So, you’ve finally landed that dream job and now you can take pride in your accomplishments and focus on your goals. But what will be your office attire? You’ll soon find out that learning to ‘speak’ the business casual dress code will benefit you greatly.
A few decades ago, the norm was to carry a briefcase and rock a three-piece suit for a regular Thursday meeting. And while change is the one constant in life, the rules of dressing for the office are no exception. Who said that you need to be all stiff at work?
Since business casual style has been reigning, its principles have time and again been broken or misunderstood. We decided that it was time we cleared that up. In this extensive guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about mastering business casual style and conquering your next client meeting!
If you get lost in translation and don’t have any idea of what to wear in a business casual office, this is the ultimate men’s business casual dress code guide you need.
First, how did business casual style come about?
What is Business Casual Style?
The history of business casual attire for men originated from the emblematic period of chic yet relaxed allure of the 1960s. The Hawaiian ‘Casual Friday’ was the catalyst that shifted the entire business paradigm from its core. Chasing the goal of increasing their sales for the holiday iconic Hawaiian shirt, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild encouraged employees to feel freer at work and get rid of any constraining clothing norms, at least for the last working day of the week. Mahalo for that, Hawaii!
And then the momentum caught on fire. The trend was carried by the 1990s tech aficionados who, in their morning haste, were flaunting chinos, V-neck sweaters or shirt and suit jackets, paired with classic vintage white sneakers. For the 90s decade, the business casual way of dressing up for work – which at first was not well received by the general mass of employers who deemed the trend as degrading for the workplace’s seriousness, had gained an impressive number of adepts. As a consequence, big fashion houses, such as Ralph Lauren – the epitome of the suburban opulent bourgeois class, adapted their working attire proposals.
Even though nowadays, business casual clothing is compliant with HR rules, it was Levi’s that sent a brochure to no less than 25,000 HR departments, to offer guidance on the business casual dress code. Soon it all came down to the butterfly effect and every corporate American man was leaving behind the three-piece suit and Oxford shoes for a more laid-back look consisting of turtlenecks, colorful suits jackets and Chelsea boots.
A note: Be sure to read all the way to the end of the article for the ultimate business casual capsule collection, including all the pieces we recommend to have in your closet.
8 Business Casual Guidelines
In layman’s terms, business casual means serious enough to be able to go into a client meeting, but not as serious as to sell your entire company on FOREX. Basically, no suit and tie and definitely stay away from flip-flops and shorts.
Here are some of the major guidelines you should bear in mind when going shopping for a business casual wardrobe in 2023:
1. No denim
Except for some ultra classic dark-colored pair of jeans, which we’ll talk about later on. For the most part, any other jeans should not be part of your business casual dress, even though in the 20th century it was the chosen uniform for the working class.
2. No hoodies
Unless you’re giving an audition for Snoop Dog and that has become your office – in which case, kudos to you and send us tickets, please – hoodies are viewed as a leisure clothing item, destined for relaxed environments.
3. Don’t expose your toes at work
Stay away from sandals or slippers, no matter which influencer convinced you it was the next cool thing to buy. There is a reason why we use these accessories at the pool or during holidays.
4. No over-the-top prints
It is fine, even encouraged in the land of business casual working days, to add a dash of edginess to your office ensemble, with a micro-patterned or textured jacket for example. However, mixing bold colors with floral prints or crazy logos will turn everything into business mayhem.
5. Don’t mistake ‘business casual’ with ‘smart casual’
Smart casual clothing is usually made for a more relaxed setting than a conference room, so even denim or shorts can be justified options. Unlike the smart casual approach, the modern business casual office male attire guidelines are stricter in terms of mixing and matching items, no matter how trendy you might think you look.
6. Do wear socks
If there is one rule you should undoubtedly remember after reading our comprehensive guide on dressing up business casually for work is that no skin should show in between your pants and shoes.
There is no trace of elegance when you leave an exposed ankle in a business setting. Steer clear from themed or too colorful socks and opt for black, navy, gray or even beige tones.
7. Do take care of your hair and beard
» Related: Grooming Tips for Healthy & Stylish Men
This general rule of thumb is applicable independent of the environment; with this being even more paramount in your office circle. Carefully grooming your beard and getting a fresh haircut is an essential habit every gentleman should acquire.
