Business casual is one of the common dress codes that commonly throws people into disarray over what to wear, especially now considering work from home is the new normal for many. The problem is that it is quite an ambiguous term and what is appropriate in certain places of work may not be in others.
Whilst today for many professionals and corporate bods, tailored suits and formal clothing remain the normal uniform, there are plenty of industries where a more relaxed level of attire is acceptable and a common code of “business casual” applies. And then there’s ‘dress down Friday’s’ and other “fun” days where even those in the smartest of offices are encouraged to wear something a little less reserved.
So what does business casual mean in simple terms?
Simply put, “business casual” means that suits and ties don’t necessarily need to be worn. The inclusion of the word “business” indicates that a certain level of formality should still apply to your choice of clothing and this is something that you should always keep in mind.
Here are some simple rules that you can follow, to help you to maintain an appropriate air of professionalism, whilst rocking the business casual code whether in your home office or the workplace.
Jeans can be worn…. in the right places.
The first question that is on most men’s lips – “Can I wear jeans?” The answer is yes. And no. Whether or not you can wear jeans depends completely upon where you work and the organisation’s attitude to just how casual “business casual” may be. If your colleagues are wearing jeans, then go for it. If they’re not, then don’t! Where the rules lie with jeans comes down to their fit and finish. Opt for a smart style, not too tight and definitely not ripped. If jeans aren’t acceptable, then opt for a chino or flat front trouser. The general rule of thumb is to keep to traditional colours such as black, grey, navy or beige – it’s probably best to save the salmon ones for the weekend.
Collared shirts are always a good idea.
When it comes to your top-half and meeting the business casual criteria, it is always a good idea to ensure that the shirt you are wearing has a collar. It doesn't matter if you're wearing a polo shirt or a formal shirt, so long as it has a collar. T-shirts, even under a blazer are too informal and should be saved for your days off. Try a shirt with button down collar and feel free to unbutton the top one or two buttons but don’t go any lower - you don't want to show too much skin.
Wear your best knitwear.
Thanks to the good old British climate, knitwear is, for at least two-thirds of the year, a wardrobe staple. Another benefit of the business casual code is that it is more than acceptable to wear a luxurious sweater or sleeveless pullover over your shirt, unlike in many formal scenarios where your warmth comes down to the hidden vest your mother trained you so well to wear! Avoid chunky knits and sweatshirts though – these are too casual for the office. Invest in quality merino wool and fine cashmere knits – crew necks, cardigans or v necks are all appropriate.
Don’t be afraid to show your personality.
One of the big plus points of the business casual dress code is that rather than conforming to the everyday corporate style, you can dress in a way that better reflects your own personality. Wearing a pale coloured cotton shirt or one with a subtle print is definitely acceptable or why not wear a real stand out jacket? Perhaps one in a pattered fabric or with coloured button holes or elbow patches? If you prefer to keep your actual clothing more muted, business casual is also the perfect outlet for you to show off your accessories. Interesting cufflinks or coloured shoes and cashmere scarves are great ways to inject a bit of personality into you’re professional look. Just don’t go overboard - make sure you stick to including one interesting feature in your outfit to impress your colleagues with.
Keep a tie on your desk – just in case!
Whilst it’s generally accepted that a tie isn’t required for business casual wear, it is a good idea to keep a spare in the office – just in case a client arranges a last minute meeting.
Shoes should always be closed.
As far as shoes are concerned; so long as you wear closed toe shoes to work you will be fine. Depending on where you work trainers may be acceptable but, if not a loafer, monk strap or driving shoe or even a chukka or Chelsea boot will keep you in good standing.
Make sure your clothing is well pressed.
No matter what you wear, the key to looking smart is to ensure your clothes are clean and well pressed. Even a three piece suit can look scruffy if it is creased and crumpled. As a rule of thumb, leave any trousers with holes in them or frayed bottoms at home with the sweatpants where they belong.
Think fitted, not tight.
No matter how good you think something may look on you, you need to maintain a level of professionalism at work. Ensure clothes fit and flatter. Don’t wear anything too tight or too low cut on the chest - you don’t want to be the source of office gossip for the next week!
Take note of what your more senior colleagues are wearing.
Don’t worry - this doesn’t mean copying their outfit choices and becoming their clone. In-fact turning up in exactly the same outfit that a colleague had on the week before will do you no favours at all! Simply take note of their level of formality and make your choices from there. If your boss is wearing jeans then that should be ok but if not, then you shouldn’t either.
Remember: it isn’t the weekend.
Many people believe that a dress down day or business casual code gives them the excuse to dress as they would on a weekend. It doesn’t and you shouldn’t. You are still at work remember. Save t-shirts, tracksuits, shorts and flip-flops for your days off – you still need to make a good impression, even on a Zoom call.