Business casual wardrobe did not exist until relatively recently. Men went to the office wearing a suit and tie, and no one questioned what appropriate work attire was. However, times have since changed, and today, different jobs require different dress codes.
Perhaps the most widely accepted and the most confusing style nowadays is the business casual one. It might not be easy to envision such attire as the two words seem to contradict each other. But have no worries as we are here to answer all your questions and help you look the best you can.
So What Does Business Casual Mean?
First of all, this dress code can mean various things depending on the industry you work in. For instance, those working in finance or an academic field might need to wear more formal outfits than those working in tech. Here is a table to showcase the broad spectrum of business casual styles.
How can you tell what is appropriate for your particular job? There are a couple of ways.
- Look Around You. What is the majority of your colleagues wearing? If you see a lot of button-up shirts and sport coats, you should follow a more business-style dress code. On the other hand, are most men wearing jeans and sweaters? In that case, you are probably in a casual workplace.
- Ask the HR Department. Send them an email inquiring about the appropriate office dress code, and they should help you out. You can tell the higher-ups that you wish to represent the company as best as possible and that the new wardrobe is a part of this effort. It also might be beneficial to ask what attire is unacceptable in your workplace.
How to Know If a Clothing Item Is Too Casual?
Sometimes, it is easy to establish whether one’s outfit is formal or not. A suit and tie are most certainly not a casual combination. However, what about those pieces of clothing that are relatively similar? How to choose between a button-up and a button-down shirt? We will talk about this specific example a little later, but for now, here are a few tips to help you eliminate some inappropriate fashion choices.
- Too many details might be too casual. Graphic shirts, an excessive number of pockets, or extra stitching make most outfits more relaxed than you would want.
- Color can easily change an item of clothing from business to casual. A white shirt is far more formal than a red one. If your dress code leans more to “business,” try to wear neutral colors (black, white, navy, gray, etc.).
- Trendy designs are usually more casual than classic ones. Since modern fashion tends to be diverse, this tip might not always be useful. However, print shirts or washed denim are most certainly casual compared to some timeless designs.
Planning Your Wardrobe for the Week
Now that you have hopefully figured out what kind of a business casual dress code you want to follow, it is time to plan. If you, as most people, do laundry once a week, try to come up with several different outfits to last you until the weekend. Each of these should feature a number of pieces that we have ranked by their level of formality. You should try to stick to neutral colors to maximize the versatility of these outfits.
If you live in a warm climate, you can skip the coat. However, if the weather allows it, this item of clothing can make or break your look. Ranked from most to least casual, here are some options for men trying to build their perfect business casual attire.
- Trench Coats
- Mac Coats
- Single-Breasted Overcoat
- Double-Breasted Overcoat
No matter your workplace, you should have two jackets — one in a more casual style and the other for formal occasions. Pair them with tailored pants and dress shoes for any business meeting.
- Washed-Denim Jacket (least formal)
- Solid-Denim Jacket
- Bomber Jacket
- Single-Breasted Sports Coat With a Pattern
- Single-Breasted Sports Coat in a Solid Color
- Double-Breasted Sports Coat (most formal)
A shirt is usually an unavoidable part of any man’s work outfit. Here are a few options starting from the most casual one.
- Solid T-Shirt
- Polo Shirt
- Chambray Shirt
- Button-down Collared Shirt
- Button-up Shirt
This might be a good time to explain the difference between the last two options. A button-up gives a crisp appearance since the fabric is smoother and woven more tightly. It also does not have any buttons on its collar. This kind of shirt is best paired with business suits, whereas a button-down serves to complete a casual look. The latter’s fabric is looser, and there are typically extra details, such as pockets.
For the colder days, a sweater can be an excellent option. The formality of such clothing depends on its fabric. For example, a cotton sweater seems more casual, while a cashmere one appears exceptionally luxurious. If you do not feel like wearing a jacket, throw on a merino wool sweater over a button-down shirt. When it comes to style, here are several fashion choices to consider.
- Cotton Sweater (least formal)
- Shawl Collar
- V-Neck/Crew-Neck Sweater (most formal)
Pants are an essential part of every man’s wardrobe, but they tend to get overlooked. Do not settle for a single style but try to have a variety for different occasions. Jeans are at some places only allowed on casual Fridays, but they are usually a must. As a man with class, you should also have a pair of woolen trousers or chinos.
- Solid Denim (least formal)
- Wool Trousers
- Cotton Dress Pants
- Wool Dress Pants (most formal)
Lastly, let us not forget about shoes. The most versatile option is loafers as they go well both with suits and denim. You might also get a pair of boots, such as Chelsea boots for a more formal look or desert ones to appear more casual. If you prefer sneakers, a simple white pair can go a long way.
- Work Boots/Running Sneakers (least formal)
- Minimal Sneakers
- Lace-Up Boots/Desert Boots/Loafers
- Chelsea Boots
- Oxfords/Monkstraps (most formal)
It still has not been decided whether business casual style should include ties. However, a tie could rarely hurt your appearance. If you want to seem formal without too much hassle, just wear one. Get a few different options and match them as you see fit. Your wardrobe should have at least one solid-color tie (gray or navy), a striped one, a patterned one, or a knit tie. Pair them with a dress shirt to achieve the classic business look.
To get you started, here are a few possible combinations of these clothing items:
- Classic: Dress Pants + Button-up Shirt + Sports Coat + Tie
- Sneakers: Dress Pants + Sports Coat + White Minimal Sneakers
- Casual Jacket: Dress Pants/Chinos + Button-up Shirt + Casual Jacket
- Sweater in Place of a Jacket: Knit Turtleneck/Half-Zip + Button-up Shirt + Any Style of Pants
- T-Shirt in Place of a Dress Shirt: Chinos + T-Shirt + Sports Coat
Finally, here are some combinations you should definitely avoid:
- Polo Shirts With Large Logos
- Fleece Vests
- Gingham Shirts
Business casual style sometimes seems challenging to grasp. It can mean different things for employees in various industries, so there is not a singular kind of attire for all. However, you cannot miss the mark with any of the presented options.
One thing to always keep in mind is that it’s better to be overdressed than to be inappropriately casual. Therefore, keep your business casual outfits leaning closer to “business,” and you should have no issues. Ultimately, appearing a little too formal for your workplace cannot hurt. Remember that it is entirely acceptable to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.