8. Do keep a tie within reach at your office
The business casual code doesn’t necessarily impose the rule of adding a tie to your office look. However, you never know when the manager might inform you of an impromptu meeting with the partners. You can have 2 or 3 ties in pastel tones, one navy or striped and one burnt tangerine or red, depending on the season, color and pattern of the shirt.
10 Refined Business Casual Pieces You Should Own
1. Sport Coat
Undoubtedly one of the pillars of any business casual male wardrobe and less formal than a standard business suit, the sport jacket or sport coat ensures comfortability and finesse, all while looking effortless. In a business environment, rocking a sport coat might seem like a bold move, but with the right garments and accessories, it will in fact complement your aesthetic.
While their 19th-century purpose was to be worn during fishing or hunting escapades, the sport jackets have gained their recognition in a more formal environment. Easily adaptable from winter to spring, a sport jacket is made from linen and tweed.
Opt for a navy or camel sport jacket and pair it with non-matching trousers (but stay away from bold colors), a well-tailored shirt and dress shoes. You might also want to add a tie if you are a noob at this game and still uncomfortable. The sport jacket wins extra points for being a transitional item, since it can easily be dressed down with light-washed jeans and sport shoes for a night at the movies or a casual dinner with friends.
2. The Oxford Shirt
While men tend to purchase business shirts or casual shirts, the Oxford shirt falls in none of these categories, so it is often forgotten, even though it adds dimension and benefits to a business casual look. The striking difference between a classic business shirt and an Oxford shirt is the fabric. Made from Oxford-specific woven fabric, these shirts are thicker and less silky than regular business shirts.
With less formal fabrics, presenting less sheen and heavier weave, an Oxford shirt is characterized by its button-down collar pointed at sharper angles, rather than the business shirt which is tailored with a spread collar.
Due to their patterns and stripes, the Oxford cloth button-down (a.k.a. OCBD) shirt is advised to be styled with chinos or black classic jeans and brogues, for a professional, yet casual outfit. Highly versatile and fashionable to a certain extent, a tucked-in Oxford shirt can also be worn with suit jackets, but refrain from flaunting it to a black-tie event.
Let’s set the record straight, shall we? – chinos are not khakis. The fact of the matter is that chinos were indeed popular amongst American troops, however they have become a centerpiece in any business casual capsule collection because of their unquestionable versatility, relaxed straight fit and lighter fabric, such as cotton and linen.
Even though ‘business casual’ may be differently understood between workplaces, chinos are generally perceived as a staple trouser option for a regular 9-to-5 job. Effortlessly combining business and casual, chinos come in a variety of colors, ranging from neutral and Earthy tones to navy and concrete gray hues, there is a myriad of styling options to choose from.
For a go-to ensemble during hasty mornings, rather than skinny fit chinos choose slim fit chinos, which display back pockets, center crease (which reminds you of more formal pants) and flat seams. As far as the upper part of the outfit goes, remember to tuck in your shirt, add a suit jacket or a sport coat and choose classic accessories, for instance a narrow leather belt. Oxfords, brogues and loafers are sure to check all of the requirements for your office rules.
Yes, Oxfords are the standard when it comes down to business lingo, but are brogues such a tasteless alternative for the corporate world? Absolutely not! In fact, broguing is the decorative technique shoemakers use to add punctures into the leather of oxfords or derby shoes.
Arguably the perfect all-around functional business casual shoes, brogues lend you adaptability. Dress them up with a business shirt and wool pants or add a slight touch of casualness to your look with a pair of chinos and an Oxford shirt, and you will have everyone in your office ask you for advice on how to stay compliant with HR policies as fashionably un-troublesome as you did.
Go for black, whiskey or dark caramel tones and avoid burgundy, olive or dark green shades, and we recommend you choose semi-brogues instead of full-brogues (a.k.a. the wingtip), just to make sure you are fully fluent in business casual styling.
5. Polo Shirt
The posher reinterpretation of the polo t-shirt has gained its front and center position in the limelight of business casual meetings. The polo shirt might resonate with you more on the casual side, however, if properly styled, a business casual polo shirt is the ultimate painless option for a certain relaxed and refined corporate attire.
