What Is Business Casual?

Business Casual (Photo credit: oxcnpxo)

I’ve worked at two companies recently that have an established dress code of business casual.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? No more concerns about what to wear to work. But what exactly is business casual? I posted the question on
and got quite a few answers ranging from “Not jeans, but not a suit” to “Nice blouse, pants, light jewellery. No suits, no t-shirts, certainly no jeans – even black ones, no logo wear.”

Others said, “In my previous jobs, everything had to be tucked in, no athletic clothes. Oh and if a boss said “you look casual,” that was a hint to not wear the clothes again.”

There seemed to be agreement on: “For men: trousers/khakis and a shirt with a collar. For women: trousers/knee-length skirt and a blouse or shirt with a collar. No jeans. No athletic wear.”

But then this got a response of, “I disagree, no khakis.”

Wait, no khakis? Khakis aren’t jeans and they’re practically iconic when paired with a blue dress shirt! Granted that look says, “I didn’t want to wear jeans but I didn’t want to wear black dress trousers and a white shirt so here’s my compromise.”

So there’s a lack of consensus in what actually defines a business casual wardrobe. All most people know is they don’t want to see too much of a colleague’s body, including feet. Or as a colleague once said, “I don’t really need to see all of that in the office.”

We’ve clearly moved from the formality of business wear (See “Mad Men”) to the super casual work environment of jeans and t-shirts, and even flip flops and shorts, to the nebulous middle ground of ‘business casual’. It’s hard to define and many people, HR departments and magazines have tried. brooks Brothers and Harry Rosen try, GQ tries for men via the entire publication and this photo gallery, and there is an entire website dedicated to the topic for women @ http://www.businesscasualwomen.net. J. Crew also tries to help but not all women can mix apple-printed capri pants in a way that doesn’t scream twee or grandmotherly.

We also want clothes that can go from work to play because no one has time to go home and change and not a lot of people want to bring a change of clothing into the office.

A little help just might be needed in this area. Sin-Young Kim is a new Canadian designer who has decided to focus on business wear with her line, TheModAppeal. Kim says that it’s difficult to find items of clothing that fit, flatter and are fashion forward and still appropriate for the office.

She says, “Exotic, avant garde fashion is great but I wanted to create something for the majority of us who appreciate style, but don’t get paid to strut down the runway. Business attire is prevalent in today’s society but we have not seen much innovation in this area of fashion.

And with my commerce background, I personally sport the look every day, so I truly felt the need for more fashionable, quality business attire. And thus, TheModAppeal was born, for functional, professional attire that is stylish and makes you feel good.”

When she was putting together her business plan, she found a gap in the market, “North American men and women are becoming more fashion-savvy and are looking for pieces that reflect their personal, unique style and fit. With globalization and the Internet, mass-customization is in great demand and very achievable.

“What’s more, bespoke suiting has been offered to men for centuries, and yet there is virtually no modern brand that offers custom-made business attire for women. While more and more women have been entering and moving up in the professional field, our fashion has remained stagnant – at offering replicas of men’s suits.”

While Kim is looking to improve the business look, not completely revamp it, she says that the rules for business wear are changing, “Offices are becoming more accepting of different styles of business wear. From business formal, smart casual, to casual Fridays, we have witnessed that “professional” has many, diverse faces. And at the same time, more nine to fivers are looking to express themselves through fashion.

“Women are realizing that they can be feminine and still exude power in the workplace, and men are loving experimenting with colour – even if it’s just on their socks for now. And finally, we are learning to mix business with pleasure. From business meetings to after-work soirees, outfits have to be able to transition across different settings. “

Khakis can’t do that.


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