In our modern age of ever-looser dress codes, keeping up on what is now considered business casual is almost a full-time job in itself. Among the most common queries we receive is the question of whether or not flannel shirts can be considered business casual. And the answer to this question is, "it's complicated."
Rather than responding with a hard "yes" or "no" to the question, we believe it can be answered in degrees. Whether or not a flannel shirt can be considered appropriate for business casual wear can change depending on the workplace, the flannel shirt in question, how you plan to wear that flannel shirt, and more. If you take time to consider the questions below, we feel confident that you'll find the answer you are looking for.
There's no dictionary definition for business casual. In fact, its interpretation can vary widely from one office to the next. For some workplaces, business casual means a twinset worn with dress pants. For others, it can be as simple as a fitted women's blouse worn with chino pants.
If your workplace happens to fall closer to the first instance, it may sit more comfortably on the "business" side of business casual. If it sounds more like the latter, you may consider yourself to be operating closer to the "casual" end of business casual.
In offices where the first example is the norm, wearing a flannel shirt may be too dressed down. But if your own workplace sounds more similar to the second example, wearing a flannel shirt may be something you can experiment with.
While flannel shirts will always exist on the more casual end of the spectrum, not all flannel shirts communicate the same level of casualness.
It's a misconception that all flannel shirts must be plaid. In fact, not only do solid-colored flannel shirts exist, but they will also be the more formal of your options. By contrast, flannel shirts featuring plaid patterns fall on the more casual end of the spectrum, but just how far they dip into casual territory depends on the plaid itself.
Plaids that feature a white or cream among their color have a less casual appearance, and are sometimes even referred to as "dress plaids" for that reason. Plaids that feature darker colors and a larger scale of pattern are pushed into a more casual zone (if you want to picture the most casual of plaids, imagine the classic buffalo plaid).
Of course, flannel shirts don't exist in a vacuum. Even if you opt for a flannel shirt in a dress plaid, you won't find yourself in business casual-mode if you wear it with light-washed denim.
Because wearing a flannel shirt places you in more casual territory from the very beginning, consider incorporating more formal clothes into the rest of the outfit to make up the difference. For instance, pair that previously mentioned dress plaid with a pencil skirt or a pair of wide-legged slacks, and any questions about whether your flannel shirt dips too closely into the casual side of things should fall away.
Perhaps the very first question you should ask yourself before deciding to wear a flannel shirt to the workplace is what your working day has in store. The best days to experiment with the dress code will are the days you can count on being routine. But if the day happens to have a special occasion, an important meeting, or outside guests, you may want to save your flannel for another day.