Polo shirts differ from eponymous t-shirts because of their long sleeves which perfectly fit an office décor. One key rule of thumb to bear in mind when sporting a polo shirt is to always keep it tucked in and make sure to only combine one or max two other business casual items. To make your business casual polo shirt look more refined, look for lush fabrics, such as merino wool, cashmere or organic cotton.
Thus, a full-blown business casual look built around the polo shirt can consist in pairing it with wool pants or contrasting chinos, and even dark-colored jeans if your work environment falls more under the casual hemisphere. Polo shirts are also perfect for layering during the autumn and winter season, so you can style them under a wool sweater and a trench coat.
Levi’s has played a significant role in transitioning your work week from matching suit jackets and pants to more relaxed business casual office outfits, so it feels fit that those jeans should be pretty high up on our list of business casual corporate accepted looks.
The only downside of wearing jeans to your board meeting is that it can all go south really quickly. If you don’t want your boss to throw peculiar looks regarding your denim selection, the safe bet would be to choose a black or dark navy colored pair of jeans.
The structure of the jeans plays a key role as well in selecting the best pair of jeans for your business casual 9-to-5 look. A straight cut is welcomed, whilst ripped jeans, light-washed, skinny jeans or relaxed jeans are a strong no-go. Exceptionally versatile, the business casual jeans can be paired with polo shirts, V-neck or crew neck sweaters, sport or suit jackets and even accessorized with the right pocket square.
7. The Right Boots
For the shoe department, we have already established that loafers, Oxfords, Brogues and Derbies are well-rounded choices for a business casual approach to office gear. But what do you choose in terms of winter business casual men’s footwear?
A pair of business casual ankle leather Chelsea boots will save a lot of hassle during the cold month of winter. To stay in the safe lane, look for Chelsea boots that don’t have accents such as buckles and pick ones in neutral colors, such as black or dark brown.
Alternatively, opt for the classic chukka boot or a refined pair of wingtip dress boots that are equally as sharp and stylish, the perfect accompaniment to business casual getups.
A high-quality pair of business casual Chelsea boots, dress boots or chukkas will last you a fair number of years and you can play around with styling them with wool trousers and jeans, as well as wearing them with a camel coat or with a sport jacket.
8. Structured or Unstructured Knitted Blazer
Structure or unstructured and silhouette are essential when putting together a business casual attire fit for a stylish gentleman, hence a well-tailored knitted shawl collar cardigan or knitted jacket are strong options to be considered.
To keep your look in the business casual register, wear the navy blazer over an Oxford shirt and mix it with either dark-colored jeans and Chelsea boots. For a polished choice, opt for luxurious weaves and fabrics, such as alpaca wool or the hybrid cotton-silk and keep the pattern on the low.
However, be aware of the fact that this business casual outfit proposal will most likely be accepted in more relaxed business environments, such as tech start-ups or marketing companies, rather than bank institutions or legal practice areas.
9. Get That Bag
For most business casual dress codes in 2023, a soft leather laptop bag or briefcase should work perfectly fine and ensure you the right amount of elegance without being too over the top.
However, if you plan on being more comfortable and deeply relying on utility, a backpack might not match every HR expectation, whether it would be made of leather or not.
What transforms any office tote bag or men’s bag into a lavish accessory is the small details that are most often disregarded, such as detachable shoulder straps, high-end zippers, clips, monogrammed lining and so forth.
10. Watch It!
Even though cocktail event watches are to be avoided, for a business casual office meeting, a watch is a symbol of status and showcases the value of your time and others’, so always be smart when choosing your accessories. A business casual men’s watch should be both elegant enough to complement the environment you work in, but shouldn’t be too flashy or too sporty, otherwise, it would ruin your entire business look.
The first tip when buying a business casual watch is to be careful with the bracelet. A leather bracelet is fine, like the Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer. However, make sure that it does not have a sheen to it, or else it would be considered an evening watch. A metallic bracelet for your watch checks the right amount of casualness without spoiling the seriousness needed in an office.
