September 22, 2017

Business Casual: How to Define the Proper Office Attire


“Welcome to the confusing world of business casual,” declared Julie Bennett, a fashion writer, for the Chicago Tribune in 1995.

Until the 1960s, casual clothing was mainly reserved for the weekends at home. In an office, on the other hand, everyone was expected to wear a suit and a tie. It was that simple. In 1965, President of the Hawaii Fashion Guild Bill Foster decided to start a campaign to increase their profits, coming up with the idea of “Aloha Fridays.”

They started petitioning local businesses to allow their male employees to wear Hawaiian shirts on Fridays, which quickly became a trend that later would turn into “Casual Fridays.”

By the early 1990s, Levis started noticing that many of its customers in upper management began complaining about their employees being too casual at work.

They were wearing shorts and T-shirts and the sale of jeans was in decline. Levis decided to launch their own campaign for popularizing their khaki pants. Employers looked at it as a compromise between shorts and suits, employees agreed and business casual was officially born.

Levis decided to launch their own campaign for popularizing their khaki pants. Employers looked at it as a compromise between shorts and suits, employees agreed and business casual was officially born.

But the notion of business casual can still be quite complicated for employees. It’s not their fault – there just isn’t a clear or standardized definition of what business casual should be.

Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc. and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results” explains that at most companies, business casual dress code encourages employees to project a “professional, business-like image while enjoying the advantage of more casual and relaxed clothing.”

Price also says that the term depends on several factors like the industry of the business they work in, the number of employees, geography, climate and culture of the workforce.

And while formal business attire still rules in many industries such as banking and advising, employees in retail industries and offices tend to dress in business casual attire. When it comes to office attire, 56% of employees surveyed by Robert Half said that they prefer a more relaxed dress code.

However, four in ten employees admitted that they are sometimes unsure whether a piece of clothing is appropriate. Are you the same way? Confused a little bit about what business casual means? Here are a few tips you can use to find the appropriate attire for yourself.

business casual

Let the Company Culture Guide You

When interviewing for a position at a company, it’s important to dress professionally. That means putting on a more formal version of business attire, no matter what the dress code of the company is for its employees. But when you get the job, you should generally try to dress like other employees do.

In some cases, employees will dress up in pressed khakis and long-sleeved shirts. In other companies, business casual could mean wearing polo shirt and jeans, especially at tech startups or media companies.

The best advice is to avoid dressing like you’re going to be sitting at home until you understand the company standard. Choose a more conservative attire until you check with HR or other colleagues to see what exactly business casual means for that company.

Being observant and seeing what others are wearing over the course of a week should give you a good indication of what constitutes acceptable attire at that company.

Be Consistent

Even if your company has “Casual Fridays,” try not to show up unrecognizable on a Friday. If you choose professional and conservative attire during the work week, it’s acceptable to wear jeans on a Friday, for example. In that case, choose your best jeans and not the ones with stains or rips.

Keep in mind that your attire needs to be acceptable for meetings with management or clients, regardless of whether it’s Casual Friday or not.

Maintaining a consistent image can help you in establishing trust and credibility. So if you are meeting with clients for a business lunch, show respect for the people you are meeting with by choosing more conservative work clothes.

Always consider your calendar and dress more casually on days when you don’t have any important meetings or people to see.

Never Get Too Casual

Even if your company’s culture supports business casual, don’t forget the “business” part. Avoid wearing your old comfortable clothes and opt for clean and pressed clothes instead. Leave clothing with logos and potentially offensive graphics at home.

While business casual is supposed to help employees feel more comfortable the concept should never be abused. If you are taking “casual” to an extreme and coming into work in sweatpants – unless your company clearer states that this is alright – then you are abusing the concept.

By coming into work dressing too casually, you are sending a message to your higher-ups that you don’t respect their rules and that you are trying to take advantage of the leniency that they are affording you.

Best (Dressed) Practices

Still not sure what your business casual outfits should look like? Here are some best practices that you can’t go wrong with for starters.

You can use these types to create a business casual look acceptable for all offices and then slowly alter it and find your own personal business casual style as you get a feel for your company culture and what business casual means in your workplace.

business casual attire

Business Casual for Men

Blazers are essential for the business casual look.

Stick with dark colors, like navy blue for example.

Neckwear is optional but if you decide against it, make sure that your undershirt is never visible.

You can also tuck a dress shirt into a pair of charcoal or grey dress pants.

Consider a casual wrist watch just to add a touch of elegance and you’re good to go!

business casual

Business Casual for Women

Women have a lot of appropriate business casual options when it comes to their office attire.

Collared dresses, fashionable blazers and slim-leg trousers can always be paired with discreet jewelry and other accessories.

Kitten heels are always a good idea as they are similar to high heels but without the pain.