Ding! You have an email from your boss. She’s inviting you to a luncheon with some important department heads who essentially control your upward trajectory within the organization. You need to make a good impression – and you’re excited about the opportunity. But then you read those two dreaded words that you’ve never really understood – business casual – and suddenly you’re less confident.
If the idea of a “business casual” dress code confuses you to no end, you aren’t alone. It’s something a lot of guys struggle to grasp and often conjures up feelings of anxiety and confusion.
Will I be underdressed? What about overdressed? Will I stand out for all of the wrong reasons? Will I look clueless? What will everyone else be wearing?
Though it may initially seem confusing, dressing in business casual attire doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you understand the rules, you can confidently dress to impress.
What Does Business Casual Even Mean?
The seemingly contradictory moniker is the first issue people have with business casual. But when you move past the oxymoronic term, you’ll find that it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. And if you’re like most, it’s actually a far more comfortable and stylish way of dressing in the office.
“Business-casual is one of those nonsensical dress codes, like smart-casual, that created bewilderment before it did anything to make people feel more at ease,” says Josh Sims, author of Men of Style. “On the plus side, it helped change attitudes to how men could or should dress at (white collar) work, prefiguring the breakdown of office dress codes over the past couple of decades, especially since the tech boom.”
But if nobody has ever explained the definition or purpose of business casual, you probably feel a bit lost. Here’s the deal: Business casual is not dressing up your casual wardrobe. Business casual means dressing down your typical business outfit.
4 Pointers for Killer Business Casual Style
Think of business casual as dressing in business attire and then taking it down a notch. The principles are the same – the difference is found in the details. Here are a few helpful tips:
1. Wear Clothing That Fits
The first key to business casual dress is to wear items that fit. Buy a tailored blazer and let this serve as the centerpiece to your look. It should be slim enough that it isn’t baggy, but not so tight that you can’t comfortably move about with the top button fastened.
As for your pants, be smart about the break. While some people can pull off a dress pant with no break, most will want a tapered trouser with a cuff that gently rests on the top of the shoe. You can read all about different breaks here.
2. Keep it Simple
Business casual is supposed to be a relaxed version of formal business attire. That being said, it should be clean, crisp, and unwrinkled.
The best way to achieve a stunning business casual look is to keep things simple. Less is more. It’s better to be understated than to be over-the-top. Stick with neutrals for the main pieces, but don’t be afraid to pepper in some fun colors or patterns. Tasteful is the operative word.
3. Utilize Accessories
Men don’t have nearly the same options as women, but accessories are still important. You can take a business casual outfit to the next level by including a nice pocket square, fashionable belt, tasteful cuff links, or colorful pair of socks.
4. Pay Careful Attention to Footwear
There’s a wide range of acceptable shoes within a business casual dress code. However, whatever you choose should be stylish and high-quality.
“To play it safe, we recommend sticking with modern dress shoes such as polished loafers, Oxfords or monk straps, in materials like leather and colors like chocolate, dark red or tan,” style expert Jacob Osborn writes. “When you’re ready to experiment (in an office that allows for it), slip on a nice pair of suede ankle boots or chukkas.”
Dress to Impress
Business casual dress codes are fairly common in today’s business world. You’ll even see it at weddings, parties, and other social gatherings. The more you master this style, the more confident you’ll feel in your own skin. Good luck!