With the explosion in hybrid working, nailing a business casual look in the workplace has got a bit more complicated. Here’s the deal: Business casual means different things in different companies and industries. What’s acceptable in a law firm may be too formal and stuffy for a creative design agency. And if you work from home, do you really need to look professional all the time? It’s a minefield, right.
This post will clear up all the head-spinning confusion. We share what business casual attire means for men and women in 2023. And we also give you some tips on professional dress code when working remotely.
What Is A Business Casual Dress Code?
While there’s no one definition, it’s generally accepted that business casual is a relaxed version of formal business wear.
For men, that means doing away with ties and swapping suits for slacks, button-downs, and blazers. While for women, knee-length skirts, dresses, smart slacks, and blouses are great choices.
Lots of businesses have had a casual Friday policy for some time, around 57 percent, according to one survey. Moreover, 82 percent of workers said feeling comfortable in their clothes helps them be more productive. And with that sort of endorsement, it’s no wonder that business casual has become, well, what else but fashionable.
However, what’s appropriate for business casual attire can vary depending on the industry and company.
A tech start-up or design agency will likely interpret business casual dress code differently from a financial services firm. A splash of neon yellow and smart dark-colored jeans might raise a few eyebrows in an accountancy company.
So, what does business casual mean today, especially in the era of working from home? The following tips will help ensure you get the dress code right, whatever the industry.
What Is Business Casual For Men?
If you are a khakis and polo shirt kinda guy, smart casual is definitely for you. And the following business casual examples work just as well:
- Tops: Long-sleeved button-down or collared shirts and sweaters
- Slacks: Dark or neutral-colored dress pants, khakis or chinos
- Blazers or jackets: These are optional but are a good idea in cooler weather. Just make sure you select traditional greys, blues, or black.
- Shoes: Loafers and tie-up or leather shoes in black or brown – polished, of course.
- Socks: Always opt for black or dark colors, brightly colored or white socks are a no-no.
And when it comes to sweaters, try to avoid chunky knit styles. You can’t go wrong with fine-knit sweaters that can go over shirts, leaving the collar on display.
What Is Business Casual Dress Code For Women?
Working women have a wide choice of options, and a pop of bright colors is more acceptable. Must-have wardrobe staples include the following:
- Tops: Blouses, smart shirts, and button-downs, sweaters, twinsets, and cardigans
- Bottoms: Knee-length skirts, pencil-cut skirts, and dress pants, including khaki, twill, or cotton slacks
- Dresses: Maxi or knee-length dresses
- Jackets or blazers: These are optional for women but are good to have in colder weather or if a meeting requires a more formal look
- Shoes: Stick to closed-toe heels, flats, or loafers. Hosiery or tights may be optional in some businesses and are essential for cold weather
Business Casual What Not To Wear
Now that we have nailed the basics, it’s time to drill down in more detail. Before you hit the shops, here are the essential dos and don’ts to bear in mind.
- Do: make sure your outfits fit well and look professional. And it goes without saying your clothes should be clean and pressed.
- Don’t: wear baggy, loose clothing. And avoid anything too tight or short. Wrinkled or creased items are off-limits. And tank tops, crop tops, and backless or low-cut tops are best left for your off-duty wardrobe.
- Do: invest in classic shoes and neutral color palettes. Avoid trendy patterns and bold designs. Instead, stick with tried-and-tested traditional options. Women can introduce a bit more color with bright blazers or blouses.
- Don’t: wear sandals, flip-flops, athletic sneakers or tennis shoes. T-shirts, shorts, and hoodies should be strictly for the weekends. And avoid logos or anything with inappropriate text or slogans.
What’s The Dress Code When Working From Home?
Let’s be honest, who hasn’t attended a Zoom meeting while wearing their slippers! Business casual may have gotten much more relaxed since the explosion of home working, but the blurred lines have also added confusion.
So, what’s appropriate for the home office? Well, a lot depends on what’s in your diary that day. You can wear what you like if it’s a cameras-off huddle with your immediate team. However, if video is on and the boss is involved, the safest bet is to wear business casual, at least from the waist up. After all, if no one can see your legs or shoes, who cares if you are wearing sweatpants and sneakers.
However, be prepared for the unexpected. It’s always a good idea to have a blazer handy, just in case of an impromptu FaceTime with an external client or internal bigwig. Popping on a smart jacket will cover up any wardrobe misdemeanors and gives you a professional casual look in seconds.
Are Jeans Considered Business Casual?
The jury is still out on whether jeans are acceptable workplace wear. For some progressive or creative companies, smart denims are appropriate. After all, Mark Zuckerberg often fronts up wearing jeans. But even those organizations where jeans are acceptable will be unimpressed with ripped, flared, or embroidered denims. Dark wash, tailored jeans are a smarter choice in more ways than one.
