There was a time when getting dressed for work was a breeze. A suit and tie were the uniform of choice for office workers. Since many companies’ offices doubled as customer-facing spaces, there was little need to stray. Properly dressing for an event is the surest method to make a good impression, since first impressions are lasting impressions.
On what end of the business casual spectrum does smart casual land? Silicon Valley shifted its focus from process to outcomes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As the computer industry began to prioritize product processes and allowed employees more leeway in their clothing choices, many organizations began to rely on processes, some of which were quite outdated. The suit thus became an entirely new echelon of business attire, and the concept of business casual came into being.
What is business casual?
Defining “business casual,” that age-old conundrum: what exactly do employers mean? Let me explain: A simple response is unavailable. What the phrase implies and what is suitable for workplaces varies from company to firm. The clothing code is more refined than casual streetwear but not quite suit-appropriate. That much is evident. Depending on the company’s objective, your business will lie anywhere on that spectrum.
Polo shirts in solid colors or subtle stripes/checks are an ideal business casual top. Opt for dri-fit fabrics that breathe for all-day comfort. Always keep collars crisp – this is key to looking polished.
Dress shirts without ties are another staple, such as Oxford, pinpoint or broadcloth button-downs. Solid colors or small prints in light blue, purple or white offer versatility. Wear the top button open casually or closed for a dressier look.
Sweaters like V-necks, shawl cardigans or fleece zip-ups add coziness in cooler months. Merino wool, cotton and cashmere blends provide warmth without bulk. Neutral shades like charcoal, navy and oatmeal pair with everything.
Khakis and chinos in neutral hues like beige, grey, olive and brown suit most client environments. Look for flat or pleated fronts with straight, tapered or slim fits. Cotton, linen and stretch blends deliver all-day breathability and range of motion.
Dress slacks with waistbands also qualify as business casual bottoms. Opt for crisp, wrinkle-resistant fabrics in shades like charcoal, navy, charcoal or grey herringbone. Make sure the hem hits right at top of dress shoes.
Loafers like tassel or penny styles upgrade any outfit when paired with dress socks. Leather materials mold to feet comfortably while providing arch support for long days.
Chelsea or men’s heeled boots appeal in cooler months, offering rugged charm with a polished façade. Look for versatile shades like black, brown and burgundy for year-round wear.
For those wanting height and cushioning, well-crafted elevator shoes in dressier lace-ups or loafers provide 2-4 discreet inches. Memory foam ensures lightweight comfort for all-day wear without pinching.
What should you not wear for business casual?
When it comes to business casual attire, there are certain items that are generally considered inappropriate or too casual for the workplace. Here are some items you should avoid wearing for a business casual dress code:
Graphic or logo tees: Printed graphics and logos distract from a professional appearance
Plunging necklines: Keep everything modest and work-appropriate
Ripped or frayed fabrics: Save distressed styles for evenings/weekends
Sweatpants/athletic pants: Reserved for workout attire, not the office
Shorts: Too summery for inside environments with A/C
Cargo/carpenter pants: Pockets upon pockets aren’t businesslike
Athletic Sneakers: Great for walks, but other styles like oxfords or loafers suit work better
Sandals: Show too much skin below the ankle
Flip flops: Reserved strictly for poolside or beachwear
Slippers: Meant for around the house, not client meetings
Can you wear jeans as business casual?
Yes, jeans can definitely be part of a business casual wardrobe – when styled the right way! Here are some tips for wearing denim professionally:
Opt for neutral colors like medium or dark blue rather than black or really faded pairs. Classier styles include a straight or slim fit rather than skinny.
Make sure your jeans are in excellent condition without fraying hems or holes. Ironing creates a crisp, polished look.
Pair your jeans with a nice button-down shirt or polo with loafers or oxfords rather than sneakers. This dresses them up from everyday wear.
For extra versatility, consider dressier chinos or cords on more important days when you want to look especially sharp.
Avoid really tight, ripped or distressed styles. You want your jeans fitting well but not too form-fitting or fussy.
Can I wear sneakers for business casual?
Not all sneakers are suitable for business casual attire. Choose sneakers that have a clean and minimalistic design, without flashy logos or excessive embellishments. Neutral colors like black, white, gray, or navy tend to be more versatile and professional-looking. Avoid overly athletic or brightly colored sneakers, as they may appear too casual for a business environment.
Leather dress elevator sneakers without prominent logos or bright colors are more subtle than traditional athletic sneakers. All-black or all-white leather sneakers can blend in better than ones with mixed materials. Pair these with chinos and a sport coat to take these sneakers to a higher level of the dress code spectrum.
Thoughts That Have Come to an End
It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your company’s dress code policy and observe the attire of your colleagues to ensure you are appropriately dressed for the workplace. When in doubt, it’s better to choose slightly more formal attire to maintain a professional image. A general rule of thumb is that the higher up you are in an organization, the more stuffy your dress code should be. Put another way, don’t dress for your current job but for the one you want.