What Is Business Casual Attire? (With Example and Tips)
By Whitney Headen
Updated May 24, 2022 | Published February 11, 2019
Updated May 24, 2022
Published February 11, 2019
Whitney Headen is CEO of 19th and Park and The Life Currency (TLC). TLC is redefining traditional mentorship in the digital space to college students, young entrepreneurs and young professionals through information-based editorial content, peer-to-peer communication, educational resources and digital recruitment services.
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While the definition of business casual attire may vary from company to company, there are some commonly accepted guidelines you can follow to ensure you are dressing appropriately.
In this article, we'll define business casual attire with examples of appropriate business casual outfit ideas.
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 that’s still professional and appropriate for an office environment.
Business casual ideas for women
There is a wide array of business casual dress options for women from dark 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, knee-length skirts or dark jeans without holes
Blouses, sweaters, button-downs, henleys or polo shirts
Knee-length or maxi 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, dark jeans without holes
Button-down shirts, sweaters or polo shirts
Closed-toed shoes such as loafers, oxfords or brogues
Optional belt that matches your shoes
Optional tie and jacket, cardigan or sport coat, especially for added warmth during colder months
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. Consider these options:
Slacks, khakis or other non-denim pants
A button-down shirt or another tidy-looking style like a henley or polo shirt
Boots, loafers or oxfords
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, such as advertising, it may be acceptable to add a bit of creative flair to your attire with a pop of color, or a patterned tie or shirt.
Education: Most educators work in a classroom or office and can wear khakis and a polo with loafers, or even dark, non-ripped jeans with a nice shirt and flats, loafers or oxfords. Many combinations of business casual styles work for educators.
Entertainment: In the entertainment industry, it’s usually acceptable to dress more creatively, which includes bolder accessories and trendier clothing.
Fashion: Traditional “business casual” rules usually don’t apply to the fashion industry, and most employees wear clothing that truly expresses their individual styles and is aligned with the latest fashion trends.
Finance: Finance professionals often wear more conservative attire such as suits or dress pants with button-up shirts. Classic accessories, such as watches, ties and jewelry are also appropriate.
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 wear casual clothes and comfortable shoes.
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: Some tech industries may have a casual dress code, as opposed to a business casual dress code. Always ask human resources for guidelines if you’re not sure. And err on the side of dressing more conservatively, when in doubt.
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 short
Clothing that is oversized or too loose
Tank tops or strapless shirts unless paired with a blazer, jacket or cardigan
Backless or low-cut tops
Clothing with inappropriate logos or text
Additional tips for business casual attire
Also consider the following as you decide what to wear to a business casual workplace:
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. Always avoid clothing with controversial images or language.
Overdress for a job 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.
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In this video, Ingrid shares packing tips for when you need to go from a plane to a meeting to happy hour - and take only a carry-on.
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