Today we’re going to tackle the ever-elusive topic: business casual dress code.
Sadly, the concept of business casual isn’t always understood. I say “sadly” because it happens to be one of the most common dress codes in the professional workplace.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to confidently dress for any situation that calls for business casual attire. Lucky you!
Why so tough? There isn’t a clear-cut, widely-accepted definition of business casual attire. One person’s idea of the dress code might be too casual to some, but too formal to others. Soo…
Let’s settle this once and for all
But before we do, a few caveats to EG’s business casual solution:
1.) Let’s stick to ten
For illustrative purposes, I’m going to assume you have these ten individual pieces—and ONLY these pieces—in your closet (though the opposite may be true). This will keep things simple and straight-forward.
You may not have these exact items, but similar ones. Okay, fine. You may not have anything close to these items, and if that’s the case, it’s time you go shopping.
The idea of business casual is open to interpretation, and since there are no hard and fast rules, you may be inclined to ask, “What about (insert any random piece of clothing here)…?” There are situations where your random piece of clothing may work, and others where it may not.
I chose these ten individual items because I know if you stick with these (or items similar to these that are already in your closet), you’ll always be in the safe zone. You may be a tad overdressed, but never underdressed.
2.) You still have to use your best judgement
Even within these suggestions, there are varying levels of formality. Some combinations are slightly more casual than others. If you think you’ll be in a situation where business casual is accepted but most people are dressier, stick to the more formal suggestions (options one through three).
If you’re going to a frat party, well, the least formal business casual suggestion (option seven) will put you like 28 steps above the rest of the bros there, so I think you’re good.
3.) Realize you don’t need a lot to create a ton of outfit combos
Keep in mind the Lean Wardrobe philosophy. You don’t need a warehouse full of clothing to look fresh to death 24/7, yo.
You only need a handful of key classics that complement each other nicely, which makes it easy on both your brain and your wallet.
4.) Be prepared to be bored
And that’s the whole point. This is the EFFORTLESS Gent, after all. I want to make this as much of a no-brainer as possible.
If you find yourself getting bored, then consider yourself an advanced reader. And if you’re an advanced reader, you can probably take those random items in your wardrobe and figure out how to properly integrate them into your business casual outfit when appropriate.
Seven visual examples
What better way to illustrate the idea of “business casual” than with actual clothing, right? Here we go:
Option One: Two-piece suit, dress shirt, no tie, awesome socks, lace-ups
Simple, and also the most formal of the business casual options. Suit sans tie!
Option Two: Suiting trousers, dress shirt, sport coat, awesome socks, lace-ups
Here, you’re switching up the suit jacket with a sport coat. You’re keeping the suiting trousers, dress shirt, socks and shoes the same. This is practically the same as keeping your suit jacket on, but if you wanted to, you can go this route as well.
Option Three: Suiting trousers, dress shirt, sweater, awesome socks, lace-ups
A step down would be replacing the suit jacket or sport coat with a sweater.
Option Four: Dark chinos, dress shirt, sport coat, awesome socks, lace-ups
I feel like this is the most neutral of all the options. You have a pair of dark chinos paired with your sport coat, while the dress shirt, shoes, and socks stay the same. Are you seeing a trend here?
Option Five: Dark chinos, dress shirt, sweater, awesome socks, lace-ups
Again, replace the sport coat with a sweater. Because you’re wearing chinos in this option, you’re slightly less formal than you would be if you were wearing suiting trousers.
Option Six: Dark denim, dress shirt, sport coat, awesome socks, lace-ups
If your office allows you to wear denim, make sure it’s dark! This is my personal favorite, and I wear a similar outfit 80% of the time I step outside of my house.
Option Seven: Dark denim, dress shirt, sweater, awesome socks, lace-ups
Once again, forgo the sport coat and opt for a sweater instead.
Where to buy these exact items
Don’t feel like you have to, but in case you were curious, here are the links to the above products: Suit jacket and trousers, sport coat, dark chinos, dark denim, dress shirt, V-neck sweater, awesome socks, lace-ups, tie.
Just remember, it’s not important to buy these exact items. What matters most is you find similar items that fit well.
Some things to keep in mind
Adding a tie brings your business casual outfit up a notch. Since it’s optional with all these variations, try it out when you feel like getting a bit dressier.
White and light blue dress shirts go with everything. Other color options? Lavender, pink, mint green.
You can also choose a pattern but keep it subtle for maximum versatility (read: the ability to wear a shirt over and over without being known as The Guy Who Wears The Same Shirt Over And Over).
How to dress appropriately for every situation despite the different variations of business casual
In a word: Ask.
Let’s say you’re interviewing at a new company. Ask your contact person (usually a hiring manager or someone else in the HR department) what the company’s dress code is. If you’re so inclined, ask what her male coworkers typically wear.
Again, business casual means different things to different people, so knowing what your future colleagues wear on a daily basis will give you a more accurate idea of what you should wear to the interview.
If it’s a laid back internet company, you don’t want to wear a suit. If you’re interviewing at an investment firm, you should probably wear a suit.
If you’re starting a new job, I’d also give HR or your contact person a call and ask what people are wearing to the office. That’s assuming you didn’t figure this out during the interview process.
There you have it!
Pretty much every single thing you might need to know about dressing for a business casual atmosphere.
Any further questions? Let’s hear em in the comments below.
Looking for more?
By the way, we cover business casual in depth in our eGuide, The Effortless Guide to Business Casual: Outfits for Spring / Summer.
Check it out and add it to your arsenal of style knowledge today.
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