The New Business Casual Attire for Men
Decoding dress codes is a tricky business. It seems like every day, someone is making up a new type of attire. Garden party chic. Country club casual. How are we supposed to keep up? Even business casual is confusing. Business usually means professional, which means a suit and tie…right?
And casual, well, that could be anything from a T-shirt and gym shorts to a golf polo and jeans. Put the two together and good luck figuring out what you’re supposed to wear to that sweet new job you just landed. Lucky for you, we’re pretty good at understanding style, so here’s everything you need to know about business casual attire with a few example outfits to get you started.
What Does Business Casual Mean?
A few years ago, business casual attire for men was unheard of. You either wore formal business attire or casual hanging-out kind of clothes. No in between. But the office environment is changing, especially amongst younger companies that are making an effort to provide a better work-life balance and give employees more freedom within the office. Business casual can vary from company to company, but basically, you don’t need to go all out with a full suit, but you also can’t be quite so casual that you’re showing up in a tee and shorts.
For an easy, go-to understanding of business casual, just think chino pants for men, a button-down and an optional jacket. If you’re starting a new job, it’s probably worth clarifying with your co-workers or boss on what exactly they expect from you. But for now, stick to these guidelines and you’ll show up looking professional.
When to Wear Business Casual
In the Office
The most obvious place that you’ll encounter a business casual dress code is at an office job. This look rides the perfect line between comfort and professional. You can ditch the matching suits and give your everyday look a little more personality with different colored blazers (go for a bright color or interesting pattern if you’ve got a bold sense of style) and comfortable pants like chinos or khakis for men. And for casual Friday, feel free to switch it up with a pair of jeans and a comfortable polo shirt.
Whether you’re meeting a current or potential client, your supervisor or attending a business-wide luncheon, how you present yourself is important. To clients, you want to seem friendly and approachable but also professional and serious about your job. Business casual can help you give off this vibe because it’s laidback while still maintaining an image of respectability. Depending on who you’re meeting and where you’re dining, you can either throw on the tie for a slightly more formal appearance or ditch it altogether to make the meeting less intimidating and serious.
During an Interview
If you’re dressing in business casual attire for a job interview, more formal is always better. Don’t risk wearing jeans and no tie, even if you show up and your interviewer is in a t-shirt. You want to come across as a qualified candidate who’s taking this opportunity seriously. Showing up underdressed sends the message that you don’t find this job important, and you’re not willing to put in the effort to appear professional and well-dressed. In this situation, opt for the tie and a pair of chino pants.
A Dinner Party
Dinner party attire can vary wildly. If you’re going to a good friend’s house for a laidback get together, you’re probably not concerned about impressing the other guests. But, a dinner party with co-workers or dinner out with your boss is a little more important. Even though business casual is usually discussed in a work setting, certain situations call for this dress code outside the workplace. A dinner party at someone’s home is usually more relaxed than a dinner at a nice restaurant or a day working in the office. For at-home dinner parties, you may be able to get away with jeans and a blazer, but maybe wear a button-down shirt. If you’re headed to a fancy restaurant, stick with men’s khaki pants or chinos.
How to Dress Business Casual
A jacket is the article of clothing that really makes business casual attire seem more professional. A great sport coat or jacket lets you add some of your own personal flair to an outfit. Navy and heather grey are classic sport jacket options that you can mix and match with a funky patterned pocket square.
The Business Casual Shirt
Your jacket is the most eye-catching piece of your business casual outfit, but the shirt underneath is just as important.
An all white button-down is a much-needed part of any man’s business casual wardrobe. Actually, you might as well just get yourself two or three because you’ll be wearing these shirts constantly–especially if you gravitate towards funkier style jackets. To add some color or patterns to your business casual attire, get a few different polo shirts in lighter colors for spring and summer and darker shades for fall and winter.
The Pants: Chino vs. Khaki
The biggest difference between business and business casual are the pants. Traditional business attire calls for a full suit with matching pants and jacket. Business casual is all about mixing and matching. Like we said, jeans probably don’t fall under office business casual, but there might be a few occasions when you get away with this look. Instead, just keep it classy and simple with either chinos or khaki pants for men. These two styles are so similar, it can be tough to recognize the distinction, but we’ll break down the difference for you.
Let’s start with what these styles have in common. They’re both made from cotton twill and they’re both acceptable options for business casual. Khakis used to be straight leg and have a cuff on the hem, but the new style favors a tapered look without a hem. Chinos are also designed with a tapered design, so the bottom of both these styles are skinnier from the knee down.
Even though these two styles are made from similar fabric, khakis are usually heavier, making them a better choice in the winter, while chinos are more lightweight. You may also notice really subtle differences in the pockets, too. Chino pants for men have pockets that are hidden and less obvious while khakis have very obvious pockets. Some consider khakis less dressy because of the visible stitching, but either option is acceptable for a business casual environment. It’s really up to you to decide which fits your style.
Your shoes should be the easiest part of your business attire outfit to figure out. Invest in a pair of comfortable dress shoes that match with most of your wardrobe. Dark brown shoes match with pretty much any color pants. But if you’re going to wear brown pants with brown shoes, make sure the shades are pretty distinct. For example, pair dark brown shoes with light-colored khakis. Black shoes could work with most outfits as well but tend to look a little more formal and may clash with some of your khaki-colored pants.
Nailing the Business Casual Look
You’re a smart guy. We’re sure that you’ve got a complete understanding of what business casual means now. But, just in case, we’ve put together a few go-to looks that you can use as inspiration for your own wardrobe.
Classic Everyday Business Casual Look
Keep it simple with a white button-down shirt underneath a navy sport jacket. If you’re going to add the tie to dress up the look, throw on a solid color (neutral for a classic look, bright color for a little pop) or add a fun patterned tie. For the pants, avoid navy chinos so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing a suit. Instead, choose light-colored khakis or even grey chinos.
Business Casual with Personality
Wearing the same kind of outfit every day gets old. Spice up your wardrobe and show some personality with different colored button-downs or jackets. Wear a light yellow or bright blue-button down under a grey jacket. Add a matching pocket handkerchief–if you’ve got one–for a little extra flair. Don’t combine too many different colors in one outfit though. Stick with the khaki-colored chinos to finish the look on this outfit.