And if you are a newbie, before you rock up wearing jeans, it’s best to check out the company dress code. A safer option for your first few days might be khakis, chinos, or a pencil skirt.
Should I Avoid Wearing Polo Shirts?
With different work environments ranging from casual to professional and everything in between, it can be difficult to find appropriate business casual attire. When it comes to polo shirts, these garments can be appropriate for certain settings, such as semi-casual outings with friends or interviews that don’t require a full suit and tie. However, if you are looking for something appropriate for the office or other more formal situations, it’s best to stay away from polo shirts and opt for collared button-ups or sweaters instead.
If a truly casual look is what you’re going for, jeans teamed with a collared shirt or henley are always great options as well. All in all, when constructing your perfect business casual outfits, take into account the formality of the situation and pair items accordingly – that way you’ll be sure to make a good impression!
Business Casual Cheat Sheet
Here’s a handy summary of all our tips and guidance.
Men’s Casual Dress Code
|Yes||No||Maybe – depends on the workplace|
|Chinos, khakis & dress pants||Sweatpants, shorts||Jeans|
|Collared shirts, button-downs, polos||T-shirts, tank tops, or sleeveless shirts||Short-sleeved button-downs|
|Fine-fine sweaters or cardigans||Chunky knit sweaters, hooded sweatshirts||Loud colors and patterns,|
|Closed-toe, tie-up shoes such as oxfords, brogues & loafers||Sports sneakers, flip flops, boat shoes||Smart, dark-colored sports shoes|
|Blazers or jackets||Pinstripes & wrinkled jackets||Casual sports coats|
|Black or dark blue socks||White or brightly colored socks||No-show or invisible socks|
Women’s Casual Dress Code
|Yes||No||Maybe – depends on the workplace|
|Pencil-cut skirts or knee-length skirts, dresses
Dress pants, including khakis, twill & cotton slacks
Knee-length or maxi dresses
|Short skirts & dresses, sweatpants, shorts||Leggings & jeans|
|Blouses, button-downs, cardigans & sweaters||Low-cut or backless tops
Tank tops & crop tops
Anything too tight or baggy
|Sleeveless blouses & tops|
|Blazers & jackets||Inappropriate logos or slogans
Crumpled or wrinkled clothing
|Flashy colors or bold designs|
|Closed-toed flats & loafers, kitten heels||Sneakers, strappy sandals, open-toed shoes, flip flops||Athletic sneakers|
|Hosiery or dark-colored socks under slacks||Bright colored socks & hosiery||Bare legs|
You can download a copy of this cheat sheet here: Business-Casual-Cheat-Sheet.pdf
And if you are wondering what casual Fridays look like with a relaxed dress code, we have some advice on that front.
You can’t go wrong if you take your dress cue from the boss and follow suit on casual Fridays.
However, if you dress professionally Monday to Thursday, rocking up on Friday wearing a concert t-shirt and shorts might be too much. You will be unrecognizable to your colleagues. Don’t forget the ‘business’ part of business casual and aim to look professional even on dress-down Fridays. After all, you could get called to an unexpected meeting with an important client.
What Should I Wear For An Interview?
Deciding what to wear to an interview gives most candidates a headache at the best of times. Add in a business casual dress code, and it gets a whole lot harder.
A job interview is all about making the right first impression. Critical to that all-important first impression is looking professional. So, when it comes to your outfit, it’s better to overdress than underdress. Even if the company boasts of a casual dress code, turn up to the interview wearing a smart outfit.
For men, that means a suit jacket, collared shirt, tie, and slacks. Women can select dress pants, a blouse, or an elegant dress, and it’s best to avoid flashy colors or bold patterns. The same rules apply if your interview is remote. You don’t want to scupper your chances by going too casual, so always opt for a more formal look.
Main Takeaways For The Hybrid Workplace
According to the Oxford Dictionary, business casual is a dress code that conveys a professional and businesslike impression. So, keep this in mind when putting together your hybrid workplace wardrobe.
It’s possible to create a variety of different looks by mixing and matching a few well-chosen staples. Team your khakis with a polo shirt one day and a button-down the next for a fresh look. Women have even more options by swapping out skirts and blouses with dresses and slacks. In this way, a business casual wardrobe doesn’t need to cost a fortune.
Think about what’s in your diary before selecting your daily outfit. If you’re working from home and have a clear day, you can afford to slack off on the dress code. However, a good rule of thumb is to have a smart jacket handy to pull on if needed quickly.
And if you are off to an important job interview, make sure you dress to impress. You can’t go wrong with a formal look.
Remember, business casual dress codes vary between different companies and industries. So, don’t rock up on your first day in jeans. Use the tips we have shared to ensure you look professional in any environment.
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