The business casual dress code is something you probably hear more and more these days. But, what does it really mean? How to truly dress business casual? This guide is for you who’d like to get answer to this question once and for all. Here you’ll find do’s and dont’s and you’ll get first-hand advice on what best to wear in a business casual environment.
The history of the business casual style
Before we dive into the topic, let’s sum up where the trend came from. This will help us better to compare the old with the new ways.
You see, until recent times, the business casual attire actually didn’t exist. At all. There was simply daywear and evening wear. That were the norms. During the day, gents would wear stroller- or morning coats for business. During the evenings they would change into a tailcoats for dinner and events. All was good, all was clear and all had traditions. To round off the tradition, once retiring for bed, the pyjamas would be donned, as would a dressing gown, but the chance of anyone seeing them wear this besides their spouse and perhaps a valet or butler was slim to none.
The most casual attire a gentleman might be wearing would perhaps haven been a tweed suit while hunting, or for a nice walk in the park.
Around the turn of the century however, black tie events made their marks and the tuxedo overtook the white tie dress code in popularity. Business suits became the standard and they stayed that way for quite awhile.
Paving the way for business casual
Then came the year 1966. Until then, you had casual wear and you had business attire. Casual wear was worn on the weekends at home, but if you worked in an office, you wore a suit and a necktie. There was no debate.
Then, a company that made Hawaiian shirts began to strategise how they could increase their profits and a brilliant ad agency in Hawaii came up with the idea of “Aloha Fridays”. They began petitioning local businesses to allow their employees to wear the Hawaiian shirt on Fridays. Initially penned as a way of showing local pride, it quickly ended up becoming a trend, a ‘thing’, and a popular way of avoiding the rat race of corporate America. The fad began to catch on and soon it hopped off the Islands and made its way to the mainland.
How Khakis came to the office
By the early 1990’s Levis began to notice the trend on the mainland and many of its customers in upper management began complaining that their employees were too casual, wearing shorts and t-shirts to work. The sale of jeans was in decline and so they took it as a chance to market their new brand called ‘Dockers’ to the corporate community. They began to launch expensive ad campaigns for their khaki pants and it took off. Employers looked at it as a fair compromise between shorts and suits and the employees agreed.
How is the business casual dress code defined for gents today?
The short answer to that, is to wear no suit, but also no jeans. Obviously, that is just a general guideline but in order to nail the business casual look, you have to adapt to your specific company culture. Also, your age is important and the older you are, the more formal your business casual outfit should be.
Blazer or sports-coat
The blazer is an important part of a business casual wardrobe. Don’t opt for gold buttons, but instead stick with darker hues. Navy is the most classic of colours and your best bet, so stick with that, if you want to be safe. Single breasted is the standard while a double breasted navy blazer can look more powerful.
If you wear a sports coat then opt for something subdued with a subtle pattern and avoid any loud, summery colours.
Long-sleeved dress shirts
Try wearing a dress shirt made of cotton in a light blue or pastel colour. An Oxford dress shirt is appropriate for business casual wear and it can be worn in a relaxed state by keeping the top button undone, or by wearing a more casual knit tie to go with it. A simple white oxford shirt is the ideal shirt for business casual wear, as it can be elevated to business attire for a last minute meeting with the addition of a necktie kept in your desk drawer and a blazer thrown over top.
Neckwear is optional but it certainly helps with elevating your outfit. Ideal neckties include grenadine- or knit ties because they perfectly underline the business casual character.
Bow ties certainly make a statement. When in doubt – stick with the tie.
Jeans should not be worn, but the jacket and shirt are ideal.
A pair of solid navy, grey or even charcoal dress pants pleated or flat front are the perfect choice for business casual wear. With a dress shirt neatly tucked into it, and a blazer or sports jacket you are good to go.
Chinos / Khakis
Chinos paired with contrasting blazers elevate their casual heritage.
A sweater vest, cardigan or turtle neck works well during the colder days in addition to your sport coat or blazer. Simply worn over a collared shirt it is only appropriate for Casual Friday. In general a knitted vest will always make a formal garment more casual.
Accessories are a great way to distinguish yourself from the pack. Choosing a knit tie or pocket square for your blazer pocket will make you look very dapper in seconds.
You could also consider a more casual wrist watch paired with a more formal outfit, or try pairing a dress watch with a more casual outfit in order to add a touch of elegance to the outfit.
Cuff links are also a good way to enhance your outfit, just like tie bars.
Wrist bands are a bit too casual. When in doubt, skip them.
