Business casual attire has always been difficult to define. It often depends on the company culture where you work, the industry you are in and your superiors. When people were working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the defined work wardrobe became blurred or even nonexistent. This leaves many professionals wondering about what is appropriate to wear to work.
Some companies have rewritten their company dress code to allow for casual wear on a daily basis, encouraging their employees to dress more comfortably as they re-adapt to working in the office. Retail chains are also switching to casual wear for work, marketing “workleisure” and “business comfort” to encourage sales. This also means that what was considered business casual before the pandemic is most likely no longer in style in 2022.
All of this can be confusing when heading back to the office. Employees may be unsure of how casual they can be at work now. No matter what your company’s dress code is, here is a basic guideline: Think of outfits you would wear when you meet your most important client for lunch. This applies when working virtually as well. You never know when you may need to hop on a last-minute Zoom call with your boss or with a client.
Basic Business Casual Dress for Women
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Generally, business casual attire for women includes a skirt or slacks, a blouse, a blazer and heels or flats for the office. Retailers now make skirts and slacks with elastic waists, which will allow you to feel polished and comfortable. If your industry prefers heels, try a low or wedge heel for a more comfortable fit. Otherwise, ballerina or d’Orsay flats are good options to feel comfortable and look professional.
Basic Business Casual Dress for Men
Generally, business casual for men includes chinos or slacks, a button-down shirt, a belt, dress socks and dress shoes. A colored button-down shirt is more casual than a white button-down shirt. In the cooler months, breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen are more comfortable but tend to wrinkle. To stay more polished throughout the day, look for cotton or linen blends. Many retailers also make wrinkle-resistant or no-iron dress shirts and slacks that work well for business casual. Depending on your industry, it may be appropriate to wear a tie. Cotton ties or ties with a fun print make them more casual than the traditional silk tie.
Are Jeans Business Casual?
The answer depends on your company’s dress code. Some industries and companies don’t allow jeans, even for a casual Friday. However, if your company does allow jeans, then much depends on the cut and wash of the jeans. Trendy cuts, like flared or tight skinny jeans, are not business appropriate. Neither are ripped or faded wash jeans. Jeans can be business casual if they are a dark wash such as dark blue or black. Also, stick to a classic trouser or straight leg cut. A dress shirt and/or a blazer can elevate the overall look when wearing jeans.
Examples of What Not to Wear for a Business Casual Dress Code
- Leggings or jeggings.
- Anything too tight or revealing.
- Anything too baggy.
- T-shirts or ties with offensive images or language.
- Old T-shirts.
- Tennis shoes.
- Distracting accessories.
Where to Buy Business Casual Clothes
When buying business casual clothes and shoes, look for classic items that will stay in style instead of trendy clothing. If you want to try some trendy items, get a handbag or accessories that can more easily be replaced as trends fade. Here are a few chain shopping locations to find business casual attire:
- Banana Republic.
- J. Crew.
Still unsure about what to wear? Some industries remain very formal, such as government or legal, while other industries have become much more relaxed. Check with your HR department for your company’s business casual dress code. Another great way to get a sense of your company’s business casual attire post-COVID is by checking their social media channels and website. You can also check social media channels of leaders in your industry to see what they are wearing.
Finally, remember that while business casual is becoming more commonplace, how you dress says a lot about you. If you are looking for a job or hoping to get a promotion, always dress more formally than the casual dress code requires. And if you are a leader, remember that your employees will look to you as the model for what to wear to work as the definition of business casual continues to evolve. Balance looking professional with staying comfortable to help them adjust to post-COVID office life.