What Is the Best Business Casual Attire? A Man's Ultimate GuideWriten by Pilar Espitia
Mike just got hired as a publisher for a marketing company. After months of looking, he finally got the job he was hoping for! He can’t wait to start on Monday and show his boss and colleagues what he’s capable of.
While he rides the subway back home, he starts dreaming about his first day at work: “Should I bring my car or ride the subway? I should go to the barbershop this weekend...I should check what to wear and get some new outfits.”
He remembers his boss saying the dress code is “business casual.” “But what does that even mean?” he asks himself.
He hasn’t met any of his colleagues. His references for this dress code are vague...he feels like he should go home and Google this one: “What is business casual attire.”
Just like Mike, we’re caught at a crossroads when we are looking for business casual attire. What does it mean and how should we follow it?
Here are your fundamentals to nail it when building a business casual look.
Business Casual: From Mad Men to Casual Fridays
We’ve come a long way when talking about professional looks. We’ve seen Don Draper’s looks in Mad Men. He has impeccable full suits, pocket squares, ties and shiny black Oxfords. This is what the 1960s considered to be appropriate work attire.
But the 1960s also brought Aloha Friday. This was an initiative that started in Hawaii so workers could bring aloha shirts to work. This casual look eventually moved to California. By the 1990s, it had expanded around the world in the form of “casual Fridays.”
Since then, many companies have embraced a more relaxed dress code for every day of the week. TGIF, right? It is between these two extremes where we can find our business casual attire.
It is not the full suit and tie Don Draper wears, but it still should look professional to give a good impression.
To a certain degree, we do depend on our looks to be taken seriously. Mike will fail miserably on his first day at work if he arrives wearing a t-shirt with a logo and sweatpants.
We will tell you (and Mike) what could be the right balance to succeed with your business casual look.
Business Casual Attire: More Dressing Up Than Down
So, the golden rule is: Lean to the business side more than to the casual one. This also will depend on the kind of company you work for and the region where you live.
But it is better to show up on your first day of work a little bit overdressed, than in baggy jeans and flip-flops.
Get to see how your colleagues and boss are dressed. You’ll be able to understand what your company means by business casual wear. Most of the time it means no full suit, collared button-down shirts, and optional ties.
Never forget to have pressed and clean clothes, be well groomed, and wear a belt! Once you learn the basics, try to keep a consistent look every day of the week.
Also, keep an eye on your work calendar. If you are meeting with clients, for example, you might need to dress up more than usual.
What is casual when you’re going out with friends is not the casual style you want to wear to work. Again, make sure you dress up a notch, instead of being underdressed. So, how do we do this?
Mike, our friend who recently got a job, is going shopping during the weekend. We will go with him to find some great looks for work.
Five Business Casual Looks for the Week
When shopping for business casual, keep in mind to buy tailored, comfortable clothes. Make sure they are versatile, high-quality pieces. This will also save you some money!
Here are the must-have pieces to build a business casual look:
1. Oxford cloth button-down shirts: This is a classic cotton shirt every man must own. Most of them have buttons to fasten the collar to the shirt, but you can do without.
Wear it in classic, solid colors such as white, light blue or light pink. You can also have this shirt with discrete patterns (stripped, small dots, etc.)
2. Light sweaters: V-necks or rounded collar, they are great to put on top of a button down shirt with (or without) a tie. You can buy them in black, grey or navy blue.
3. Khakis, chinos, trousers or dress pants: Chinos are very comfortable. They are a great option for business casual looks. Wool trousers and dress pants are highly recommended as well.
4. Blazers: Two-button single-breasted blazers or sports coats are a standard option for business casual. You can get them in dark blue and grey, and made in different fabrics, such as worsted wool, tweed or flannel.
When you get a blazer, make sure that it fits properly, or take it to the tailor for alterations. Usually, the shoulder area in blazers can be problematic, so it's important that they don’t look too broad.
5. Leather or suede shoes: Leather or suede Loafers, Oxfords, Derbies and Monk Straps are good options. You can also go with Chelsea or Chukka boots. Buy them in black, brown, tan or bordeaux colors.
Now, let’s take a look at Mike with five business casual outfits. They combine the must-have pieces with others you should consider:
-Black sports quilted jacket.
-Dark grey sweater.
-White button-down shirt.
-Black suede Chelsea boots.
A quilted jacket in dark colors or beige is an excellent idea to wear during a cold day. Put it on top of a button down shirt and/or a light sweater.
-Dark blue single breasted blazer.
-Light blue button-down shirt.
-Pocket square with white and blue details.
-Dark brown tassel loafers.
This is your archetypal business casual look. A pocket square is a great accessory to wear with blazers. Make sure it creates contrast with your whole look.
If you wear a tie, make sure your pocket square doesn’t match exactly with it. Pocket squares and ties should be a complement to your entire outfit.
-Grey single breasted sports coat.
-Black v-neck sweater.
-White collared shirt.
-Dark denim jeans.
-Dark brown canvas briefcase.
If you’re lucky enough, your office will let you wear jeans to work. Make sure they are slim, fitted, dark denim jeans without fading, washes or holes.
-Light pink polo shirt (tucked).
-Dark brown belt.
-Brown suede derbies.
A tucked in polo shirt could be a great complement to your khakis or chinos. But remember not to wear this to an interview as you might look underdressed.
Don’t forget to wear a belt if your pants have belt loops. You are allowed not to wear a belt ONLY if your pants have side adjusters. Also, make sure that your belt matches your shoes.
If you’re going for suspenders, don’t wear a belt. It is either a belt or suspenders.
-Blue checked shirt (with or without a dark tie).
-Dark grey slacks.
As we said, it is also good to play with the patterns of your shirts, and a discrete checked shirt is a good example of this. You can wear it with or without a tie.
Play it well with patterns in shirts, ties, and jackets. Make sure there’s contrast in color and in the scale of the design between pieces.
Accessories: To dress up your looks, you can always wear knitted ties, pocket squares or formal watches. Don’t wear hats or flashy accessories. Instead of a schoolboy backpack, you can get a leather messenger bag or a canvas briefcase.
Sneakers at work? Some friendly companies might consider sneakers as acceptable footwear. First things first: Don’t wear the flashy, smelly sneakers you go to the gym with!
Get some polished styles in classic colors, such as tan or black. They can be made in leather or suede. For sneakers, keep it simple.
Others options for business casual wear: In the fall you can wear turtlenecks instead of a shirt and tie. You can throw a blazer on top of one.
Also, vests are a good idea to wear on top of a shirt. You can wear a sweater vest, with or without a tie.
Business casual dress code: Remember to lean to the business side instead of the casual one. Leave your comfortable t-shirts, sweatpants and flip flops at home. Always make sure your clothes are clean, pressed and fit properly.
As you can see, you have a wide variety of options if you get a couple of interchangeable classic pieces. Most importantly, make sure you understand what your office means by “business casual.”
Then, dress for success!
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