What Is Business Casual? Work Clothing Ideas for 2022

If you’re returning to the office with a wardrobe that’s in less than working order, you’re not alone. What makes this even more challenging is that the amorphous guideline of “business casual” attire feels even more confusing after nearly two years of working over Zoom (in, let’s be honest, sweatpants). 

There’s no denying your sartorial decisions say something about who you are, says Los Angeles-based stylist Negar Ali Kline. In the office environment, “you’re dressing to present the way you want to be perceived in the world,” she explains, so you may want to think twice before showing up in a worn T-shirt or shorts like some have been doing, notes The Wall Street Journal newsroom. 

Of course you still want to be comfortable. These picks and go-to brands from the pros will help you gear up for in-person meetings, business dinners, interviews and more.

Go for versatile pieces

Flexibility is key when you want to look polished and professional but also stay as comfortable as we’ve been in our WFH lives, says Leslie J. Ghize, executive vice president of Doneger TOBE, an international fashion retail consulting service. She recommends Vince’s crop flare pants for hitting this balance; with their tailored cut and stretchy fabric and waistband, they look like trousers but fit more like leggings and, says Ghize, they look good with flats or heels.

Emporio Armani

Micro Fancy Five Pocket Wool Pants

Joseph Rosenfeld, a personal image consultant based in New York City and Silicon Valley, also looks for “hybrid” pieces. Emporio Armani’s seasonless virgin-wool five-pocket pants are a top pick because they combine trouser-esque tailoring with the classic cut of jeans. “I took a pair with me on a business trip to Dallas,” he says, “and even in 100-degree weather, I preferred them over the shorts I brought. They always felt appropriate and didn’t wrinkle.”

Akris

Silk Crepe Detachable Bow Blouse

For women, try tops with relaxed fits and “statement” details, Rosenfeld suggests. This flowy silk Akris blouse, for example, has an “architectural” face-framing neckline and dramatic-looking bow that’s detachable, so you can wear it multiple ways.


Choose stretchy material

Rhone

Classic Fit Commuter Shirt

To help her clients dress comfortably for the workplace, Global Image Group stylist and executive image consultant Michelle T. Sterling sticks with streamlined silhouettes in performance fabrics like spandex or cotton-nylon blends. A favorite, Rhone’s wrinkle-resistant Commuter Shirt, comes in six different colors as well as classic and slim fits. “My clients tell me, ‘I feel like I’m wearing pajamas, but it’s a button-down shirt.”

Modern Citizen

Eden Sleeveless Tie-Front Dress

Scotch & Soda

The Daisy High-Rise Straight-Leg Paper Bag Trousers

The phrase “business casual” may not even be the right way to think about dressing for the office anymore, according to Loretta Choy, chief merchandising officer of Stitch Fix. It’s more “business comfort,’” she says, which translates to “polished looks that feel good to wear, unlike pencil skirts and structured suiting of the past.” Her standbys are knit dresses from Modern Citizen, like this mock neck style in a machine-washable viscose and spandex blend with an adjustable tie waist, and paper bag trousers from Scotch & Soda with an unrestrictive silhouette and a “softer hand-feel” than similar versions.

Vineyard Vines

Edgartown Pique Polo

For men, collared yet comfortable polos are “the new button-downs,” Choy says—and the popular stretch-cotton versions from Vineyard Vines come in nine different hues to pair with everything from denim to dress pants.


Try a high-low balance

Brunello Cucinelli

Travel Blazer

You can’t go wrong if you hedge your bets with a casual-chic combination. That’s why Kline suggests anchoring your closet with a few timeless, high-end pieces that can easily be dressed down, such as a structured jacket. Her go-tos for male clients include Brunello Cucinelli’s travel blazer; she frequently pairs the lightweight silk and wool piece with relaxed styles of pants, like denim and chinos.


Stock up on a works-with-anything staple

Paul Smith

Tailored-Fit Concealed Placket Shirt

Paul Smith

Silk Shirt With ‘Artist Stripe’ Cuff

White button-downs are a favorite of New York City–based stylist Avon Dorsey because they add instant polish. “It’s the easiest item to put on to denote professionalism, no matter your field,” he says, “and it pairs well with any style of bottom: jeans, khakis, dress pants or skirts.” He suggests Paul Smith’s versions for both men and women because they have a “slightly loose fit” that’s comfortable to move around in.


7 can’t-go-wrong clothing brands

Save yourself time (and hassle!) by shopping these other stylist-favorite retailers.

Hugo Boss

This standby for slim fits offers plenty of suiting separates made of comfortable stretch materials. Sterling of Global Image Group says that, when she introduced one client to the brand, he told her the clothes made him feel “more confident, more secure, like he could tackle the world.”

Theory

A go-to for elevated essentials, Theory gets top marks from image consultant Rosenfeld as an “upscale, but still price-conscious” option. Sterling is a fan of the brand’s modern, slim fits across all clothing categories, and stylist Ali Kline says the hint of stretch in Theory’s shirts (thanks to a blend of cotton and elastane) make them “the perfect button-down.”

Uniqlo

Known for moderately priced, well-made basics, Japanese retailer Uniqlo is on stylist Dorsey’s list of workwear favorites, especially for their suiting separates, which come in relatively relaxed cuts and a range of colors for both men and women. Plus, the button-down shirts, he says, are “soft and comfy.”

Lafayette 148

Want to add prints or color to your basics? Rosenfeld recommends this New York City-based brand known for “beautiful and super expressive” patterns that don’t veer too out-there for the office.

Zegna

This Italian luxury brand is a favorite of both Rosenfeld and Ali Kline, particularly for its polished-looking men’s jackets—most notably Zegna’s “overshirt” style, which Rosenfeld likes for its structured collar and cuffs and roomy cut. “It has tailoring and easy elements all rolled into one,” he says. 

J. Crew

The “Ludlow” collection makes a good-quality base for a men’s work wardrobe, says Ghize of Doneger TOBE. Its “Un-suit” styles—loosely structured pieces in casual materials, like a cotton-linen blend for summer—are available In classic and slim fit options and can be worn together or separately, and year-round.

J. Press

An Ivy League-favorite since 1902 (it was actually founded on Yale University’s campus), this brand is always a good bet, says Ghize, especially for their long-staple cotton “classic shirts that will work forever, but in interesting colors and terrific fits.” 

The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of the Buy Side from WSJ editorial team, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.

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