After two-plus years of working from home, more offices than ever before are going business casual, and some offices that were business casual are going completely casual. Employment shake-ups and appealing job offers are causing more workers than usual to cross-industry lines to take new positions, and many, many people are wrestling with what “business casual” even means anymore. It’s a conundrum.
Luckily, we’re here to help! We can define some terms that are being bandied about as well as suggest pieces that will work for in a business casual wardrobe—and keep you comfortable at the same time. A return to the office doesn’t have to mean uncomfortable clothes!
The ratio of business to casual depends a lot on your industry as well as the culture of the particular office. Law and finance are still relatively conservative, for example, though that is changing rapidly. Whether you’re at a new job or simply newly back in the office, look around and closely observe what others are wearing. The exact level or flavor of business casual will be decided, in the absence of an exhaustive HR directive, by herd instinct. Watch what your direct supervisor is wearing.
While you’re feeling out what you can get away with wearing, safe choices include knit dress pants—Lands’ End’s famous Starfish collection comes to mind—with stylish tunics, crisp trouser-cut jeans worn with a blouse or sweater and a blazer, classic white button-down shirts, and knit dresses. Pieces like these will probably form the core of any business casual wardrobe, even one that has moved more toward “casual” since lockdown.
Gone are the days of structured button-front work dresses or stiff dress pants that you just can’t wait to change out of. You can wear your comfiest clothes to the office in most business casual settings—no, this doesn’t mean you can wear sweatpants, but you can wear good-looking black leggings when worn with the right tops and accessories.
Try a women’s tunic top for leggings, which is longer and will cover your bum, a pair of bold earrings, and some slip-on leather mules. You can also try this look with a pair of equally stretchy (so, equally comfy) jeggings.
Day to day, comfort is still a priority, especially after spending so long in pajamas and joggers at home! You can achieve perfect comfort with knits. Knit slacks and dresses have come a long way, so when you choose ponté pants or a jersey dress, you’ll be in tried-and-true comfy clothes that will make you feel at home (even at the office).
Of course, knit isn’t your only option. Shirt dresses are trending now and offer both comfort and plenty of styling options. Topping any outfit with a cardigan or blazer automatically elevates it.
A woman of my acquaintance said that she didn’t know what to wear at her new job and was probably going to wear all black, all the time. If black is your preferred neutral, that’s dandy! At the same time, I would advise against wearing literally only black. Black on black every day may get boring and doesn’t leave much room for expression. So, break up your black outfits with some color, and yes, accessories count! Red lipstick, a colorful scarf tied around your ponytail, or a bright camisole under your black blazer will alleviate the visual weight of black with minimal effort.
At the same time, I urge you to read blog posts about building a capsule wardrobe and shopping in your own closet because you have many options besides black. You absolutely can keep your mornings streamlined and stress-free without depriving yourself of color.
Capsule wardrobes are all about using versatile mix-and-match pieces to give the maximum number of looks possible with a carefully-curated minimal wardrobe. Minimal in this sense refers to size, not design. A capsule wardrobe needn’t be all black, white and grey or all German minimalist design. These are positively not the same thing, and you can have a capsule wardrobe with as much color, pattern, and personality as you want!
As for shoes, look for comfort with style. Smoking slippers, loafers, wedge heels, and block heels all have truly comfortable iterations but are often more professional-looking than ballet flats or clogs. This might be the simplest category of business casual clothing! Open-toed shoes or nice sandals are fine; flip-flops are not. Crisp, slim-cut sneakers are fine; grubby old trainers are not. If you wouldn’t wear it to a fancy brunch, don’t wear it to work.
If you have a new job that calls for business casual attire or your office is just now adopting a business casual dress code, while it’s natural to feel nervous about change, we hope you’ll feel excited, too! Your wardrobe will gain a great deal of versatility when you don’t have to set aside a portion of your clothing budget or closet space for “work clothes.”
Moving between your workday and your personal life will be seamless since you’re wearing cute, comfortable outfits to work rather than dressier business attire. There’s a lot of freedom and reason to celebrate your office going business casual. And we’ll be here to help you make the most of it!