As someone who started their career working remotely in the midst of a pandemic, terms like “business casual dress” terrified me when it came time to finally step foot in an office. All I knew about business attire was that it was better to be overdressed than underdressed. Still, after a year of working in various sweatpants, pajamas, and shorts, I wasn’t even sure what the baseline was.
Luckily, you don’t need to be as terrified as me if you’re trying to dress business casual in 2023. We consulted top fashion experts to help define what business casual means and learn how the dress code has changed in recent years.
What Does “Business Casual” Really Mean?
The main problem with defining how to dress business casual is the lack of an across the board definition. This can become frustrating as more offices adopt a business-casual dress code or even newer dress code variations like “smart casual.” However, there are some unspoken rules that apply to most offices.
Business casual is typically define as no jeans, no shorts, no short dress or skirts for women, elective ties for men, and a rotation of button downs or blouses. Business casual dressing is more about avoiding a list of “don’t” than following a list of “dos” and can vary slightly depending on style, preference, and gender presentation.
What Is Business Casual for Men?
The line between business casual and qualified for men typically hinges on a tie or no tie. But every office is different, and there can still be a wide overall range of what can or cannot tally as business casual. As such, there are still some general procedures that are worth mentioning—from head to toe.
For men, stick to a range of long-sleeved button-downs and collared shirts. Typically, collared shirts that are long sleeved are the most appropriate. Though it may not feel like the utmost casual option, the absence of a tie gives it a more relax look than a suit-and-tie combo.
As a second choice, short-sleeved polos or button-downs may also work for your office in warmer weather, but be sure to observe others and check with HR if you’re not sure whether short sleeves make the cut.
Blazers and Jackets
While not always necessary, throwing on a well-cut blazer or jacket can add an extra professional touch to your run-of-the-mill office ensemble. Your jacket or blazer can be of use if you have an important meeting or presentation and are worried that your button-down shirt by itself makes you look too casual for the occasion.
It’s generally safe to stick to patternless coats in plain colors such as grey, black, and blue. It’s a good idea to have a go-to blazer on-hand for formal occasions like job interviews.
The majority of offices allow for sweaters or sweater vests. Chunky knit sweaters may be appropriate during the winter, but in general, stick to fine-knit sweaters that can go over button downs or shirts, leaving the collar visible for one of the more classic men’s business-casual looks.
Nice Pants or Slacks
Some progressive offices allow for jeans, but sticking to dress slacks or chino pants (commonly known as khakis) will ensure you’re well within your dress code standards. A pair of khakis can be an exceptionally versatile tool in a business casual outfit, as they can go well with formal and more casual shirts alike.
While it depends on how adventurous your office is, try to stick to plain or neutral-colored pants like black, grey, tan, or dark-toned colors. Avoid bright-colored bottoms (neon yellow isn’t always the most professional, unfortunately). Always include a belt in similarly neutral tones.
Loafers or dress shoes are always appropriate. Avoid sandals and sneakers. There aren’t too many rules about color, but keep it as professional and polished as possible.
Nearly every department store carries work wear for men. Macy’s (M) – Get Free Report, Hugo Boss (BOSS) – Get Free Report, and Ralph Lauren (RL) – Get Free Report are famous for a one-stop-shop experience for business casual.
What Is Business Casual for Women?
Women’s business casual attire can vary greatly depending on location, profession, office style, and time of the year. However, standard business casual for women tends to be a collection of the following staples.
While the length and tightness may vary liable on your particular office, dresses, and skirts that reach about knee-length (or below) are always a safe bet when dressing for the job. Avoid skirts and clothes that are too tight, low, or dressy. In terms of color, business casual doesn’t have too many restrictions.
Tailored or wide leg pants, dress pants, chinos, or suit pants are always suitable. For specific offices, jeans may be wear, but be sure to check your office dress code guidelines beforehand. Printed pants or bright colors can sometimes be appropriate, but it can still be helpful to measure your office’s atmosphere beforehand.
The standard for both men and women in the office, blazers are a classic professional staple that seems to be a universal element of a good dress code. It is helpful to keep a rotation of black, grey, blue, and other painted blazers in your closet. Bright-colored blazers can be fun, but make sure they are still versatile enough to wear with different outfits.
Blouses and Button-Downs
The particulars of what tops are appropriate depend primarily on the individual office dress code (or the individual themselves), but a nicely fitted, flowy, and/or ironed blouse or button-down is always appropriate. Try to keep brand logos to a minimum.
Closed-toe heels, flats, or loafers are typically the order of the day when it comes to women’s business-casual fashion. While the particulars of the shoe (whether open-toed, stiletto, or other) are left up to the employee or job, it is always safe to choose one of the above (sandals and sneakers are usually frowned upon).
The Bottom Line
Business casual twigs are true to its name: it’s a blend of formal and informal wear. You’ll need to look professional and put together to fit this dress code, but that does not mean you need a suit. You can wear casual and dress more to your character, just not like you would lounge everywhere in your household on the weekend.
In 2023, business casual is more approximately “casual,” and trends will inspire professionals to show their style in their outfits more. To fit the dress code, wear relaxed yet professional items that make you feel self-assured and ready to take on your work while following the company’s dress code.