos or knee-length skirts
- Blouses, sweaters, button-downs, henleys or polo shirts
- Knee-length dresses
- Optional hosiery or tights, especially for added warmth during colder months
- Optional cardigans, blazers or jackets
- Closed-toed shoes such as loafers, oxfords, pumps, flats or boots
- Simple, professional accessories such as scarves, belts or jewelry
Read more: Guide To Women's Business Casual Attire
Business casual ideas for men
Business casual attire for men is typically more straightforward. Acceptable options fall between a full suit and pants paired with a professional shirt, button-down or sweater.
Business casual clothing options for men might include:
- Business dress pants, khakis or pressed slacks
- Button-down shirts, dress shirts, sweaters or polo shirts
- Professional-looking closed-toed shoes, such as loafers, oxfords or brogues with dark dress socks
- A belt that matches your shoes
- Optional tie and jacket or sport coat
Read more: Guide To Men's Business Casual Attire
Gender-neutral business casual
There are also gender-neutral options for business casual dress. During interviews and at work, it’s important to feel confident in what you wear. If you’re not comfortable conforming to women’s or men’s attire, consider these options:
- Slacks, khakis or other non-denim pants
- A sweater, button-down shirt or another tidy-looking style like a henley or polo shirt
- Boots, loafers or dress sneakers made of leather or canvas
Read more: Guide To Gender Neutral Attire
Defining business casual by industry
The definition of business casual attire can vary by industry and can be impacted even further by individual company culture. Here are a few examples of how business casual can look in common industries:
- Agencies: In a creative agency setting—advertising, digital, etc.—it’s usually expected that you also add a bit of creative flair or quirk to your attire. Think: a pop of color, or a printed tie or shirt.
- Education: Most educators work in a classroom or office and set an example for their students, so blazers and button-up shirts are the ideal go-to.
- Entertainment: In the entertainment industry, It’s all about being noticed so it’s totally acceptable to embrace bold styles, unique hairstyles, statement jewelry and other pieces to stand out.
- Fashion: Style is always key in the fashion industry. Traditional “business casual” rules usually don’t apply, and most who work in this industry wear things that truly express their individual style and are aligned with the latest fashion trends.
- Finance: In the finance industry, if it doesn’t make dollars, then it doesn’t make sense. It’s still highly recommended for finance professionals to wear suits to the office, or at least a shirt and tie or dress particularly if working virtually. Fine jewelry, luxury watches, and designer handbags are often the accessories of choice.
- Medical: Medical professionals usually wear lab coats or scrubs in the hospital or medical office and are always on their feet, so it’s acceptable to dress very casually underneath and wear super comfortable shoes like clogs or sneakers.
- Service Industry: It’s very common to wear uniforms if you work in a service industry—hospitality, retail, transportation, etc.—so you’ll likely only have to worry about your accessories and shoes. Comfortable flat shoes are a must-have, and it’s encouraged to keep accessories to a minimum.
- Tech: In tech industries, it’s pretty common that you can wear hoodies, T-shirts, sneakers and other casual “weekend vibe” outfits any day of the week.
What not to wear with a business casual dress code
Here are several things you should avoid wearing in a business casual environment:
- Well-worn athletic sneakers or tennis shoes
- 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
- Overly distracting patterns
- Mismatched or clashing colors
- Shorts or short skirts
- Tank tops or strapless shirts—unless paired with a blazer, jacket or cardigan
- Backless or low-cut tops
- Clothing that exposes the midriff
- Spandex or Lycra
- Clothing with large logos or text
Tips for dressing in business casual attire
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you decide what to wear to a business casual workplace.
1. 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 open-toed shoes, polo tees and jeans while others require all employees to wear closed-toed shoes, full-sleeve length shirts and non-denim pants. 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 representing the company at a conference, trade show or networking event, or in client meetings. Always consult your company dress code policy to ensure your clothing is compliant.
2. Show up virtually
With so many of us now working from home—whether full time or just a few days per week—it has become imperative to focus on dressing from the top up. Now is the time to wear tops or shirts in bold colors or with unique details, and possibly add a statement necklace or fun pair of earrings to add elements of style even over a Zoom meeting.
Cameras off or on? If you’re relatively new to your role or still learning on the job, we definitely recommend showing up to your meetings with your camera on. We also recommend investing in a ring light to enhance lighting.
3. Adapt to the post-pandemic workplace
Due to the pandemic and the influx of employees working remotely over the past year, we are now in a cultural shift in the workplace. We’re likely not returning to the buttoned-up, “business casual,” or corporate environments that we once knew and are now “returning” to a new workplace. As for attire, that means that jeans and even sweatshirts and sweatpants will likely become more accepted in the office, and we may finally reach a place where we’re not required to have a separate wardrobe for work.
4. Beware of casual Fridays
Some companies allow employees to dress more casually on Fridays than other days of the week. It's best to take note of acceptable casual Friday attire based on what others are wearing before straying too far from the daily dress code. A good rule of thumb is to mimic the attire of your manager or other leaders at your company that you admire. Always avoid clothing with offensive images or language, affiliations with political groups or other logos that may appear unprofessional in the workplace.
5. Consider what other employees are wearing
It’s best to dress more formally during your first day at a new job. As mentioned above, doing so will allow you to see what other employees wear on a typical workday and 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.
6. Overdress for the interview
When deciding what to wear to an interview, it’s best to overdress than to underdress. If a company has a business casual dress code, consider wearing a full suit for your first in-person interview. This will allow you to make a positive first impression and identify what others in the office wear so you can model their style in subsequent interviews.
7. Communicate medical and religious requirements to HR
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, it may be necessary for you 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 is best to appear 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.