Demystifying “Business Casual” Work Attire

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If you happen to work in a relaxed industry, then you most likely get to enjoy the perks of a “business casual” dress code. Lucky you! After all, this means you get to avoid the limiting world of suits, pumps, and pantyhose, and instead revel in work attire that is more colorful and much more comfortable.

While you are probably thrilled to dress in clothes that truly express your style and mood, you may still wonder if you’re really capturing the professional vibe you want to achieve. You’re not alone. Many of us aren’t quite sure what business casual really means—or how to achieve the perfect mix of ease and dressiness at work.

“Business casual” is really an umbrella term that covers many different dress codes. Depending on your work environment, this could mean anything from sleek pencil skirts and heels to tailored denim and ankle boots. Getting this look “right” can be a real challenge for many. The truth is, even when your office has a relaxed dress code, you still need to look your very best. If your clothing doesn’t fit properly, or you’re choosing colors that make you look washed out, or your makeup isn’t doing justice to your features and skin tone, something is going to look “off.” And fair or not, people will notice.

Simply put, doing great work isn’t always enough. Your work is the “steak,” and, obviously, it has to be high quality. Yet you also need the “sizzle”—those extra touches that make you look polished and professional. If not, your efforts might be diminished or go unnoticed altogether. Presentation counts.

Even though a business casual dress code can be tricky, you’ll be fine as long as you pay close attention to the details. Read on for six suggestions to take the complicated out of business casual.

Err on the side of classy. Don’t make the mistake of going too casual at work—no matter how relaxed the office dress policy. Remember that you’re still making an impression on your boss, colleagues, and clients. So make sure that your clothes are made of quality fabrics, that they fit you perfectly (have them tailored if they need it), and are age appropriate. Further, avoid wearing anything that is worn out, too revealing, tight, or ripped.

Sam Edelman flat


Build a solid foundation. Stock up on a few quality pieces in basic colors to ensure you have good, mixable options to get you through the workweek. Start with key pieces like skirts, t-shirts, and trousers in blacks, grays, browns, and navy blues. You can’t go wrong with these essentials, and after adding great shoes and accessories, you’ll have yourself an instant office-worthy outfit.

Elie Tahari blazer

Aim for quality, not quantity. Instead of searching the sales rack for lots of inexpensive pieces, opt for fewer, quality items instead. It’s actually a smarter investment to spend more on high-quality clothing than buying several cheaper garments that don’t hold up over time. And be sure to toss clothing and shoes the moment they become damaged (or have them repaired). Remember, your clothes say a lot about you, and you want the message to be a positive one.


Aquatalia bootie

Be a casual column of color. You cannot go wrong with column dressing. No matter what you are wearing, dressing in a column of uniform color makes you look pulled together and stylish. Not to mention that the column look stretches your wardrobe and makes you look taller and thinner. Once you’ve chosen your base color, choose a great jacket or cardigan in a separate accent shade. Top your look with a fun accessory like a great pair of earrings or a statement necklace.

Have fun with accessories. A business casual office is a great place to let your style shine through. And you can add plenty of flair to your outfit by accessorizing with color and print. Start with a solid foundation of black and add an animal-print scarf, a brightly colored pair of flats, or a colorful or chunky necklace. You’ll make a bold statement about who you are without skewing too casual.

Rockins scarf

Do dressy denim. If your office allows you to wear jeans, take advantage, but don’t abuse the privilege. You should never wear old, worn, baggy jeans to the office. However, jeans in a darker wash look dressier and more refined. For a sophisticated work look, pair a dark, tailored-fit or trouser jean with a fitted blazer and ballet flat.

AG jeans

Your ideas, skills, and unique brand of brilliance are what really matter to your employer, coworkers, and clients. But clothing counts too, and it sends a powerful message to everyone you meet. Think of your outfit as an extension of you and make sure your choices reflect the image you wish to convey. Going the extra mile to look your best pays off, because each day you’ll feel great, and it will show in your work performance. Remember the three Cs: Be classy, comfortable, and confident, and you can’t go wrong.


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