There’s no denying that dressing in shorts and a t-shirt for men and a sundress and sandals for women is too casual for an office environment. Wearing a full suit, on the other hand, can be overly formal. So, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, if you are having doubts relating to where to draw the line and what combos work best, keep on reading for guidelines on appropriate business casual attire for men and women.
Dresses and Skirts
Although some may argue that the length and tightness may vary depending on the rules of a particular office environment, dresses and skirts that don’t go above knee-length and aren’t too tight are always a safe bet. If this constricts you too much, you can always opt to have a range of work pants for women that work for you and avoid dresses altogether. But if you want to keep dresses and skirts in the game, without crossing the line, simply stick to the rule of thumb: not too tight, not too short, not too dressy. Regarding colour, the business casual style doesn’t come with some serious restrictions.
Playing it safe when it comes to being appropriate means sticking to tailored work pants for women or wide-leg pants, dress pants, chinos, or suit pants. Certain office environments might be casual enough to allow jeans, but be sure to check the dress code policies before showing up to work in jeans. Printed pants or bright colors are usually acceptable, but it is always better to keep in all more neutral until you get the sense of the place. Material-wise, your best bet for extra comfort are work pants for women that are made of cotton/elastane fabric blend as that makes them perfect for busy work days. Pants that feature a straight leg cut look great on most body types.
These are a classic professional staple, a simple standard that has become a universal element of a good dress code. In light of that, it is smart to own black, gray, blue or other colored blazers in your closet so you can wear them on rotation. Bright colored-blazers aren’t a no-no either, but make sure you don’t cross the line and for your own convenience, remember that the more neutral and subdued the tone, the more you can combine the piece.
Blouses and Button-downs
Although the types of tops that could work may vary depends on the office dress code (and the style of the woman herself), a nice fitted, flowy and button-down blouse is always an appropriate choice. And if you want to go for a more classic and polished look, try to keep brand logos to a minimum.
Closed-toe heels, flats, or loafers are what’s usually acceptable when it comes to women’s business casual shoes fashion. While there are certain details that are sure to depend on the type of job and the freedom the employee herself is comfortable with (particulars such as open-toed and stiletto heels), it is always safe to state that sandals and sneakers ought to be avoided.
A worthy example of a business casual outfit is the combo of a well-fitted blouse worn with tailored work pants for women and stylish black shoes to finish the look. This trio is very effective at conveying the idea of business casual with is all about the right amount of comfort without compromising professionalism.
Men should stick to a range of button-downs and polo shirts. For important meetings or simply when you want to leave a good impression, it is good to know that collared shirts that are long-sleeved can make you look the most presentable. Now, this might not sound like the most casual option, however, when worn without a tie, these shirts can ooze with a more relaxed vibe. Short-sleeved polo shirts or button-downs may also work when the weather is warmer.
Blazers and Jackets
Throwing on a well-cut blazer or jacket can add a touch of professionalism to an otherwise mundane combo. You can also rely on these if you are worried that your button-down shirt of choice looks too casual for your office. Grey, black and blue are the safest colour choices, as always.
Generally speaking, all offices allow for sweaters or sweater-vests. Chunky-knit sweaters are a great choice for winter, but it is advisable to stick to fine-knit sweaters which can be worn over button-downs or shirts, thus leaving the collar visible. This makes for one of the most classic men’s business casual looks.
Pants or Slacks
In some more progressive offices, you can get away with wearing jeans, but sticking to dress slacks and chino pants (also known as khakis) is what you should do if you don’t want to risk not respecting the dress code standards. A pair of khakis can serve you as a particularly versatile piece for creating business casual outfits since they go well with both more formal and casual shirts.
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.
Just like with women, there are types of shoes that are always appropriate for men in the office – loafers and dress shoes, and shoes that ought to be avoided – sandals and sneakers. Colour-wise, there aren’t any strict but keep it as professional and polished as possible.