The CLAS Student’s Guide to Business Casual Attire

It’s never too early to start building your professional wardrobe. While everyone knows the business professional wardrobe staples – a dark/neutral colored suit, a light colored button down shirt, dress shoes- I’ve had multiple students share with me that they’re unsure how to navigate the murky waters of “business casual attire.”

First, let’s go over what is not appropriate for business casual

  • Unless your office has explicitly stated these pieces are allowed, I would avoid: leggings, sweats, t-shirts, shorts, and jeans.
  • Sneakers, flip flops (and in many environments open-toed sandals) are not appropriate footwear. Proceed with caution on boat shoes.
  • Anything that is wrinkled, poorly fitting, or too revealing should be avoided. While business casual allows more flexibility than business professional, you should still be polished and put together.
  • Too much make up or body spray. You want your work to leave a lasting impression, not your appearance or worse, your smell! Additionally, a lot of people have sensitivities to strong odors and wearing too much perfume, cologne, or aftershave can get in the way of you having a positive and productive work relationship.

Professional Wardrobe Staples

  • Blazers! – Blazers are a great way to dress up any outfit, and can be paired with button downs, blouses, dresses, pants, or skirts.
  • Dress pants – Khakis and neutral colored dress pants are a business casual wardrobe staple. Depending on how creative your work place is, you might be able to venture into the categories of printed or bright colored pants.
  • Button down shirts – Again, a great option for mixing and matching. Some professional work environments expect employees who identify as men to wear ties, so start by over dressing until you get a feel for the norms at your organization.
  • Sweaters, pullovers, and cardigans – If you’re staying in New England, layering pieces are a necessity for staying warm in the winter months. Have fun with bright colors or prints if your employer is on the creative side.
  • Dresses and skirts – If you identify as female, dresses and skirts are a great option to mix up your wardrobe, especially in the summer months. Sheath and A-line dresses pair great with blazers or cardigans. Personally, I prefer A-line skirts to pencil skirts, but I would recommend doing what works for your body and finding pieces you are comfortable wearing. Avoid hem lines above the knees, and always try sitting in the outfit before you make a purchase.
  • Blouses and tops – Women can also add a bit more variety to their wardrobe by veering away from button downs and choosing professional blouses. For sleeve-less tops be sure to pair your shirt with a sweater. Men: Observe your peers’ attire before adding polos to your business casual wardrobe.
  • Accessories – Again use your discretion and knowledge of your environment on how loud to go on statement pieces, but adding a coordinated belt or scarf can be a great way to polish off a business casual look.
  • Handbags or briefcases – My recommendation is to go for a classic, investment piece that is neutral in color and can move up with you through your career with you.
  • Shoes – Leather dress shoes, bucks, chukkas/desert boots, penny loafers all fall into the business casual category. Don’t forget the dress socks! Women can wear flats or heals, but be sure to hem your pants to the appropriate length for your shoes. Again check your office environment before wearing any super trendy styles.

General Tips

  • When in doubt, don’t wear it. It’s always better to err on the side of overdressing.
  • Mix and match your staple pieces to give the impression of a more expansive wardrobe.
  • Consider developing a seasonal capsule wardrobe, choosing colors that work for you and playing with new professional trends.

#unfancy Tips

Review some of my favorite blogs and websites of business casual fashion trend setters:

Examples of Business Casual Attire

business casual attire, example 1

business casual attire, example 2

business casual attire, example 3

business casual attire, example 4

business casual attire, example 5

By Emily Merritt
Emily Merritt Career Consultant, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences