Dress code: Business Casual


When talking about dress codes, business casual belongs among the least exact ones. Conceived in contrast to the classic and very strict business professional style, it can be said that the boundaries of business casual are quite ethereal. It pays to approach this style by looking at its origins – a style of dress that is both tidy and matter-of-fact enough for business purposes.

By its loosest definition, business casual is a style for men that is built around no-nonsense shoes, dress trousers or chinos and a button-front shirt. A sports coat also befits the style. Jeans and athletic shoes are too casual, diminishing the credibility of the wearer. More strict interpretations also rule out the use of chinos and polo shirts. All in all, the style should match the field of business of the wearer, placing him on line with customers’ expectations and making him approachable.

For women, the style is easier to define – smart trousers or a knee-length skirt and a collared, sober top.

Regardless of the definition, business casual can be looked at both from the perspective of the dresser and their colleagues.

Business Casual from the Dresser’s Perspective

If your wardrobe is well and even somewhat logically constructed, business casual ensembles are easy enough to construct. A pair of well-kept brown shoes will do for footwear. A staple of clean-cut daily wear – the blazer – is a good starting point along with sports coats, even though wearing a cardigan, other smart knitwear or just a shirt may also be just as acceptable. The shirt may furthermore be chosen rather freely from one’s collection. The same can be said for trousers, provided one steers clear from the jeans.

Pictured are two outfit in the business casual style. The articles of clothing were picked in such a way that any could be swapped between the two outfits and the result would still look good.
Pictured are two outfit in the business casual style. The articles of clothing were picked in such a way that any individual garment could be swapped between the two outfits and the result would still look good.

When choosing accessories, it is important to aspire to a level of relaxedness – it is a casual style, after all. Unsurprisingly, a knitted tie works well in this style, though the tie can be also omitted completely, leaving the top button or two open. For this look, an “American” soft collar button-down shirt is the perfect choice.

The use of a pocket square is not necessary on this style but it is perfectly acceptable to wear it.

Business Casual from the Viewer’s Perspective

An important aspect of the birth of business casual as a style has been its fit into the general nature of the workplace. Thus, a company choosing business casual as their office dress code is endeavoring to communicate a sense of businesslike yet relaxed atmosphere in the workplace. Dressing in a suit in a business casual office is a sign of an important meeting or other “outside the house” event.

One of the key features of business casual dress is the sedate feeling it gives coworkers. With everything too tight and revealing, too athletic or too homely having been weeded out, there is nothing to distract. Business casual outfits are clearly for work, and despite being relaxed, keep thoughts and conversation on work subjects.

Business Casual

  • A contrast to the strict suit-based business professional style
  • At minimum a combination of sober shoes, button-front shirt and dress trousers or chinos
  • Covers the legs and upper body, for men also shins – no shorts
  • No athletic or revealing articles of clothing, no jeans
  • A sports coat, blazer or clean blazer is particularly fitting

Conclusions and Recommendations

Being a workplace dress code, the use of business casual for dinner- of weekend parties is to be avoided. If the event is during lunch hour or right after work, the style is quite acceptable – after all, these events are very much “come as you are”.

When setting a dresscode and aiming towards more relaxed atmosphere – particularly in those events that involve drinks on the weekend – it is best to specify the dresscode as “cocktail dress” that handily covers a range from smart sports coats and trousers up to relaxed black-tie and casual suits.


Translated from the original Finnish by Jan Hoffman.


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