“Business casuals” means it’s okay to rock your favourite pair of denims to work, right? Not really. Unlike what Silicon Valley-esque startups want us to believe—walking into the office in a rock band t-shirt paired with distressed jeans doesn’t really project competence. When most workplaces (probably yours too) say “wear business casuals,” they actually mean “you can dress down a bit, but still look professional.”
Confused? You’re not alone! The “business casual” dress code is a frequent source of confusion for professionals everywhere—men and women alike. And it’s not their fault—there really isn’t a standardised definition. Business casual may mean different things in different companies, cities, and industries. Worse, some workplaces consider business casuals or smart casuals to be more of a list of “do-nots” than “dos,” leaving most of us bewildered.What Business Casuals Actually Means for Men:
Ditch the suit.
Feel free to experiment with styles like button-down shirts, polo shirts, short kurtas, casual blazers, jackets, sweaters, and cardigans. Go with solid colours, checkered prints, and minimalistic patterns. Avoid bright and flashy colours or shades of neon. Business casual workwear should be understated or neutral; think pastel colours, blues, beiges, tans, earthy tones like forest green, mustard, brown, and the standard black and white.
If you’re tired of the regular button-down, experiment with different collars like the Mandarin or Tuxedo wing, but definitely no round-necks or henley-necks. If you absolutely cannot do without a good t-shirt, pair a solid colour with a blazer or a shirt jacket. And unless you’re working in an advertising or creative firm, avoid t-shirts with cartoons, quotes, film or music band prints.
TIP: Fit is really important. Tight fitting clothes give the impression that you haven’t shopped in quite some time, and oversized clothes make you look untidy.
Jeans are not business casuals.
Say good-bye to single coloured suits; the trend today is to wear different coloured trousers and blazers. If your workplace allows jeans, pick dark shades of blue and the classic black in dark wash. Avoid wearing stone-washed and distressed jeans to your office, even if it’s a working Saturday.Khakis and chinos make for great additions to your business casual workwear, especially in the summer. They are easy to pair with different types and colours of shirts, and they go well with loafers, shoes and boots. Woollen trousers and corduroys are the perfect winter business casual and you can wear them with a trench-coat or a cardigan. When buying pants, remember to go with basic colours that are easy to pair with different top-wear and coats. The trick here is to mix and match one pair of trousers or pants with 2 or 3 different shirts during the week.
Oxfords and not brogues, or maybe both.A study in the PsyBlog claims that a lot can be understood about people’s personalities from their shoes. That’s right, people who wear bright and flashy coloured footwear are inherently extroverts whereas those who are seen in worn-out shoes generally are more emotionally stable and care less about others opinions. But you have to be careful you don’t send the wrong impression with the wrong pair of shoes. Your business casual attire should include the obvious oxfords in black, brown, tan or navy blue for formal settings like conferences, meetings, and presentations, even if the invite says “business casual.” Loafers are the best workwear option for casual attire. Pair them with invisible socks or have fun with some funky prints. Depending on the weather, industry and type of work, you can choose to wear ankle length boots or classic sport shoes.
Gentlemen, remember to accessorise.A tie is capable of changing the look of an outfit; while business casual dressing completely ditches the tie or bow-tie, you can experiment with neo prints to make a statement. Belts are a must, but people often get them wrong. Ensure the colour of your belt matches your shoes and go for slimmer and minimalistic buckles. Watches are another great accessory and a favourite for most men. Go with classic styles with black dials and black leather belts or play around with heavier dials and thick rubber belts – think Swatch’s forest grid or Fossil’s – the minimalist. Scarves and beanies in solid colours or light patterns are a great way to style outfits, when the weather permits. Finally, don’t forget the classic aviator sunglasses or wayfarers.
SWorry not, gentlemen, it’s easier than you think. The best advice on what to wear in your workplace should obviously come from your HR, but these styling tips can help you avoid common blunders many make when trying to dress “business casual.”