Some of the most common questions we hear about business casual are, what is business casual style? What does it mean in 2021, and beyond? What shoes can you wear with business casual outfits? Can you wear jeans or a T-shirt to a business casual office? etc.
In this article, we're gonna talk about all of these things and we're gonna answer all the questions you have about this dress code.
Next, we're going through a business casual style guide.
What is business casual?
For the most part, gone are the days where men have to wear a suit and tie to work. Most office jobs employ a business casual dress code, which is overall great, but it leaves us kind of wondering, what exactly do I wear to work today?
So, at a minimum, here's what you need to know about business casual- no suits, no jeans (unless your manager gives the okay), no t-shirts, usually no polo shirts, no sneakers, no sandals or flip flops, no casual boots (although dress boots are okay), ties are not required, tucked-in shirts, pretty much always, and then blazers and sport coats are pretty much always okay.
So, if you just stick to those rules, you're gonna be fine, but if you really want to master the business casual look, continue reading.
History of business casual
To better understand the roots and purpose of it, let's talk about a brief history of business casual. How did this dress code even get started?
Up until the early 1960s, there was no such thing as a casual Friday, there was no business casual. Men just wore formal clothes to the office, like a suit and tie. It was actually a Hawaiian custom, called Aloha Friday, that introduced casual Fridays to the States, and that is actually how business casual came to be.
The Hawaiian Fashion Guild was trying to sell more aloha clothing, like Hawaiian print shirts, and so they started this tradition of Aloha Fridays. It spread across the Pacific to California, and of course, guys were all about it, because if you could have one day a week where you could wear more casual clothing, then why not.
So many of our traditions and things that we just believe in, casual Fridays, and ultimately business casual was a marketing ploy. It's kinda random, but essentially, it caught on so quickly because guys were just sick of wearing full suits and ties, and they just wanted to be comfortable.
We fast forward to the 1990s, offices are more casual than they have ever been, and major brands like Levi's are taking notice, and that's why they invented Dockers, their khaki pants, or their Chinos brand because they wanted to give guys an alternative to wear to the business casual office that wasn't denim. They started marketing these khaki pants very aggressively, with these really funny, like '90 style commercials and it really caught on. Khaki pants became the unofficial business casual pant. They were just a little more comfortable than suit pants.
Levi's even went so far as to create this visual pamphlet that they sent to department stores, which was a complete guide to business casual, and they kind of showed guys wearing this relaxed-fit, khaki pant, blue shirt, and sometimes a casual sport coat or a sweater on the top outfit, which became the business casual uniform. All the other preppy brands like Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and J.Crew, all caught on, they all jumped on board, and business casual was here to stay.
What does Business Casual Look Like in 2021?
So, what does business casual mean in 2019? Well, it's more casual than it used to be. Before you didn't have to wear a suit, you could wear a jacket with odd trousers, even a casual jacket, like a sport coat, a casual button-up, and no tie, etc. But these days, however, you really don't need to wear a jacket in most business casual workplaces.
So, if you're working in like a standard nine to five job, say you're entry-level or mid-level, you're not like an executive, then your uniform is probably gonna be either dress pants or Chino pants, and then a tucked-in button-up shirt or a button-down shirt, and then maybe if you have a meeting, you could throw on like a sport coat or a blazer.
How do you style business casual? Outfit Ideas
Let's look at a couple of example outfits. For example, say it's Monday and you have a presentation to your boss. You might wear gray wool trousers, a white dress shirt, a blue sport coat, and black Oxfords, or Loafers. Tuesday through Thursday, you don't have any big meetings, you could wear Chino pants, a more casual button-up shirt, like an Oxford, and then if it's fall or winter, you could throw on like a cardigan, or a V-neck wool sweater, and then you just wear like Derbys or Loafers, or kinda like a dressier boot, such as a dressier Chukka boot.
Then, at the casual Friday, you could wear jeans, a tucked-in button-up shirt with maybe a sweater over it, if it's cold outside, and then, like a suede Chelsea boot, or something a little more casual. You may want to try layering up with a sweater, instead of a sport coat, especially during the fall, winter, because it provides a little bit of extra warmth, a little bit of visual interest in style, with layering, but it's not as formal as wearing a blazer or a sport coat.
Also, a lot of offices these days take casual Fridays very seriously, so you can wear an untucked button-up shirt or a polo shirt with Chino pants or jeans, and more casual shoes like driving Mocs, sometimes even nicer sneakers.
When you do wear a casual button-up shirt, don't just untuck your dress shirt, because it's gonna be too long and it's gonna have the wrong hem shape. You want to get a casual button-up, that's actually meant to be worn untucked.
Business Casual Shoes
Let's talk about business casual shoes. In general, you're gonna wanna stay away from super casual shoes like sneakers, boat shoes, any sort of flip-flops or sandals, espadrilles, and even driving Mocs. Those are all gonna be too casual for the workplace, but other than those, pretty much any type of dress shoe is totally fine.
