Figuring out how to maintain your style to adapt to your work environment can be tricky. And dress codes these days are honestly, pretty confusing. Business casual is one of the most common dress codes you will see in workplaces, but exactly what does it even mean? Aren’t business and causal by their very definition, oxymorons? And can you wear jeans to work?
The simple answer is yes, you can. But it’s unfortunately not quite that simple. Nothing in life is…anyway, yes you can wear jeans to work, but you must do so in a way that appears smart, polished and professional. We will unpack that later.
We have all pondered these questions at some point or another as we navigate the modern workplace and its complicated dress codes. So, if you are still trying to make sense of business casual style, we got you!
Read on to learn how to master business casual, while maintaining the perfect balance of professionalism and fashion. And good news, you can definitely rock business casual style, jeans and all!
So, First What Exactly Is Business Casual Attire?
Ugh, the phrase, business casual just sounds so vague. As if one day, an HR manager asked a CEO what the dress code of their company would be. And he or she, (we don't discriminate here) without even looking up from the paperwork on their desk said in a throw-away kind of manner, "Um, whatever. Business casual.” Upon which the HR manager responded,”Hmm? Oh, ok,” with a muddled expression and shrugged his or her shoulders and then walked away.
But in all seriousness, there isn’t a standard definition for business casual. And it can mean different things depending where you go which only adds to its complexity. General rule of thumb is: with business casual attire, you don’t want to look too casual which will be inappropriate for the workplace, but you don’t have to come all suited up either. However, looking too formal is usually not looked down upon, while dressing too casually may come off as a sign of disrespect. So, when in doubt, waver on the side of slightly more formal dressing that appears polished and sophisticated without looking stuffy.
Essentially, the goal is to achieve a balance of formal and casual, without looking too formal or too casual, capiche?
What Are Accepted Styles of Business Casual Attire?
Examples of appropriate business casual attire for women include a dress, skirt or slacks, a blouse, sweater, jacket, hosiery and closed-toe shoes. Some offices may accept sandals or peep-toe shoes, but before you take the plunge in your open-toed shoes, make sure to check around the office to ensure that that kind of style is allowed. And absolutely no flip flops! Just don’t do it.
To dress appropriately in a business casual workplace, men can wear dress slacks, or chinos, a button-down shirt, and dress shoes. Polo shirts are a very popular style of shirt for men, but it’s best to avoid wearing one to your interview — even if you see a lot of polo shirts on guys around the office. Wait ‘till you get the job to wear one. And, please avoid athletic socks as well. They look a little odd, peeking out from your slacks and dress shoes. Stick with darker, classic and neutral colored socks.
For both men and women, avoid: loud or busy patterns and graphics, and really any type of casual footwear including sneakers or slip-ons. Dressier shoes can quickly smarten up your look. We also recommend avoiding shorts, or athletic styles of pants.
How to Make Jeans Business Casual
Not every workplace will accept jeans, as some offices’ “business casual” dress code will be more formal, while others really are more casual. Offices in a more artistic lane of business such as art, architecture or design firms, marketing agencies, fashion companies, etc., will usually be more lenient in their dress codes, accepting a wider range of fashions.
With jeans, the secret to making them work for a business casual environment is in their tailoring. Jeans that are well-tailored will easily look smart at the office, while ripped jeans, on the other hand, with a lot of embellishments will clearly look out of place.
When in doubt, lighter washes tend to look more casual, so opt for darker colored jeans and pair with a button-down shirt and dress shoes for men or button-down shirts, silk blouses and heels for women. Adding a blazer or cardigan, for either men or women will easily pull the look together.
So, to sum up:
With jeans you should avoid: torn up, overly stretchy and baggy styles, or too low-rise ( like so low-slung that you're worried about bending over to pick up a pencil you dropped).
Business Casual Style Recommendations for Women:
We recommend the PHL - SLIM BOOTCUT 32" BLACK. Buttons down the middle, and a contemporary bootcut style feel elevated and chic enough for the office.
The NCE - WIDE LEG 33" offers a casual, yet polished look. A high rise cut with a relaxed fit that streamlines and contours exudes effortless sophistication. Opt for the colors, Tobacco Brown, Grain or Whte or for a dash of freshness to a spring or summer style, try Limestone. Try with a blouse in complementary colors and add pumps or heels for a boost of elegance.
Business Casual Style Recommendations for Men:
We like the ORD - STRAIGHT 30" for men. A classic, straight fit engineered with high retention fabric offers just enough stretch for a sleek, yet ultra-comfortable style. Capers, Highlands and Asphalt are all sharp color choices.
The BOS - SLIM CHINO is a great choice of chinos for men. A laid back, yet perfectly crisp style feels at once refined enough and relaxed for the office. Remember to pair with dress shoes, and a button-down and you’re good to go!