Most people understand that business casual attire falls somewhere between wearing a formal suit and sweatpants. However, the exact definition of business casual remains a mystery to many. What is considered business casual can vary depending on different factors, such as the industry you’re working in, how large the company is, where the company is located, company climate and culture, and the average age of those working in the company. Unfortunately, there isn’t one clear definition of what it means to dress business casual. Because of the term’s ambiguity, it can be difficult to know just how formal or casual you should dress to adhere to the dress code. Generally, business casual refers to a dress code that is casual yet incorporates some components of traditional office attire. We’re guessing that didn’t really help answer your question, though. To better understand the vague world of business casual attire, continue reading this guide to dressing business casual.
Clothing that isn’t business casual
When trying to understand how to dress business casual, learning what not to wear can be beneficial. While the exact definition of business casual will vary, you should generally avoid wearing these items if you want to adhere to a business casual dress code.
- Sweatshirts: Sweatshirts should be avoided as they are too informal for business casual attire. As a general rule, you should always avoid any sort of clothing with a hood.
- T-shirts: While T-shirts generally don’t fall under the business casual category, some companies allow T-shirts to be worn if they include the company’s logo.
- Low-cut shirts: Low-cut shirts are typically deemed inappropriate in an office setting and should be avoided. To properly adhere to a business casual dress code, it is best to dress more modestly in order to maintain a professional appearance.
- Ripped pants: Pants or jeans that have holes, rips, tears, or other signs of distress should not be worn in environments with business casual dress codes.
- Shorts and short skirts: As previously stated, it is best to dress modestly when attempting to adhere to a business casual dress code. As such, you should avoid wearing shorts or skirts that are shorter than four inches above the knee. When wearing a skirt, you should test how it looks while you’re sitting down as well as standing up. If you notice that your skirt rides up more than four inches above your knee while you’re seated, you should opt for a longer skirt.
- Joggers, leggings, and sweatpants: Joggers, sweatpants, leggings, or other athletic attire is far too casual for an office environment with a business casual dress code.
- Flip-flops: Flip-flops and other backless shoes should typically be reserved for the beach and avoided in a business casual office environment.
- Sneakers: Your favorite pair of sneakers may be deemed too informal to fall under the business casual umbrella. However, leather sneakers that are in good shape may be acceptable depending on the company.
Common business casual clothing items
Business casual attire should appear professional and polished, yet relaxed and not overly formal. Here are some examples of common business casual clothing items:
- Blazers: Blazers are a staple clothing item in any business casual wardrobe.
- Blouses and collared shirts: Blouses and collared shirts are common examples of business casual tops. However, you should avoid wearing tank tops or strapless tops, as such attire can be deemed unprofessional or too revealing.
- Cardigans: Cardigans are a great option if you want to wear a sleeveless shirt yet keep your attire appropriate for an office environment.
- Dress pants: Dress pants that are made of materials such as khaki, cotton, corduroy, or twill are typically considered business casual if they are kept in good condition and are well tailored.
- Modest skirts: Modest skirts that extend beyond four inches above the knee are considered business casual by most companies as long as they aren’t too tight and don’t contain any revealing slits.
- Heels: Heels are commonly worn in business casual environments. To be safe, however, you should generally avoid wearing heels that are extremely high, strappy, or attention-grabbing.
- Sandals: Other than flip-flops, sandals may be acceptable as long as they appear professional and are kept in good shape.
Considerations for dressing business casual
When in doubt, overdress
While being overdressed can be an uncomfortable feeling for many, it is far better to veer more toward the business side of business casual than the casual side. Dressing too casually can make you appear unprofessional—especially in a job interviews where good first impressions are crucial. If you’re in doubt about whether an outfit adheres to the business casual dress code, it is best to dress more professionally to be safe.
Look at how other employees are dressing
While this tip won’t help you much if it’s your first day on the job or if you’re going in for an interview, taking a look at what other employees are wearing can be extremely beneficial for determining what a business casual dress code. When mirroring your attire based off other employees, it is best to take style inspiration from those who work in a similar position as yours in the company. Those who have worked in the company for many years or hold a higher position may be awarded more leniency in how they can dress. Don’t base your style on someone who holds a much different status than you in the company you’re working for.
Adhere to the official company dress code
As previously stated, some people in the company you work for may be able to get away with dressing more casually. However, you shouldn’t push your luck—especially if you’re a new employee. If you are able to look at the official company dress code, you should always do so, as it will be the most accurate resource when it comes to adhering to your company’s definition of business casual. The dress code will likely have details on clothing items that aren’t acceptable and clothing items that are. They may even provide a few examples of outfits that fall under their definition of business casual. Such a resource is invaluable when it comes to dressing appropriately at your office and should always be adhered to.
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