Six types of shoes that are perfect for business casual would be Oxfords, Brogues, any sort of Blucher or Derby, any sort of Loafer, a Chukka Boot, and a Chelsea Boot. When in doubt, you really can't go wrong with any sort of casual lace-up, like a wingtip or a derby, or any type of loafer.
Probably the biggest mistake people make with shoes is they're wearing shoes that they think are dressy but they're not. For example, boat shoes are really not appropriate for the office, they're a very casual shoe, so instead, just wear a proper loafer.
Remember that when it comes to shoes, it's better to be slightly overdressed than slightly underdressed, and it's easy to take a dress shoe and kinda dress it down, versus taking a casual shoe and trying to dress it up.
Are jeans and T-shirts business casual?
Now you might be wondering, are jeans or T-shirts business casual? Technically no, a men's wear purist is never gonna wear jeans or T-shirts to a business casual workplace. However, these days, a lot of offices do allow jeans, assuming they're the right kind of jeans.
The problem is that most guys don't understand there are so many different types of jeans, and casual jeans are really not appropriate for a business casual setting. So, if you are gonna wear jeans, first of all, talk with your manager. It might be just okay for casual Fridays, but even on casual Fridays, make sure they're fitted, they're the right length, they're hemmed to the right length, they're not distressed, they're dark wash, and they don't have any fading, or tears, or anything like that.
As for T-shirts, they're completely out of the workplace wear.
What is not Business Casual Attire?
Let's talk about what is not business casual attire.
There are three mistakes that men are making all the time, that just ruins their business casual look.
The first mistake is guys just wearing their suit jackets, as sport coats. Most of the time, suit jackets just don't look right when they're worn with super casual outfits. Yes, you can mix and match suit jackets, and dress pants, and sometimes you can even wear a suit jacket with a pair of Chinos if it's a casual suit jacket.
So if you want to wear a jacket, just get a more casual jacket, something that has less structuring, less shoulder padding, and is made for a more casual fabric.
The second mistake is guys wearing shoes that are too casual for the office. Like we mentioned, boat shoes are never the best choice when you're wearing a tucked-in shirt to Chinos. You should always go with loafers, something a little more formal than the boat shoe.
The third mistake most guys are making is wearing super casual accessories with business casual outfits.
For example, the backpack. It's understandable that some guys prefer backpacks to messenger bags or briefcases, but if you are gonna wear a backpack, don't wear one that looks like you're heading to a tech conference or high school.
Consider a brand like Everlane, or Tumi, or Herschel, to get a more handsome backpack that's more appropriate for the business casual setting.
You may want to try a messenger bag, or a cross-body bag, or just a regular briefcase.
Just like the business casual dress code in general, casual Fridays vary wildly from one office to the next. In a more formal office, casual Friday might just mean no jacket or no tie, but in a more casual office, a more laid-back workplace, casual Fridays might mean jeans and a t-shirt. For more safety, you should err on the side of formal, so don't take casual Fridays too seriously. You don't want to be that guy that is coming in with flip flops and shorts, and a graphic T-shirt. You still want to look put together and show that you care about your appearance, even though it's more casual.
What is Business Casual Dress Code for Women?
Essentially, the business casual dress code for women resembles men's, meaning they have to dress professional and business-like, but still informal.
The women's business casual dress code allows for casual blouses, sweaters, polo shirts, shirts, tops with sleeves, and turtlenecks. You can go with different colors and prints, but make sure to fit into the office environment. You can still choose interesting prints or colors but don't go with the ones that obviously don't fit the office environment. Innaporpiate attire for women's business casual includes big sweaters, sweatshirts, hoodies, tank tops, and tops that are oversized, too tight, or citro.
You can choose raffle skirts, pencil skirts, skirts with sleeves or without, and wraparound skirts, just keep in mind that your skirt or dress shouldn't be too long, too short, too tight, or sit row.
For pants, you can wear different styles- long or cropped, straight, flared, wide, cotton wool, linen, etc. The only thing we would recommend is to choose basic or darker colors. Also, avoid active prints, tread pants, silk pants, sweatpants, leggings, and shorts.
In general, women's business casual dress code does not allow jeans, but if you can wear them, choose basic colors like dark blue, grey or black.
When wearing a jacket, pick a jacket or blazer with a classic design but informal fabric. `You can also go with something colorful, not too formal. As for the shape, it can be slightly loose or slim-fit.
Bomber jackets, kimonos, and Denim jackets, kimonos, are also too casual for the dress code, so leave them for your free time.
Most women's shoes go with the casual style, so it's easier to point which shoes to avoid and those would be too casual and relaxed like flip-flops, slippers, running shoes, sandals, or pairs that are too fancy for the office.
Now that you have a better understanding of the business casual style, make sure to use all of your knowledge and dress accordingly to the business envirnment.