Sometimes you see grown men wearing backpacks with their business casual outfits. That’s a faux pas and it makes you look like a little school boy. Instead, go with a leather bag in brown or black that works for you. Whether it’s classic, functional or sleek, clean and modern you can find hundreds of leather bags in various price ranges.
The business casual dress and the service industry
If you happen to work in the service industry, in sales, trade positions or a job where you interact with the public, you should adapt the business casual standard.
If you are just at the office and you don’t have customer contact, your employer will most likely have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to the business casual dress code.
It’s likely that wearing a jacket is optional. So if you don’t want to go with just a dress shirt and a blazer would be too much, consider wearing a vest or a cardigan instead.
The button-down collar shirt is another classic shirt that is acceptable for business casual wear. Business casual does not mean wearing T-shirts, casual sweaters without a collared shirt underneath, hoodies, pullovers or any other style of shirt for that matter.
Neckties and bow ties are completely optional, yet they look great with vests, jackets and cardigans.
While dress pants are perfectly okay to wear, chinos, khakis and corduroys are your number one choice, really. Dark colours, such as navy and grey stain less easily although lighter colours are preferable for the warmer months of the year.
Don’t wear denim as that quickly may be considered too informal.
Pants such as jeans, athletic wear, sweatpants, draw-string pants, shorts and cargo pants should not be worn, nor should any pant with a camouflage print or large visible logo.
Sweaters & Accessories
If you decide not to wear a jacket, sweaters and knit vests, or cardigans become your best friends. Not only will they keep you warm, but they also look stylish all while adding that casual note to your outfit. Accessorise your outfit as you please, but try not to set too many accents, otherwise people don’t know where to look.
Shoes and boots
Skip sneakers and tennis shoes, but instead you can choose from a wide range of classic shoes in various materials such as leather, suede and fabric.
Leather bags are best but if you want a canvas-leather or all canvas bag may work as well. You can be more daring with your color choice and go with green, yellow, blue or red if you want.
The business casual dress code in young startups
Startups are generally much more casual compared to traditional jobs. They will likely also not have a company dress code, but the hierarchies are typically low and often people can wear whatever they want, especially in a tech related environment.
In most workplaces in the startup section, a jacket is probably too overdressed. Is your startup that place? You’ll figure it out pretty soon. At the same time, startups often have a very accepting culture so if you enjoy dressing up, wearing a jacket the way you like it is a good thing.
Shirts, Sweaters & Neckwear
While most startups would consider a T-shirt to be just fine, a nice trim cut polo shirt looks much smarter. Sweaters are perfectly acceptable too, and neckwear is definitely not the norm, but again, if you like it, go for it.
Pants & Shorts
While it’s totally fine to wear denim at most startups, and you can even find people wearing cargo shorts, you’re probably better off wearing lightweight summer slacks such as seersucker, because no matter what you do in life, people will at least subconsciously judge you based on what you look like. Being perceived as being well put together, will never hurt you but being a slop can.
Consider wearing a sport coat with jeans for a smart casual look.
Shoes & Boots
A nice pair of boots or shoes will always make you look more dapper compared to wearing sneakers. Instead of just going with brown, you can be more playful and wear stone, red, green or blue suede loafers. Of course, sneakers or stylish canvas shoes can be acceptable too, and even though some coworker may wear tennis shoes, you will look better without them.
The DO’s for the business casual dress code
If you are unsure of whether business casual is allowed in your workplace or not, it is best to err on the side of caution and to be overdressed rather than underdressed. Wear a suit and necktie at least on the first day. Then you can see how people dress around you and adapt. If you are still unsure about what is appropriate, ask your coworker or superior.
The DONT’s for the business casual dress code
Even for the most casual workplaces, there are times where business casual simply isn’t appropriate. Here are a few of the times you will want to wear a more conservative outfit such as a business suit.
- When you have an important meeting with clients or customers outside your normal range of duties.
- When you have a meeting with a manager or executive in the organisation.
- When you will be attending a board or committee meeting.
- During work related events, conferences, and symposiums.
- When representing your company in the media or speaking at an event.
- When interviewing for a position or negotiating a raise with your employer.
- When you work for a firm with a policy that does not permit the regular wearing of business casual attire.
- Don’t wear business casual to a job interview, ever.
The business casual dress code for gents is not an easy one to master because it means different things at different events. Using the hints that we provide in this guide, you at least determine what ballpark your office or company is in and adjust your outfits accordingly.
If you would wear it to watch television or to a casual barbecue, don’t wear it to work. If you’re unsure whether it’s appropriate, chances are it’s not and you should always dress up a notch because it is always best to be slightly overdressed than slightly underdressed.