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What is Business Casual?

Many businesses and offices out there have a “business casual” policy, but the de facto dress code can vary from office to office. Some take an “ere on the side of business” approach to business casual, and other offices are much more casual. If you’re struggling to figure out what it all means and what to wear to a job, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in the confusion.

What is Classic Business Attire?

Classic business attire is what you see politicians wear or what they wear on Mad Men. Think nice, tailored suits with a tie for men and skirt suits with heels for women. We’re not necessarily talking Ryan Gosling-chic here. We mean that the suit jacket perfectly matches the pants, and the fit might not matter as much as how much you’re covered. However, a well-fitted suit is always preferred if you care about that kind of thing.

What is Casual?

Casual is when jeans and a nice blouse are totally acceptable. For guys, this means jeans and a button-up or a Polo shirt. This type of office setting is much more common in artsy sectors like ads and marketing or art studios.

So What is Business Casual, Then?

Business casual pretty much covers everything in between, which is why different offices define it differently. To some, business casual might mean jeans aren’t okay but khakis are. For others, it basically means wearing a little color is totally okay, but the modesty of classic business is still expected. For guys, dressing to impress is fairly simple, because unless your office is totally casual, wearing a suit will be acceptable weather you work in a business professional atmosphere or business casual atmosphere. For women, it can be much trickier. When it doubt, be modest and tone down the flashiness.

If you’re a woman and you need good ideas for what to wear for business casual, or you need classic pieces, retailers like Uniqlo and Joe Fresh sell a lot of classic pieces made for business casual. It’s essential to have a couple of pencil skirts, well-tailored dress pants, and classic blouses in your wardrobe. Department stores are also great, but can be expensive.

What Should You Wear if You’re Not Sure What “Business Casual” Means at Your Office?

If you’re a woman, a safe bet for business casual on your first day would be a well-tailored classic pencil skirt with a tucked-in, solid or striped button up shirt. It should be buttoned to a point where there’s no cleavage showing, and it should be ironed. Make sure to wear comfortable, closed-toed shoes. If you’re a guy, wear a button-up shirt, a tie, and nice, tailored dress slacks. You may be able to go without a jacket, but bring it along just in case. Khakis may be acceptable, but don’t try it until after you’ve confirmed that other people wear them at the office.

Last Updated: April 15, 2015