Business Casual Attire in the Workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 June 2021

Many events may require you to wear business casual attire such as meetings, jobs interviews, or a work dinner. There are so many business casual attire options that it can be challenging to choose what to wear. There is no single defined answer of what business is but looking to the company dress code can help. In this article, we explain what business casual attire is and give tips for dressing business casual.

What is business casual?

Business casual is defined by traditional office wear with a more relaxed style. It is the standard dress in many offices. Even with a more relaxed style, it remains appropriate for the office. An example of this would be a knee-length dress, with flat shoes instead of high-heels.

It is essential to know what the style of the office is when attending an interview. If you are unsure, you can always ask the hiring manager what the dress code is. Each office has its definition of what they consider business casual. It may be worthwhile to look up their dress code online.

The most common area for the business casual dress is offices with regular visiting clients such as solicitor's offices or public-facing employees such as receptionists and sales roles. We've put together a few tips and examples to help you choose the right business casual outfit below.

Tips for dressing business casual

There are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking at business casual wear. While they vary from organisation to organisation, it is wise to remember these when choosing your business casual wear. Here are some tips for dressing in business casual attire:

Consult the dress code

As each organisation has a different definition of business casual, consulting the official dress code will help you long term. For example, where one office accepts wearing a polo and khakis, another may require that you wear a shirt and slacks at all times.

There may also be instances where you represent the company, and reading the dress code will have a section on the specific attire for those situations. If you cannot find any clarity in the dress code, you can always ask your manager.

Casual days

This varies for each company. Some may have a casual day every week, whereas some will have it every fortnight or monthly. Casual wear differs from business casual in that it is an entirely relaxed fit. Each company will have their definitions of casual wear, so check with others to avoid straying too far away from the dress code.

It is best to avoid any clothes with logos or offensive writing on them as they may appear unprofessional. An excellent way to avoid a faux pas is to mimic what your manager or supervisor are wearing. While the style doesn't need to be the same, having a similar casual fit will keep it in line with the dress code.

Check what others consider business casual

When you begin a new job, it is not unusual to be dress more formally than the rest of the office. Dressing formally will ensure that you cohere with the dress code and give you a chance to see what others a wearing before switching to business casual. For example, if you are unsure if open-toe shoes are allowed in the office, wear closed-toe the first day and check to see if others are wearing open toe before you decide to.

Overdress to the interview

When you go to a job interview, you want to make the best first impression possible. It is better to overdress rather than underdress. It will let them know that you are professional and taking the interview seriously. If you have noticed that the company has a business casual dress code, overdressing for the first interview.

Tattoos and piercings

Some companies have it in their dress code for tattoos and piercings to be covered or taken out during the shift. If you are going for a job interview, covering up a tattoo or taking out a face piercing (excluding a set of earrings) is more professional. As you can't get rid of tattoos on your skin, covering them up until you know what the dress code around them are.

It is common for tattoos and piercing to not be allowed in a professional setting, so you may have to cover them up continuously at work. This does not fall under the discrimination act.

Medical and religious requirements

When looking at the dress code, you will see that some forms of dress prohibited. If you have a medical or religious requirement that stops you from meeting the company's dress code, be sure to let either human recourses or the hiring manager know before your interview. For example, it may be necessary to wear specific clothing as part of your religion. Letting your manager know will ensure that you are not penalised in the interview or later on if you succeed in getting the job.

While it is essential to follow the company's dress code, these exemptions do not make you unprofessional if you have stated it from the beginning.

Business casual ideas for women

Women have a lot to choose from when they have a business casual dress code. This can range from a pair of khaki trousers to cardigans and polo shirts. If you are unsure of what clothes to choose from, it is best to pick the more traditional business casual wear. This includes:

  • Chinos, slacks, khaki trousers, tailored trousers, dark skinny jeans (no holes)

  • A-line dress, knee-length dress, pencil skirt

  • Blouses, peasant shirts, polo shirts

  • Tights or hosiery (these are optional for the colder months)

  • Cardigans, blazers, jumpers, sweaters, bomber jackets, jackets (these are optional for colder months)

  • Flats, pumps, wedges, loafers, closed-toe shoes, fashion runners

  • Accessories such as belts, scarves, necklaces, and bracelets

When trying to put together the perfect business casual outfit, going back to the basics will help. Be sure that you don't fall into dressing in smart casual instead of business casual. They are now two distinct types of dress. If you are unsure, err on the side of professional attire.

Business casual ideas for men

Men's business casual is a more straightforward look than women's. When in doubt, you should go for a pair of chinos and a long-sleeved button-down shirt, with a leather belt and loafers the same colour. In general, the appropriate business casual for men include:

  • Pressed slacks, dress trousers, khaki trousers

  • Button-down long-sleeved shirt, dress shirt, polo shirt

  • Sweater, cardigan, blazer, bomber jacket, sport coat (these are optional for colder months)

  • Loafers, oxfords, brogues (with dark dress socks)

  • Accessories such as belts that match your shoes, tie, cufflinks if you are wearing a dress shirt

It is easier to stay aligned with men's dress code as their business casual is similar for many companies. If you are unsure what to wear, though, be sure to either ask someone else or take a look at what the other men are wearing in the office.

Gender-neutral ideas

Gender-neutral wear is for people who do not subscribe to feminine or masculine clothing associated with business casual wear. Gender-neutral clothes clothing that is appropriate for any person regardless of how they may identify. These include:

  • Slacks, Khaki's, any type of pants that are not denim

  • Button-down shirts, or any type of shirt that is tidy such as a polo

  • Fashion runners, loafers, boots

  • Blazers, cardigans, bomber jackets

Any tidy, professional-looking clothing is okay to wear in the office. The dress code should cover what is or is not acceptable, so if you are still struggling, be sure to read it.

What not to wear

Just as there is a list of approved clothes to wear for business casual, there are many things to avoid. Some of these are considered smart casual instead of business casual, which can confuse people. Be sure to avoid wearing any of these items to an interview or into a new job:

  • Running shoes, tennis shoes, flip flops, sandals

  • Wrinkled clothing

  • Distressed jeans, boyfriend jeans, low riding jeans

  • Clothes that are too tight or too short – knee-length is ideal

  • Clothes are too big

  • Neon colours, graphic t-shirts, big logos or text on clothes,

  • Clashing colours and loud patterns

  • Shorts, skorts, short skirts

  • Strapless camisoles unless paired with another piece of clothing such as a blazer or cardigan

  • Low-cut tops, backless tops, tops showing off your stomach

  • Spandex or lycra

Remember, the idea is to be as tidy and cleaned up as possible. That means wearing clothes that fit right and are not overly exposing. Keeping the basics in mind will help avoid any unacceptable clothes. If you think 'clean, tidy, professional', it will be difficult to go wrong.

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