While less formal than traditional business attire, business casual clothing is still professional enough to be appropriate for office wear. For men, “business casual” usually means slacks, a nice button-down or polo shirt and dress shoes. For ladies, it typically means a button-down blouse, paired with either dress pants or a dress and closed-toe shoes.
An increasing number of businesses now allow business casual attire, rather than requiring employees to dress in traditional business clothing. In fact, such clothing is now welcome in more than 60 percent of businesses, according to a survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management.
Despite how common business casual wear has become, there is still a lot of confusion about what the term actually means. Many workers also struggle to find apparel that fits the business casual category without breaking the bank.
Here are just a few simple ways to make business casual work for your wardrobe.
What to Wear
Let’s start with the basics: What constitutes as “business casual” and what doesn’t? While the exact guidelines may vary from one employer to the next, there are a few rules that generally apply.
For men, the business casual look is pretty simple: a nice shirt paired with dressy pants and professional-looking shoes. Long-sleeved button-down shirts are the standard, but short-sleeved button downs are usually suitable as well. Depending on your office, a nice sweater may also be acceptable. Look for dress pants or a nice pair of slacks or corduroy pants. For shoes, opt for dress shoes or classy loafers.
The ladies have a few more options. Modest dresses are appropriate, but not required. Button-down shirts, wrap-around blouses and other dressy options work well for shirts. Bottoms can be dress pants or a knee-length pencil skirt. Opt for nice dress shoes, preferably with closed toes. Some employers allow heels with open toes, but many do not. Save your favorite strappy sandals for a night on the town.
What Not to Wear
Women should avoid spaghetti-strap shirts unless they are worn under a jacket or sweater that covers the shoulder. Don’t wear short skirts or dresses, and make sure all tops have modest necklines. Everyone should avoid inappropriate footwear at all costs like strappy sandals, flip flops and athletic shoes. Leave the denim in your closet, and save the t-shirts for your days off (unless you’re wearing them as undershirts during the work week).
Business Casual on a Budget
Whether you are starting a new job or your current job is transitioning to a new dress code that requires business casual attire, shopping for everything you need can get expensive —fast. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to find the clothing you need without breaking the bank — or at least purchase enough to get you through until your first paycheck hits your bank account.
Check Your Closet
You may think you need to buy an all-new wardrobe, but you likely already have at least a few things hanging in the back of your closet that will work perfectly. That outfit you purchased to wear to your friend’s wedding last summer? You may be able to use it (or parts of it) for work.
If you’re starting a new job, what about the clothing you wore to your interview? Digging through your closet is the best way to figure out what you already have to work with. For example, plain white t-shirts are perfect for wearing underneath dress clothes and layering to create a more elevated look. Even if you only find a couple of shirts, you now have a few things to work on coordinating with to create work-appropriate outfits.
When you need to shop for clothes on a budget, your local thrift store is a good first stop. While there are a lot of duds and some outdated garb that wouldn’t be appropriate for any setting, there are also some pretty amazing gems just waiting to be found. Take the time to sift through the racks, and try on anything that you think might work. If you’re lucky, you could find several pieces that are perfect. Don’t forget to check out the purses and accessories!
Find the Perfect Shoes
Your shoes may not seem important, but they could be one of the most expensive parts of your outfit. Trying to find a pair of shoes that is suitable for office wear but comfortable enough to not leave your feet begging for mercy at the end of the day is often challenging. Look for a pair that is neutral in color (black works great) and provides adequate support for your feet. Rather than shopping for shoes to match every outfit, start by purchasing one pair that will work with just about anything. Buying your shoes first helps you save money by avoiding the temptation of trying to find the perfect pair for each individual outfit.