When it comes to men’s business casual clothes, there’s a basic outfit: khakis or dress pants with a button-down or polo shirt. Throw in a neutral-color blazer, and you’ve got the male equivalent of a women’s capsule wardrobe. However, donning more or less the same outfit every day not only gets boring to the wearer after a while, but it also looks bland to coworkers. If your office dress code is business casual, read on for some suggestions on how to dress without looking boring.
Khaki is another word for however, when it comes to men’s pants, khakis and chinos often are used interchangeably, although chinos encompass other neutral shades. These days, though, men’s chinos come in other colors beyond basic black, blue, olive, tan, or gray. If you want to change things up a bit, try a pair of chinos in dark teal, burgundy, or hunter green. These deep shades are still muted enough that they are office-appropriate. The monochrome look is as on-trend for men as it is for women, so pair your chinos with a polo or button-down shirt in the same color.
Like chinos, men’s dress pants typically come in neutral colors. If you’re tired of wearing solid navy or gray dress slacks, look for a pair in a pattern. Popular patterns in men’s pants include houndstooth, plaid, windowpane checks, and pinstripes—think men’s suit without the jacket. Depending on your comfort level, you can choose muted patterns in complementary, neutral colors or bring in a pop of color with, say, a plaid that incorporates a contrasting stripe in its design. Play up that color by wearing a dress shirt in the same color.
The growing popularity of business casual dress has led to an ever-increasing number of options when it comes to shirts. Although button-downs remain a go-to option, choices now abound with respect to pattern and color. You are no longer bound by the standard white or blue shirt either in a solid color or with a discreet stripe or muted plaid. Every color of the rainbow is fair game, from red to violet, and all shades in between, in hues that range from pastels to jewel tones. Patterns, two, have become bolder and brighter. Men’s plaid shirts have gotten more colorful, stripes have become wider, and other patterns have become popular. Try a paisley (think curved teardrops), geometric, or medallion button-down with solid pants. If you’re not comfortable with larger prints, opt for microprint instead.
If you want to take your shirt style up a notch, choose a shirt with a stand-up or band collar. If you’re not sure what that is, visually what a button-down shirt might look like if you lopped off the fold-over part of the collar—what’s left is the band that supports the collar. The best part about wearing a shirt with a band collar is there’s no need to wear a tie; these shirts are specifically designed to be worn without one.
Like button-downs, polo shirts are available in an array of colors. To avoid slipping into old habits, choose a color outside your normal palette. If you normally wear earth tones, try a bright red or turquoise polo. If you frequently go for blues and grays, try a shirt in lime green or lemon yellow. Polos can be found in a variety of patterns. While stripes on a button-down are generally vertical, they are equally as likely to be horizontal on a polo shirt. Polos also come in other patterns as well, or you can show support for your favorite sports team by wearing a logo shirt.
Another way to add interest to your business casual outfit is by adding a sweater over your shirt. Men’s cardigan sweaters can add a finishing touch and help keep you warm if your office is cold. Choose a classic V-neck cardigan, or try a thicker, shawl-collar cardigan. If you’re not a fan of buttons, opt for a zipper cardigan. Pullover sweaters are also a great choice. Wear a crew- or V-neck sweater with a collared shirt. V-neck sweaters can also be worn over a T-shirt. If you are tactile by nature, pick a sweater that has some texture to it, such as a cable or rib knit.
If your office’s business casual dress code leans closer to dress than casual, choose a men’s sports coat or instead of a sweater. As with shirts, pants, and sweaters, sports coats come in a variety of patterns and colors. For summer, wear an unstructured—that is, unlined—coat in a seersucker stripe or a madras plaid. Save the lined, wool-blend sports coats for the cooler months. Even then, you can change things up by choosing a rich color such as maroon, spruce, or even black instead of the usual navy or gray.
Showcasing your interests and personality with fun ties and socks is a time-tested way of keeping an outfit from looking boring. Do you own a dog? There’s a pair of socks for that, and you can even find socks that are breed-specific (unless you own a mutt, that is). Do you enjoy fishing, playing a musical instrument, or playing poker in your free time? There are socks for those and other hobbies, as well. You can find socks in traditional designs but with a twist—unexpected colors, reverse patterns.
The same goes for men’s ties. The truth is, if you can find it on a pair of socks, you can find it on a necktie. If you’re tired of neckties, try a bowtie for a change. You can find bowties (in both clip-on and read-to-tie styles) in almost as many colors and patterns as you can neckties.
Men may have more limited clothing options than women, who can wear dresses, pants, skirts, and suits, all in a wide array of styles, patterns, and lengths, along with myriad tops to choose from. But, with a bit of creativity, men can keep their business dress casual outfits from putting themselves and others to sleep.