You’ve just landed a new job or a company has invited you in for an interview. You are told the dress code is business casual. Great, now you are left with a handful of questions like: “Do I need to wear a tie for business casual?” or “Is my skirt too short for an interview?”
As a matter of fact, many people have questions about the business casual dress code. As it turns out, depending on your industry, company, and even city, business casual means different things. Business casual at a tech startup looks very different than a financial institution.
It is important to understand the nuances of the business casual dress code. Learn what is business casual for men and what is business casual for women. Get advice on how to dress for a business casual interview and tips on what not to wear. If you’re still not sure if your outfit is appropriate, it is better to dress more formally than more casually.
Business Casual for Men
Following a business casual dress code should not be too difficult for men. Ultimately, the appropriate business casual attire for men is a long-sleeve button down shirt with dress slacks and dark dress shoes. Make sure to match your socks, shoes, and belt with your outfit. Ties are generally not required for business casual dress except in certain industries such as finance.
Here are business casual guidelines for men:
- Pants: Cotton, khaki, and wool slacks are all acceptable. Keep pants neatly pressed. Do not wear jeans.
- Shirts: Long sleeve button down shirts are the standard. Keep patterns to a minimum to be on the safe side. Keep shirts neatly pressed.
- Sweaters: Sweaters are a great choice to stay warm and add personality to your wardrobe. Sports coats are generally considered business professional, but can be used to make a business casual outfit more formal.
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- Shoes: Always wear dress shoes, typically black or brown leather.
- Belt: Always wear a belt that matches your outfit, typically black or brown leather.
- Socks: Unique dress socks have become a fad that many companies welcome, but be sure to check with your company before wearing socks printed with flamingos. Never wear athletic socks or ankle socks.
- Accessories and ties: A tie is not required for business casual, but is a good add for important meetings and events. Have fun with your tie selection, but don’t be too flashy. Keep accessories to a minimum. A nice watch is a fine addition.
Business Casual for Women
A skirt or dress slacks paired with a blouse or sweater is an appropriate business casual outfit for women. Closed toed shoes are the general rule, but some offices may allow nice shoes which expose the toes. Sandals or flip-flops are never okay. Both hosiery and jackets are optional when dressing business casual.
Here are business casual guidelines for women:
- Bottoms: Conservative length skirts and dress slacks such as khaki or cotton
- Tops: Sweaters, blouses, and twinsets are all common business casual tops for women. Women will often find jackets that blend well into a business casual setting.
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- Accessories: Keep it simple. Noisy and flashy jewelry can be distracting. Simple earrings, necklaces, and watches are all appropriate.
- Makeup: Again, keep it simple, soft, and natural. Match your makeup to your skin tone. Your goal is to look elegant, not to stand out.
What Not to Wear
Now that you know the guidelines for business casual attire, its good to review what is not acceptable. First off, never wear wrinkled clothing. Keep your pants, skirts, and tops neatly pressed. Also, t-shirts, sneakers, torn jeans, and athletic wear are all off limits. These items are never included in business casual dress codes. When considering business casual clothing, remember “business” first and “casual” second. Aim to have well fitting, matching, and clean clothes.
For men in some industries or at certain companies, beards are not suggested. However, most of the time, a well groomed beard is perfectly acceptable. For women, we already mentioned keeping makeup to a minimum and natural. Additionally, you will want to avoid clothes that are too tight or low cut.
More Tips for Business Casual Attire
- Just Ask: Being in a new position or new industry might have you worried about dressing to the correct standard. Always start by dressing more formally and then checking with a colleague or HR to get a better understanding of your company’s policy.
- Business casual office vs interviews and events: Dressing appropriately in the office is one thing, but you’ll often want to spruce up your attire for interviews, meetings, or events. For interviews, the safe bet is to dress business formal regardless of company policy. This means a suit for men and similar attire for women. In your day to day, you might find it helpful to keep a casual sports coat nearby to upgrade your business casual outfit as you head to a business meeting or event.
- Dress consistently: Your outfit should always be acceptable for an unexpected meeting with a boss or client. Dressing consistently Monday - Friday helps you maintain an image of credibility and trust with other employees.
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