What is Business Casual Attire?
Among all men’s dress codes, for lack of a better term, business casual has always been one of the most elusive. To begin with, it doesn’t help that there is no clear, black-and-white definition – despite the fact that so many companies have business casual dress codes.
Even under the same business casual umbrella, some companies lean more “business” and others lean more “casual.” For example, a tech startup is likely to have a much more relaxed dress code, while a finance or legal company may require slacks or collared shirts.
Then there’s the fact that business attire as a whole changes with each generation. In your grandpa’s days, it was totally unacceptable for men to go to work (or anywhere, really) without a tie and jacket.
When your dad started his career, the only acceptable pants in a business setting were dress slacks. Today, neither of those rules apply. In fact, as more and more people have non-traditional jobs or work in hybrid part-office, part-remote situations, the definition of business casual is blurred even further.
Perhaps you’re not even sure you fully grasp the concept of business casual attire (who could blame you?). Or maybe you simply want to expand your business casual wardrobe. Either way, you’re in the right place.
In this guide, we’re explaining what exactly business casual means, giving you style tips, reviewing the must-have business casual items every man should have in his closet, and more. Let’s get into it.
See more about - Business casual attire for men – 70 relaxed office style ideas
Business casual attire 101
Indeed defines business casual attire as “a code of dress that blends traditional business wear with a more relaxed style still professional and appropriate enough for an office environment.” Sounds about as clear as mud, right?
Breaking it down into far more relatable terms, business casual dress falls somewhere between a full-blown suit and jeans with a shirt. If you’d wear something to hang out with your buddies, it’s probably too casual for business casual. And if you’d fit right in at a formal wedding, you may be just a tad overdressed for this particular dress code.
Remember, the aim with business casual attire is to dress professionally – but that doesn’t necessarily mean fancy. Think jeans with a classic Oxford shirt and a blazer or chinos with a plaid button-down and the sleeves rolled up.
Tips for getting business casual right
Pay to have your clothes tailored. To be frank, baggy clothing almost always looks sloppy. Even when it’s very much intentional and not at all ironic, baggy clothes simply aren’t as neat and don’t look as put-together as something more fitted. In order for you to look (and feel) your best, business casual clothing should be tailored. Many stores, including Brooks Brothers and Hugo Boss, even offer complimentary alteration services!
Put some thought into your footwear. Shoes truly make an outfit and they’re often one of the first things people notice when they see you. No matter how “nice” they are, sandals and athletic sneakers have no place in a proper business casual wardrobe. Stick with classic dress or smart casual shoes.
Be strategic about building your business casual wardrobe. Another key aspect of business casual is that it’s overwhelmingly neutral. That’s a good thing, as it allows for lots of mixing and matching. Build your closet around neutral-colored staple clothing items, then add in a few statement pieces later. Depending on your industry, that could mean a colored and textured blazer or shirts with bold patterns.
When in doubt, ask. It’s perfectly okay to ask about a company’s dress code policy. Many are written rather vaguely, so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. For example, a company policy may specify that you have to wear a collared shirt – but does that mean that both polos and button-downs are acceptable?
See more about - How to dress like a man – fashion credos every man should know
Essential business casual clothing items
Regardless of your personal style or what you do for a living, there are a few business casual wardrobe staples every guy should own.
A sharp, well-fitting blazer in a neutral color is arguably the most important component in any business casual wardrobe. Picture any of your everyday jeans-and-t-shirt ensembles. Now picture them with a blazer added – instantly a much sharper look, right?
The key with blazers, though, is that term “well-fitting.” A blazer that’s too big looks sloppy, while a too-tight blazer not only looks odd, it’s also uncomfortable to wear. Getting the fit right on your own can be tricky, which is why we highly recommend getting yourself fitted for a blazer before shopping and having it tailored after you buy it. As a general rule, you should be able to slide your hand in between the blazer and your chest when it’s buttoned, but not easily make a fist. In terms of length, a blazer should fall right at the same line as the bottom of your fly.
Quick note for those guys who are new to wearing blazers: suit jackets and blazers are not one and the same and shouldn’t be worn interchangeably. Blazers are slightly less structured and have an overall less formal look than suit jackets. They perfectly elevate just about any outfit. However, pairing a suit jacket with jeans or another more casual style can easily come across as trying too hard or missing the mark altogether.
