Have you been invited to a business function, networking event, or party and been told to dress “business casual?” If so, you may be wondering what that even means. And in this article, we’re going to give you a full breakdown so that you can show up to any event confident and well-dressed.
What is Business Casual?
The tricky part with business casual is that there’s no hard and fast definition. It’s kind of a fluid concept that’s up to the interpretation of those involved. However, in the most basic sense, it’s a dress code that’s not quite as formal as a traditional office wardrobe, but still neat enough to portray someone as an appropriate business professional.
If you’re thinking that sounds vague, then you’ve stumbled upon the problem. Because of the lack of a clear definition, it’s open for interpretation. This means each person has their own idea and expectation.
To be honest, it’s the word “casual” that throws most people off. It’s a word that can be confusing and misleading. It’s not casual in the sense of weekend attire.
Rather, it’s business casual – meaning you’re just barely taking the edge off traditional business attire. You’re relaxing the whole suit and tie look…but just a tad.
5 Business Casual Tips for Guys
Are you still just as confused as when you started? Don’t worry – here are a few specific examples.
- Avoid These Items
While the business casual dress code is certainly up for interpretation, there are several items that you should absolutely, positively never wear under any circumstances. This includes printed/graphic shirts, denim/jeans (light-colored, dark-colored, ripped, or any variety), sandals, boots, tennis shoes, t-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, or shorts. These might be casual clothing items, but they aren’t business casual.
- Ditch the Tie
The easiest way to achieve a business casual look is to dress up like you would if you were wearing professional attire. Put on a dress shirt, suit, dress shoes, etc. Do everything like you would if you were wearing a suit to a job interview, except don’t wear a tie.
There are other ways to dress business casual, but this is the easiest and safest way. Simply removing the tie takes you from business dress code to business casual dress code with very little thought.
- Blazers Are Always Good
Sometimes wearing a suit (sans tie) may still feel too professional. One way to take down just another notch is to wear a pair of khakis or slacks and pair it with a blazer. A blazer is still professional but comes across as slightly more relaxed and casual. Depending on the situation, it can be paired with a nice dress shirt or turtleneck.
- Wear a Tailored-Shirt
It’s technically possible to get away with not wearing a blazer or suit jacket in a business casual situation. However, it’s imperative that you wear a tailored shirt.
Business casual is all about looking fresh, clean, and professional. Your shirt must embody these characteristics. A baggy shirt with a floppy collar and ill-sized proportions won’t cut it. Check out these tailored-style dress shirts for ideas. You’ll notice that they go well with a pair of slacks or chinos.
- Use the “More Means More Casual” Rule
Men’s fashion stylist Peter Nguyen uses the “more means more casual” rule when helping his clients figure out if something is casual or formal. In other words, the more a piece of clothing has, the more it leans toward the casual end of the spectrum. More details, more designs, more colors – they all mean more casual.
For example, cargo pants are more casual than plain khakis. A graphic tee is more casual than a solid-colored tee. A colorful dress shirt is more casual than a white dress shirt. (And though denim is never recommended, a pair of ripped and faded jeans is more casual than a pair of dark jeans.)
Adding it All Up
At the end of the day, a business casual dress code always leaves things open for interpretation. However, when you understand a few basic parameters, it becomes much easier to get it right.
The basic goal is to look professional but not stuffy. Pay attention to what others wear and if you’re ever in doubt, remember it’s better to over-dress than under-dress for the occasion. A well-tailored suit and dress shirt – sans tie – is never a bad idea.