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Dressing Business Casual

When you start a professional job, there is a good chance you can drop the blazer and opt for something a little more casual. As one may learn, more and more offices are moving toward “business casual” attire in place of traditional business apparel, but the rules are often not clearly defined on what business casual is. Even experienced professionals sometimes have trouble deciding what’s appropriate. Here is a guide of how to dress once you land the job.

Men

One company’s version of business casual may mean you can wear a jacket or a tie, instead of both, while khakis and a polo shirt are completely acceptable somewhere else. Here are some general guidelines: 

  • Casual does not mean sloppy! Whatever you wear should be clean, pressed, and in good condition. Check regularly for missing buttons, dangling threads, and signs of wear and tear. 

  • Stores and catalogues that have a “business casual” section frequently show khakis on their models. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear Dockers every day, the style is a good guideline. If you do wear khakis, they should be neatly ironed. Don’t wear jeans or shorts unless you know this will be acceptable. 

  • Long-sleeved oxford shirts in solid colors are a safe bet. In a very casual environment, polo shirts (not wrinkled!) may be acceptable. Do not wear loud print shirts or T-shirts advertising your favorite restaurant. Always tuck your shirt in. 

  • If your company is more “business” than “casual”, tailored pants and a sport coat or a sweater is appropriate This is not as formal as a suit, but dressier than khakis. 

  • Don’t wear athletic shoes, sandals, or boots. 

  • Wear a belt that matches your shoes. 

  • When in doubt, be conservative. In the workplace it’s essential to appear professional if you wish to be treated as a professional. 

  • Remember that it’s easier to move from a conservative look to a more casual one than the other way around. See what other people in your office are wearing to get a clearer idea of what is acceptable. Pay attention to how your boss dresses; successful people tend to look the part. 

Women

Business casual is especially tricky for women, who have more choices in clothing and accessories. Pay attention to what others in the company are wearing before you ditch your current wardrobe. And when in doubt—you’ve heard this before—go conservative!

  • Casual does not mean sloppy! Whatever you wear should be clean, pressed, and in good condition. Check for missing buttons, dangling threads, and signs of wear and tear. 

  • Stores and catalogues that have a “business casual” section frequently show khakis on their models. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear Dockers every day, the style is a good guideline; very loose or flowing pants, leggings, or jeans-type styles (even in a dressy fabric) may be questionable. 

  • If you choose to wear a skirt, stay away from short hemlines, high slits, and anything tight. Take the “sit” test; try the skirt on in front of a mirror and sit, cross your legs, stoop, reach and do anything you would do during the course of a normal day. Check to make sure you’re not showing too much leg and that you’ll be comfortable wearing this item. 

  • Sweater sets and tailored shirts are a safe bet. Avoid anything sheer, tight, or low-cut, just as you would when preparing for an interview; unlike an interview, you have more room to experiment with colors and patterns. Remember the general rule: If something looks like you could wear it to the bar, you probably shouldn’t wear it to work. 

  • Don’t wear athletic shoes, sandals, or trendy styles like platform shoes. 

  • You can be more creative with your accessories when dressing in business casual, but don’t be extreme; your 15 bracelets shouldn’t clank together every time you move your arms, for example. How much flexibility you have with wardrobe details like this will depend a great deal on what industry you work in. 

  • When in doubt, be more conservative - have we reinforced that yet? This isn’t the most fun or glamorous wardrobe imaginable and it might not express your personal style, but it’s essential to appear professional if you wish to be treated as a professional. 

  • Remember that it’s easier to move from a conservative look to a more casual one than the other way around. See what other people in your office are wearing to get a clearer idea of what is acceptable. Pay attention to how your boss dresses; the staff may look ready for a night on the town and your supervisor may look like she’s straight from the pages of an Eddie Bauer catalog. She’s the one who got the promotion. Successful people tend to look the part.