If you're about to join a new company that follows a business casual attire policy, you might need help on what to wear that makes you look professional and will help you adjust to the new work environment. It's useful to know what clothes and items are classified as business casual so you can shop for them. In this article, we guide you on business casual dressing so you can create a good impression with professional and presentable outfits.
What is business casual?
Business casual is clothing that is more informal compared to conventional corporate wear, yet it is professional, neat and suitable for office environments. For instance, business casual does permit a dress shirt and slacks instead of the traditional jacket and tie. This type of attire can be worn for formal interviews, even if you're not aware of the company dress code. Each organisation has its own definition of business casual clothing, so it is important to observe and learn about the dress code of your organisation and then wear appropriate attire.
Types of business casual dressing
The main reason why companies adopt business casual dressing is to make their work environment relaxed and comfortable while still maintaining a professional look. Business casual is a common practise even in enterprises where clients visit the offices. Staff members in public-facing jobs like customer service and sales also wear business casual attire:
- Business casual for ladies
- Business casual for gents
- Gender-neutral choices
- Prohibited items
Business casual for ladies
For women, business casual includes dresses like skirts, khaki pants or slacks combined with a polo shirt, sweater or blouse. Mid-length business dresses are also acceptable. Some companies allow cropped pants. Women should wear sleeveless blouses with a cardigan, jacket or blazer. During winter, you can wear tights or hosiery for extra warmth. For Indian women, the salwar-kameez is a perennial favourite that also passes as business casual.
Appropriate footwear includes heeled or flat boots, oxfords and loafers. Some firms permit open-toe shoes. Women can enhance their outfit with accessories like simple jewellery, belts and scarves.
Business casual for gents
Men can look professional in pressed slacks, khakis, business casual pants with polo shirts, sweaters or button-down long-sleeve shirts. You can go for closed-toe professional-looking shoes like brogues, oxfords and loafers with dark socks. Your belt should ideally match your shoes. Some professionals wear a tie with their dress shirt, but a jacket is not a must in business casual attire.
Gender-neutral business casual clothing includes khaki, slacks and non-denim trousers. Pair them with polo shirts, Henleys, button-down shirts and sweaters. For shoes, go for dress sneakers, loafers or boots.
Avoid the following items to stay on the right side of office policy:
- Flip-flop sandals
- Too short or tight clothing
- Wrinkled or stained clothing
- Clothes with holes, like distressed jeans
- Flashy patterns
- Bright colours like neons
- Too loose or oversized clothing
- Short skirts
- Clashing or mismatched colours
- Strapless shirts or tank tops
- Clothes with text or large logos
- Lycra or spandex
- Midriff-exposing clothing
- Low-cut or backless tops
Some firms also ban facial hair like unkempt sideburns, goatees, moustaches and beards, and brightly coloured or dramatic makeup for women.
Tips for selecting business casual clothing
Adhere to your organisation's official dress code. Employers define business casual in different ways and what's accepted in some offices will not be welcome in others. For instance, some firms permit polo tees, but others mandate that all staff members should wear clothing with full sleeves. A few enterprises require personnel to only wear dark shades while others permit bright colours and patterns.
In addition, for situations like representing your organisation at client meetings, networking events, trade shows and conferences, you might be required to wear formal business attire, and it should be part of your official clothes wardrobe. Read your firm's policy on dressing to ensure you don't violate rules.
Here are some other tips for dressing in business casual style:
- Be prepared for casual Fridays
- Learn from other employees
- Overdress for interviews
- Adhere to religious and medical needs
- Dress for the industry
- Choose the right items
Be prepared for casual Fridays
Some enterprises follow casual Fridays and permit staff to wear more casual clothing on the last day of the workweek. This means you can wear dark-coloured, well-tailored jeans, but will still need to stick to other rules regarding clothing length, footwear and shirts.
Learn from other employees
When you join a new job, dress formally to stay on the safe side for the first few days to observe other personnel's clothing. You can learn what they typically wear on workdays and model your clothing accordingly. For instance, wear a tie to start with and then decide whether to continue or not after watching others.
Overdress for interviews
For interviews, it's best to overdress with formal business clothing, like a suit. If the company follows a business casual code, you can ask the HR team if it's alright to wear business casual attire for any follow-up interviews.
Adhere to religious and medical needs
If you have medical or religious dressing requirements, convey your needs to the HR unit before you attend the interview. For instance, you may need to wear orthopaedic sneakers or religious garments, in which case inform the HR staff so that they document your dress code issue and will not penalise you for violating the prevailing code.
Dress for the industry
In a hot, tropical country like India, blazers and jackets can be avoided. In most companies, you can work with a crisp shirt and smart trousers. To be sure, the industry or the department typically dictates the dress code. Creative agencies and tech firms have easier-going environments and encourage business casual dressing. Financial institutions and banks have formal clothing codes, but they too are often asking their staff to forego the tie. Further, law firms are more conservative and require their employees to wear formal attire for important meetings and hearings.
Lawyers can lose the tie and instead wear a pocket square as a replacement. However, for hearings and meetings, it's better to stay formal. Creative guys can look good and feel comfortable with a white shirt, jeans and smart loafers.
Corporations, banks and law firms tend to have stiff dress codes. However, even here global banks have relaxed their dressing code for all geographies. Be sure to consult your HR team on whether it is permissible to wear jeans and sneakers to work. It is important to blend and be comfortable with the office environment by dressing appropriately.
Choose the right items
Here are a few items that can help you to wear striking business casual attire:
- Polished jeans: Avoid embellished or distressed jeans. Go for dark wash slim-cut jeans, pair them with a smart shirt and complete your attractive look with brown or black dress shoes. If your company forbids jeans, substitute them with solid chinos.
- Classic blazer: Though a blazer is mostly not needed for Indian weather conditions, you can use it to polish your t-shirt and jeans routine. Try navy or tan colours to look great. Avoid double-breasted blazers as they are too formal.
- Crisp shirt: Button-down shirts in any colour will look good. Neutrals offer a safe choice. Go for colours like lavenders and light pinks for summer and chocolate browns or olive greens for winter. Save the retro prints and bold florals for office parties and get-togethers.
- Tailored trousers: Formal pants with pinstripes or traditional checks are desirable. Startup companies typically have relaxed dress codes so you can opt for sweatshirts, hoodies, and sneakers. For other organisations, a tucked-in button-down or crew neck tee can work well.
- New sneakers: Learn about your company policy on sneakers. If the organisation allows them, make sure you are wearing clean, new sneakers. If the dress code is strict, be cautious and avoid wearing them.
- Clean loafers: If sneakers are forbidden in your office, slick loafers are a great replacement. Any good brand of luxe loafers will help to boost your business casual outfit.
- Fail-proof polo: Polo strikes the middle path between shirts and t-shirts because of their collar. Adorn one with pleated pants and a blazer to look great.
- Pleated pants: Pleated pants are always a professional choice, and they look slim yet roomy with cuffed and tapered hems. Couple them with an attractive tee to boost the informal aspect of your outfit.