Recently, sport bracelets have gained solid ground, however, there are mixed opinions on them. Some perceive them as too sporty even for jeans and a suit jacket, while others perceive that combining them with a metallic strap might be a solution for wearing your sport bracelet stylishly to the office.
The Good Business Casual List
Here are 4 hallmarks of good business casual style:
1. A Tailored Blazer And Chinos
Creating angles is paramount to achieving a proper business casual look, and you can check exactly that with a well-tailored blazer. By pairing the fitted suit jacket with a pair of chinos, you will also ensure the presence of the casualness element, which is essential for a men’s business casual look.
The secret here is to keep in mind that the fabric of the blazer should be following one of the pants. You shouldn’t mix a wool blazer with cotton chinos, otherwise, the attire will be regarded as poorly styled or too casual. Keep the colors in a neutral palette, black or navy and adjust the accessories accordingly.
2. Build On Monochrome
Monochromatic looks can appear a bit boring, however, there is a mastery in leveling up to a perfect 10 when it comes to beige and grays. Neutral colors offer a sense of stability and poise and, as you might suspect, this is essential for a businessman.
You want to appear steady, focused and ready to tackle anything that comes your way. Monochromatic attires work wonders seasonally, with hues varying from shell white, light olive, camel, dark navy and onyx black.
For instance, a beige sweater over a white Oxford shirt and black jeans is a perfect choice for lazy mornings. If you want a more sophisticated proposal, try mixing a light gray turtleneck with a concrete gray structured jacket and trousers, paired with brogues and a leather briefcase.
3. The Single-Breasted Overcoat
Unlike the double-breasted overcoat, the single-breasted business casual overcoat will walk the walk to the boarding room and effortlessly transition to a relaxed gathering for 5 o’clock cocktails. The front buttoned closure vouchers for winter protection while ensuring a refined look, without looking like you have just descended from a glacier.
A business casual overcoat will look wonderfully layered over a suit or a V-neck sweater, wool trousers and suede boots. If you want to score extra points for the business part of your look, opt for a patterned silk lining that will also ensure optimal heating. Different lengths of coats add to the level of elegance, so choose a medium-length single-breasted overcoat, that stops just above the knee, for the ultimate business casual attire.
4. Minimalistic Approach
You don’t need to go all out in a matching suit jacket and pants, pocket square and tie to evolve to a business casual style level. Opt for a crisp all-black Oxford shirt, wool chinos, a well-tailored trench coat and a pair of Chelsea boots and conquer that office floor!
Less is more when striving for elegance, so in the process of also acquiring a relaxing attribute to your outfit, a minimalistic or Scandinavian-inspired fashion sense will do the job. Keep the accessories on the low as well, with a classic leather belt and a metallic watch.
On The Naughty Business Casual List
These are 4 areas that are not business casual appropriate and to be avoided.
1. Linen & Loafers
Not necessarily banned from the office lobby, but a bit risky, linen suits can be a hit or miss for regular business casual fashionable days. The natural aspect of the wrinkled natural fabric might give away the impression of an unpolished look.
Even though the light fabric is a life-saver for torrid summer days at the office, pairing a linen suit with loafers can look a bit too relaxed, and more appropriate for an elegant stroll on the pier. However, if you are ready to take on this bet, make sure to not combine the office linen suit with a linen shirt because it would add too much casualness to the ensemble.
2. Fancy Faux-Pas
Anything from double-breasted suits, three-piece suits, silky shirts and lacquer shoes are more than one step away from a business casual office havoc. When you are combining more than one or two strictly business items, there is no room left for a well-rounded business casual ensemble.
The men’s business casual code does more than add layers of leisure to your day. It is also a good bang for your buck, so there is no need to invest in a fancy office suit to achieve a cultivated corporate look. You can fashionably get away with a darted back button ups, a well-crafted blazer and a slightly stretched pair of chinos, paired with brogues or strap-monk boots, depending on the season.
3. Lumpy Sweaters
However, sturdy and lumpy sweaters are for slopes and bonfire s’mores. Avoid chunky overalls, hoodies (of course), or any cardigan that would give the impression of you camping outside the corporate building. Patches should also be worn in moderation since they are the center detail of the casual scene, rather than an office must-have accessory.
