Decoding the Dress Code: What is Business Casual?

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business casualMost workers -- especially new grads stepping into the office for the first time -- tend to scratch their heads when trying to decode the meaning of "business casual" office attire. Are jeans acceptable with a dressy shirt? Does that just mean a business suit without the formal jacket? What about polo shirts?

While some companies and industries have different ideas of what business casual is (a start-up tech company will vary greatly from a white-shoe law firm), there are a few basic staples that every man and women should possess in their business casual wardrobe.


Business Casual for Men

Men should try not to venture too far away from their traditional wardrobe staples. Since some shirts, such as polo shirts or other types of higher-end apparel, could skew either way depending on the environment, sometimes it's best to check out what other employees in your office are wearing and mimic that style. And if you're still in doubt, ask an HR rep what is considered acceptable at your place of employment.

A few business casual basics would include:

  • Suit pants
  • Khaki pants
  • Long-sleeved button down shirts
  • Short-sleeved button down shirts (only if the environment is more casual, or they are OK'd by your company)
  • Belt
  • Dark dress shoes


Business Casual for Women

For women, there's a bit more leeway, but as a tried-and-true rule of thumb, always steer clear of clothing that shows too much skin or is something you'd wear for a night out. Business casual wardrobe staples that should always be in every female's closet are:

  • Long-sleeved and short-sleeved button down shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Dressy pants in darker colors (brown, black, gray)
  • Khaki pants
  • Dark colored skirt (knee length or longer)
  • Belt
  • Modest heels or flats in a dark solid color



Lauren Fairbanks is a Brooklyn-based writer hailing originally from that far away land known as the deep South. She has covered lifestyle, small business, personal finance and career topics for various publications including Young Money, Learn Vest, She Knows, Wise Bread, and Eating Well Magazine. She's also the Founder and Editor of LifeStyler - a comprehensive guide to living in New York City on a Budget.

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