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Business casual dress has become the norm for many companies. But what is business casual? We’ll explain and give you some guidance on how to dress appropriately.
The business casual dress code has gained popularity recently, and many companies have adopted it. There is no universal standard for what business casual dress consists of. It can vary by company and is somewhat different for women and men. We’ll get into best practices for a business casual dress code and give you some guidance on how to dress appropriately for your working environment.
This article will cover the following areas:
What is business casual?
How does business casual compare to other dress codes?
Business casual for men
Business casual for women
Some do’s and don'ts
What are the most popular dress codes in the US?
A recent (August 2023) Gallup poll found:
41 percent of workers said their workplace dress is business casual
51 percent of women and 32 percent of men said they wear business casual clothing
Only 3 percent of men and women wear formal business attire
23 percent of all workers wear uniforms and 31 percent wear street clothes (casual)
The simplest definition of what business casual means is it’s basically a more relaxed version of business dress. Business casual dress codes tend to be more about what is NOT acceptable versus what is acceptable. It strikes a balance between more formal business dress codes and allowing employees to wear attire that is more comfortable.
A business casual dress code for one company may be very different from another company. It often depends on the industry and the specific job role within the company. For example, a company salesperson may dress much more formally than someone who works in the shipping department. You have to consider the working environment and who you’ll be dealing with. Customer-facing positions and roles that require attending a lot of client meetings are going to be less casual than jobs where you don’t have to engage with customers.
The classic business professional attire standard is a dark-colored or pinstripe suit, tie, and dress shoes for men. Plain dresses, long skirts, or pantsuits paired with heels or flats for women. By comparison, business casual loses the ties and suits. You can wear sports jackets, sweaters, khakis, more colorful skirts, loafers, and even simple sneakers.
A slightly less relaxed version of business casual is smart casual attire. Ties are optional. Dressier shoes and pants. Button-down shirts and nicer blouses. Classy, simple accessories. Smart casual is a good choice if you’re interviewing for a job at a business that has a business casual dress code. It’s also a great option for important meetings.
The most relaxed dress code is casual. This can include wearing t-shirts, jeans, shirts without collars, boots, sneakers, accessories of all types, and even shorts. This obviously opens a huge variety of options. Just be careful to avoid wearing clothing that is too revealing or offensive.
Business casual for men allows for a wide variety of styles, but always keep in mind that you want to be professional and appropriate for the working environment that you’re in. That being said, here are some things that a man can include in his business casual wardrobe:
Jackets. Blazers, sports coats, and jackets are a great top layer that can complement just about any outfit, from khakis and button-down shirts to polos with jeans.
Pants. Dress trousers are always a safe bet, but khakis and chinos are also acceptable in most business casual environments. Some places even allow jeans. Avoid jeans with holes and tears, anything too tight, or in loud colors.
Shirts. Button-down dress shirts are a conservative option. Golf shirts and polos with collars are a more casual choice. Some business casual dress codes even allow t-shirts. Just make sure your t-shirt is clean and doesn’t have any gaudy or offensive graphics.
Shoes. Dress shoes are okay, but most people go with nice loafers or even neat, clean sneakers. Nothing open-toed, and definitely no flip-flops.
For women, a business casual dress code allows for more individuality and creativity. You can get away from those dull pantsuits and plain colors. Just keep it professional. Here are some tips for a business casual wardrobe for women:
Jackets. Blazers, nice jackets, and cardigans work well. It’s also okay to go with subtle patterns and brighter colors. Nothing too flashy or distracting.
Slacks and pants. Nice slacks are always a good choice. Traditional trouser-cut in any style or basic colors you’re comfortable with. Jeans are accepted in some workplaces. Just avoid anything too tight or with holes.
Dresses and skirts. Dresses always offer a simple outfit choice. Go with basic styles. You can pair them with a blazer or sweater. Pencil skirts are great, or you can go with wraparound, ruffled, and skirts with or without slits. Keep them modest and classy.
Tops and shirts. Button-down dress shirts work in all situations. Feel free to choose bold colors, prints, and styles. T-shirts are also fair game in many business casual dress codes. Keep them clean and properly sized (not too tight or oversized).
Shoes. You have a variety of options, from high-heels to low heels or flats. If sneakers are allowed, stick with very subtle styles. Nothing too athletic or loud. Sandals for women are acceptable, but don’t wear anything that’s too casual.
Now that you know how to dress for success, get ready for your next interview with our Interview Prep tools.
Business casual attire is an accepted standard for many companies.
A dress code is somewhat subjective and can vary from company to company, even if they call it the same thing.
Dressing in attire that is not too flashy or attention-getting is always a good idea.
When in doubt, dress up.
Dress appropriately for the environment you work in, and you’re always dressed for success.
Garland is a writer and technology consultant that lives in far west Texas, USA. He is semi-retired from a successful 25-year career in the Information Technology industry, and now spends his time writing for various websites (mostly career development related). Garland holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance, and a master’s degree in Economics and Computer Information Systems.