Instead, a shawl-collar cardigan is king during winter office days. Dusty white shades, ivory or navy are some of the obvious color options for a business casual sweater. Easily styled with a smart button-up Oxford shirt, chinos – and even jeans -, the reliable office cardigan will become a fan favorite.
4. Sandals And Suits
Come desert, scorching air or drought, you ought to stay a mile away from sandals. There is no brighter styling red flag in a conference room than exposed feet. Even the ankle should be covered with monochromatic socks, so imagine the glares you will be receiving if you flaunt your newly purchased sandals. Heads will roll down the corridor.
Even though it can be terrible to suffer the heat of the moment with your feet caught in a hot trap, never combine flip-flops with anything remotely close to office attire. Instead, opt for a high-quality pair of leather dress shoes, monk straps, brogues or even suede loafers. Boat shoes are also on the fence, so maybe refrain until Monaco days to flaunt those as well.
You Ask, We Answer
1. Can I Wear Sneakers To The Office?
Most probably no, possibly yes. The majority of sneakers display a sporty look to them, considering the synthetic fabrics, plastic, rubber and nets used to manufacture them. At the mercy of HR Gods, if your company allows for business casual sneakers, they should be dress sneakers, in plain colors with no contrasting tones. Think, Common Projects or Koio for a more affordable alternative.
Suede or leather sneakers, with little to no perforations, are the inspired choice in a business casual environment. Low-top sneakers are more appropriate than high-top sneakers, while, to the detriment of a slip-on sneaker, the lace-up sneaker is suitable for a tailored blazer and jeans.
2. Is A Pocket Square Appropriate For Business Casual Meetings?
Not only is a pocket square appropriate for business casual attire, but you can also wear a neutral-colored pocket square to an interview. A pocket square will make you stand out from the office crowd in a fashionable way and you can even make it your signature. So, the secret here is to choose a pocket square that is following your business casual ensemble.
For a structured suit with an Oxford shirt and jeans, opt for a pattern-free pocket square. For the color palette, select the secondary shade of your shirt or jacket and will have a well-tied ensemble on your hands. Also, remember that folding is essential to keep your look in the business casual register. A two-point folded or flat folded (presidential) square pocket is perfect for elegant gatherings, while the puff fold is more appropriate for business casual events.
3. Can I Wear A Polo Shirt To An Interview?
Have you ever wondered if polo shirts are unprofessional for an interview? Emotions can surge fairly high on an interview day, so you should ace your interview attire and take this off your mind.
Unless you apply for a spot in finance, law or a high-ranking position in general, then a polo shirt can save you a lot of trouble, then you can nail your ‘interview uniform’ with a neutral-colored polo shirt, a pair of classic dark colored chinos, a suit jacket and brogues.
However, the one main tip is to always tuck in your polo shirt to add an extra layer of seriousness. And do wear socks with your chinos! And don’t forget a belt.
“So, how can I create my own business casual capsule collection for 2023?”
If you are to leave this comprehensive guide on how to dress business casual for the office in 2023 with an essential takeaway, this is the ultimate business casual capsule collection:
- 3 Oxford shirts – 1 white, 1 blue and 1 striped;
- One neutral-colored polo shirt;
- 1 v-neck sweater;
- 1 crewneck sweater;
- 1 shawl cardigan – avoid any fluff or thematic pattern;
- 1 light gray sport coat;
- 1 structured navy suit jacket;
- 1 turtleneck;
- 1 mockneck;
- 3 pairs of slim or straight chinos – one tan, one light gray and one dark navy;
- 2 pairs of tapered jeans – one dark blue and one black or both navy blue;
- 1 pair of brown or olive suede loafers;
- 1 pair of walnut/tan or black leather brogues;
- 1 pair of suede boots, 1 pair leather – Chelseas and Chukkas;
- 2 leather belts – one black and one brown;
- 1 watch for the office;
- 1 white pocket square – presidential fold;
- 1 striped or solid navy tie;
- 3 pairs of neutral-colored socks – navy, beige and black.
- 3 pairs of no-show socks – tan, white, black or navy
Let us know if you feel that there should be added pieces to the capsule collection and if you already own a majority of these business casual items, congrats! You are one step closer to achieving the perfect business casual style for 2023!
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