What is business casual attire?

Let’s face it—choosing what to wear to work can be overwhelming. With so many selections and varying corporate cultures, it can be tricky to find the right fit for your in-person or work-from-home office.

Professional workwear doesn’t have to be without personality. On the other hand, relaxed attire doesn’t have to be unprofessional. That’s where business casual comes into play—it’s comfortable workwear that still presents as professional. While the definition of business casual might vary depending on who you talk to or where you work, here are some general things to keep in mind.

Key takeaways

  • Business casual mixes formal and relaxed articles of clothing for a polished appearance that works in a professional environment.
  • Business casual for women and men can be achieved with a few basic professional items and unique or more relaxed pieces added in.
  • Skipping things like bold prints, graphics, jeans and flip-flops can help avoid appearing overly casual.

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What is a business casual dress code?

According to the hiring platform Indeed, business casual is a blend of traditional and relaxed attire. It’s a look that’s not overly formal but can be worn in a professional environment. Some offices have implemented business casual as an everyday dress code. Other workplaces may have a hybrid format that permits business casual on certain days, like a casual Friday.

Whether you’ll be wearing business casual attire every day in an office or only on certain days, learning how to piece together professional outfits is a good skill to have. It might be best to err on the side of caution and wear business professional attire when interviewing or meeting with clients. Talking to the HR department to fully understand the dress code could help, too.

And if you work remotely, it still might be helpful to account for professional clothing in your budget. You could plan to dress as if you were in the office, depending on the situation.

What colors are considered business casual?

While some people may associate business casual with neutral colors like white, gray, navy and cream, you can often sprinkle in splashes of color and unique accessories. It might be a good idea to opt for mostly solid colors or muted designs, as bold patterns can be distracting.

Three women dressed in business casual converse in the office.

Business casual for women

Business casual for women can vary, but professional women can strive for balance when piecing together outfits. Generally, attire should fit appropriately—not too tight or too baggy. Even casual clothes can be tailored to get the best fit.

Business casual staples to keep in thee closet

  • Blouses
  • Cardigans
  • Dress pants or knee-length skirts
  • Khaki, twill or corduroy pants
  • Closed-toe shoes
  • Ankle booties
  • Comfortable heels or flats
  • Decorative scarves
Two men dressed in business casual at work.

Business casual for men

For men dressing in business casual, it might help to start with some basic items of business professional clothing. This could include a tucked-in collared shirt, dress pants and a high-quality pair of black or brown leather shoes. Professional men can build a wardrobe around this basic framework.

Depending on the office, some men lean more toward traditional business professional—like a full suit and tie. Others might try for something more casual.

Business casual staples to keep in the closet

  • Button-up dress shirts
  • Dress pants or chinos
  • Sport coats
  • Polo shirts
  • Vests
  • Loafers
  • Dress shoes

What not to wear

There are a few guiding principles to keep in mind when dressing in business casual. The goal is to appear stylish without compromising professionalism. When looking for different pieces of clothing, think quality over quantity. A statement piece like a sport coat or a pair of leather shoes can go a long way. 

Here are a few articles of clothing that may not be considered business casual workwear:

  • Clothes with bold patterns or prints
  • Jeans
  • Sandals or flip-flops
  • Clothes with graphics or words
  • Thin or sleeveless shirts
  • Sweatshirts
  • Ill-fitting clothes
  • Athleisure 
  • T-shirts
  • Leggings

Business casual attire in a nutshell

Achieving a professional look doesn’t have to be stressful or stuffy. You can start with a basic framework and experiment with more laid-back pieces that show off your personality. Think of putting together a business casual wardrobe as a professional skill to develop—like negotiating a salary or presenting to a group of colleagues. You’ll be one step closer to putting your best foot forward in your career.

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