Once upon a time, men who worked in an office had a uniform: navy or gray suit; white or light blue dress shirt; a solid, diagonally striped, or geometric-pattern tie, and socks that matched their shoe color. Gradually, though, men started to loosen up. They added light gray or even brown suits, yellow or cream shirts, paisley ties, and socks with traditional patterns, such as argyle, to their closets. Eventually, some office workers swapped out their suits for dress pants and sports coats; wore shirts with stripes or windowpane checks; chose abstract-pattern ties, and opted for socks with plaid or novelty designs. In other words, over the years, men’s office dress code became less formal and more casual.
The past couple of years have placed formal business wear in all but the most conservative businesses, mainly financial or legal companies. After months or even a year or two of working from home while wearing sweats or joggers, not to mention their favorite, ratty band or sports team T-shirts, not all guys want to go back to formal business wear as they return to the office. As a result, business casual dress codes have increasingly become the norm. Here are some suggestions for summer business casual outfits for men.
If your office’s version of business casual falls at the more formal end of the scale—or for those days when you have a client meeting—a men’s dress pants and dress shirt combo is the way to go. Given that it’s summer, it’s best to stick with lighter-weight material rather than the heavier wool needed in winter, and you can also opt for more seasonal colors, such as light gray or tan. For your dress shirt, choose a pinpoint oxford, which is a lighter weight than the more traditional oxford shirt. You can wear the same belt and shoes you would wear with a suit. If you need to wear a tie but want to tone down the formal aspect, opt for a knit tie instead of silk.
One easy way to create a business casual outfit for summer is to pair dressier pants with a more casual top. A classic example is to wear chinos with a men’s polo shirt. Cotton or cotton-blend chinos in a neutral color provide a base for a polo in a fun summer bright, such as coral or turquoise—save the darker colors for fall. If you prefer, opt for a color block or a subtle pattern. Add a pair of more casual shoes, such as loafers or boat shoes, but do wear socks. Going sockless may be a little too casual for some offices. Add a braided or woven belt to finish your outfit.
If you find polo shirts are not to your taste, try a short-sleeve men’s plaid shirt instead. Madras cotton is a great choice in hotter temperatures, and the fabric becomes softer with wear. A wrinkle-free shirt will make your life easier because you can toss it in the washer and dryer without having to worry about ironing.
The sartorial opposite of chinos with a polo is more casual pants with a dressier shirt, and jeans worn with a button-down shirt certainly fits that bill. If you’re planning on wearing denim to the office, you’re better off with a darker blue wash or even back. These days, though, denim comes in other colors as well, so there’s no reason not to don those teal jeans you’ve been waiting to wear. Regardless of color, it goes without saying that any jeans you wear to the office should be free of rips, holes, or fraying.
Dress your jeans up with a men’s button-down shirt . You can stick with classic white, opt for another color, or venture into patterns. Save the tropical prints for casual Friday or evenings out with friends—your shirt should not be so loud that it distracts your coworkers. Also, be sure to tuck your shirt in. It’s simply more professional, business casual code or not. For a belt, try something in tooled leather. Sneakers are okay if your office allows them, but make sure they’re clean and not too worn down; otherwise, go with a lace-up shoe in a nubuck, or brushed, leather.
The great thing about these three outfits is that they lend themselves to any number of combinations. And you’re not limited to these options. Wear your chinos with a button-down, or a polo with your dress slacks, or your jeans with a dress shirt. Add a dressy-casual vibe with an unstructured blazer—that is, one with minimal shoulder padding, if any, and no lining. Given all the mix-and-match options, you’ll have summer business casual outfits that will take you from the office to a gallery opening and then to your favorite watering hole.