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What is Business Casual Attire?

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Most companies have specific dress codes for their employees that vary depending on factors such as the nature of the business, whether or not employees have direct contact with customers and internal company policies. Business casual attire is one of the most popular professional dress codes, but it is generally defined in loose terms, which may confuse some employees. In this article, we will explain the basics of business casual attire for all genders. 

What is business casual attire?

Business casual is a style of clothing that can give you a professional look, but is less formal than traditional business wear. While this implies more freedom when choosing office outfits, the lack of clear rules means that, in most cases, employees will have a hard time determining what clothing items are not too formal or inappropriate for office wear. Although the term may mean different things depending on the company, industry and geographical location, there are some general rules and guidelines that define what is and what is not appropriate for a business casual look.

The most common business casual attire

Business casual style can depend on many factors, such as business type, location and climate. Despite the wide variety of business casual clothing items, there are some general guidelines that apply in the majority of situations and office environments. 

Here are the general guidelines for each clothing article:

Skirts, dresses and pants

When it comes to dresses and skirts, the general rule is that they should be at knee-length or lower. You should avoid dresses or skirts that are too tight or too formal, but there are virtually no restrictions when it comes to the color you choose. The appropriate pants are generally suit-pants, chinos, dress pants and wide-leg pants. Bright-colored bottoms and jeans are sometimes allowed, but you should check both the company’s official dress code and the general office atmosphere before wearing them to work.

Tops and blazers

Although the types of appropriate tops often vary from one company to another, a button-down, well-ironed blouse or shirt always fits the dress code. Most colors are fine, but it is best to avoid wearing tops with large brand logos. 

For all genders, the blazer is usually the biggest indication that the chosen attire is fit for business occasions. Blazers are often the main element of a professional look. Most people choose neutral colors, such as black, brown, gray or dark blue. Depending on the business type and general office atmosphere, a brightly colored blazer may also be appropriate.

Shoes

The best shoe types for a business casual look are dress shoes, flats, loafers and closed-toe heels. As with all business casual clothing items, the flexibility when choosing appropriate shoes largely depends on the company. In most cases, items such as sneakers or sandals do not work well with business casual attire. When it comes to choosing colors, it’s best to choose professional colors that work well with the rest of your outfit.

Shirts and sweaters

Typically the best two choices for business casual tops are polo shirts and regular button-down long-sleeved shirts. Polo shirts are typically appropriate in warm weather conditions, while sweaters and sweater-vests are suitable for colder weather. The typical cold-weather classic business casual look is a finely-knit sweater or vest on top of a collared shirt, with the collar visible.

Jackets 

Jackets are usually not required, but it adds a more professional look to the entire outfit. This makes it an important clothing item for interviews, meetings or other times when you may need to look professional. The most appropriate colors are black, gray, brown and blue.

General guidelines for business casual attire

There are several steps you can take to make sure that your clothing choices fit with the company’s definition of business casual attire.

  • Ask your employer. In situations when the company’s handbook does not clearly define appropriate office attire, the best way to know what’s allowed and what’s not allowed is by simply asking your manager. 
  • Consider the company’s industry. A significant part of what your office considers business casual attire is your company’s industry. Some business areas, such as finance or law are more traditional and conservative than others, so if you operate in such an industry, it’s best to choose the traditional elements of business casual wear. If a company and its clients tend to be informal, there may be fewer guidelines.
  • Avoid any kind of sportswear. No matter how flexible a company’s business casual attire definition is, the one clothing type that should always be avoided is sportswear. Clothes that work well when going to the gym or around the house are not fit for office wear, no matter how well they fit or how comfortable they are.
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