Post whole-year-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 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.
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 are at a new job or simply newly back to 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. Safe choices while you’re feeling out what, precisely, you can get away with wearing to work are 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, and knit dresses. Pieces such as these will probably form the core of any business casual wardrobe, even one that has moved more toward “casual” since lockdown.
Day to day, comfort is a priority, especially after spending so long in pajamas and joggers! 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 are not wearing the polyester double-knit of the 70s. Don’t misread me, without polyester double-knit we wouldn’t have the long-wearing, derriere-smoothing, completely washable knits we have now, but our knit pants and dresses exude chic comfort, not bridge club in the church basement. Of course, knit isn’t your only option. Shirt dresses are trending now and offer both comfort and lots of styling options. Topping any outfit with a cardigan or blazer automatically elevates it. Personally, I prefer blazers because they give any figure definition, dress up even the most disreputable jeans-and-T-shirt outfit, and are now available in comfy washable wool and sturdy knits. You get the look of a blazer with the ease of a cardigan!
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 might possibly make a poor long-term impression unless you’re working at an art gallery or similar, 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 consider perusing some of our blog posts about building a capsule wardrobe and shopping your own closet, because you have many options besides black. You absolutely can keep your mornings streamlined and stress-free without resorting to depriving yourself of color.
Capsule wardrobes are all about using versatile mix-and-match pieces to give yourself 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 could 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.
I have had several women ask me what, specifically, “tasteful jewelry” means. There is no shame in not knowing, only not knowing and then not looking it up. Generally, “tasteful jewelry” means that all the jewelry you wear should be, or pass for, real fine jewelry. Make an exception for one “flair” item, such as a big figural brooch or statement necklace. So it’s okay to wear quirky earrings or a big cuff bracelet if your other jewelry is dialed down. But there is subtext to this directive, too.
Often, this phrase is a code for “no facial piercings” or similar. That is something to work out within your particular office; many, many people took the opportunity of a long break from working in an office setting to get a body modification or aesthetic procedure they have always wanted but felt they couldn’t have. Prepare to see tattoos, eyebrow rings, and brightly colored hair such as you have never before seen in the workplace!
There is probably a line or two about presenting yourself neatly and tidily in the business casual dress code at your place of employment. It means have good personal hygiene and never wear distressed denim. A company can’t always just say that outright, but trust us, it’s what they mean.
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 is 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 work day and your personal life will be seamless since you’re wearing cute, comfortable outfits to work rather than dressier business attire. There is a lot of freedom and reason to celebrate attendant to going business casual. And we’ll be here, to help you make the most of it!