Best overall blazer: Bonobos Jetsetter Stretch Italian Wool Blazer
Best premium blazer: Thom Sweeny Single-breasted Cashmere Blazer
Best budget blazer: UNIQLO Men U Relazed-fit Tailored Jacket
On the scale of importance for business casual attire, dress shirts – which we’re using to broadly define both button-ups and button-downs – are just behind a sharp blazer. They’re absolutely essential.
In some professional settings, polo shirts and even henleys may be considered business casual. But not all professional settings, which is why we specifically recommend stocking up on several dress shirts in a variety of colors and fabrics for all seasons.
Find a few brands and styles that you not only love, but that fit you well and are comfortable enough to wear regularly. When you find them, buy several in different colorways and patterns. Your entire outfit can be transformed by simply changing from a more casual shirt into a dress shirt.
To prove it, picture yourself wearing your best pair of jeans and a sharp pair of Chelsea boots. Now focus on your shirt. First, imagine yourself in your favorite old band tee. Next, picture yourself wearing a pinstripe button-up shirt.
In the band tee, you look like you’re hanging around the house or perhaps going to a concert. In the dress shirt, you could be headed to work or on a date!
Best overall dress shirt: Drake’s Essential Oxford Button Down Shirt
Best premium dress shirt: Thom Browne Classic Oxford Shirt
Best budget dress shirt: Brooks Brothers Milano Fit Oxford Sport Shirt
Going back to the rule about always erring on the side of dressing up rather than down, slacks are essential in any business casual wardrobe. The term “slacks,” like “trousers,” is more or less just another way of saying “dress pants.” It indicates a step up from jeans and khakis but is not quite as formal as a suit pant.
Thankfully, there are several fantastic options for modern slacks. Unlike your grandpa’s dress pants, and maybe your dad’s, today’s slacks come in a wide range of fabrics (no itchy, hot wool here) and generally have a more fitted silhouette.
A pair of dark, slim-fit slacks immediately elevates an otherwise-casual polo or button-down shirt, but remember – fit is key. Don’t forget the tailoring!
Best overall slacks: Bonobos Stretch Weekday Warrior Dress Pants
Best premium slacks: Thom Browne Grosgrain-trimmed Cotton-twill Trousers
Best budget slacks: J. Crew Ludlow Slim-fit Dress Pant
Dark slim-fit jeans
We know, we know – we just finished saying how important it is to dress up rather than too casually, and here we are telling you to get a pair of jeans. However, the catch is that you can’t simply wear any jeans. In order to pull off jeans as part of a sleek business casual look, you have to wear the right pair.
The “right” pair of jeans in a business casual setting means no light washer and absolutely no fading or distressing. Look for a dark, clean rinse that’s fitted without being skin-tight. And we can’t emphasize this enough: make sure you get confirmation ahead of time that jeans are acceptable in your office!
Best overall men’s jeans: Nudie Jeans “Lean Dean” Skinny-fit Jean (say that five times fast!)
Best premium men’s jeans: Rag & Bone Fit 1 Skinny Fit Jeans in Black
Best budget men’s jeans: Levi’s 512 Slim Taper Fit Men’s Jeans in Dark Hollow
Smart casual shoes
We mentioned earlier that shoes are one of the most crucial parts of any outfit. Going back to the example where we looked at the same jeans and Chelsea boots with a band tee and a button-up shirt, shoes have a similar effect. The exact same outfit looks dramatically different with a pair of Vans than with a dressier footwear choice.
That’s not to say you have to wear formal dress shoes with business casual outfits. On the contrary, men have several fantastic less-formal options, including Chelsea boots, driving shoes, and derbies. These all fall under the “smart casual” category, shoes that share many characteristics of their more formal cousins, but are decidedly more casual – and usually more comfortable, to boot.
Best overall smart casual shoes: Clarks Desert Boot
Best premium smart casual shoes: Brunello Cucinelli Lace-up Derby Shoes
Best budget smart casual shoes: Cole Haan Somerset Venetian Driver
See more about - Smart casual dress code for men – the ultimate guide