Business Casual – What to Wear and What Not to Wear

by Anya Jennings on April 26, 2010

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Even the most professional corporate offices around the world have adopted a more casual style of dress for day-to-day business, but the definition of “business casual” remains poorly defined. Throw in a multigenerational work force and the company dress code can teeter towards “anything goes”.  Don’t let unclear or lax policies lull you into laziness when it comes to your office attire.  Like it or not, your appearance can be a key factor in your success.


You want your work, your work ethic and your personality to define you – not your wardrobe. If anyone in the company can ever say “you know, the woman who likes animal prints” or “the guy that wears Charlie Brown striped shirts” you have lost a measure of professional credibility you may never regain. Here’s some general advice.

Business Casual Dress for Women:

If you would ever wear it to a night club, don’t wear it to the office. Avoid anything sexy, low-cut, too tight, too short, shiny or clingy.

Embellished tee shirts are still tee shirts. If you want people to take you seriously, don’t dress like you’re running weekend errands.

Tone it down. Color is fine. Prints are fine. Just avoid those you might be able to see from space. Expressing yourself with a pop of color or an animal print accessory makes you look stylish. Dressing like you just tumbled out of a clown car is professional hari-kari.

In clothing, bigger is not better.  Women, especially are notorious for hiding perceived “problem” areas behind oversized clothing.  This does not work.  Oversized clothes make you look oversized.  Wearing clothes that fit projects confidence and looks infinitely more polished and professional.

Business Casual Dress for Men:

For guys it’s a bit easier but still very important.  To start, in most cases, avoid horizontal stripes. There’s something about stripes across a man’s chest that cries out for a baseball cap and sneakers.

The same goes for cargo pants: giant slouchy pockets scream “adolescent.” Even if Dockers makes them, don’t. Just don’t. Ditto every style that tries to look hip or trendy. Just buy pants that fit and don’t allow (or indulge) sagging.

As suggested for women, don’t go sexy or night clubby.  Save your vintage parachute pants and the shiny silk button downs for the weekend, not for work.

Pass on styles you think will make you stand out in a crowd. Some men can pull off bowties and suspenders and still look professional, but not many.  We all want to be able to express ourselves, just remember you want people noticing your talent and efforts more than your wardrobe.

In General:

Spare the denim. The word “casual” is usually preceded or followed by “business” or “office.”  If your workplace allows jeans,  go for styles with a consistent overall color to the wash (no wiskering, over-distressing or acid wash) with minimal embellishment.  Do NOT wear jeans with rips, tears, frayed hems, patches or safety pins.  And save the bedazzling for weekend or evening wear.

For women, open-toed shoes are usually fine but sandals are not office attire. Just make sure you can distinguish between open-toed shoes, sexy slides, and flip-flops you could shower in if necessary.  Men, you should never, never, never wear sandals or flip flops to the office.  Never.

The bottom line is that you should consistently wear clothes that are both comfortable and professional. Don’t try too hard. Expensive suits are great, but save them for important meetings. Style, cut, color, fabric, and fit are all important. You want to make a statement, but it shouldn’t be “look at how outlandish I am.” If your work clothes say “confident professional,” mission accomplished.

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