The Basics of Business Casual Attire

You hold the memo in your hand – the company is going business casual or has implemented a ‘casual Fridays’ policy. Confusion and chaos are spreading through the office like wildfire. You feel relieved, but part of your brain is going through your closet in a panic. Do you have the right clothing for your job? What is business casual, anyway?

This mystery has been plaguing employees since the business casual revolution of the mid 1990s. With small business and start-ups on the rise, better telecommunications keeping clients out of the office and changes in human resources policy driving a more casual workplace, formal dress codes have become largely passÃ?©. Even large law firms – long a bastion of ultra-formal dress – are adopting the business casual look. But the contradictory nature of the term “business casual” can confuse and intimidate employees who are used to more rigid guidelines.

In its strictest sense, the only true rule of business casual is simple – no denim, ever. But don’t go running for your shorts and tennis shoes with a sense of liberation – not just any clothing will do. Conservatism is always a good rule of thumb in an office environment, and caution and good judgment go a long way in picking appropriate business casual attire.

Good news for men – you can leave your tie at home. Pressed khaki pants and button-down shirts are de rigueur for a business casual look. Make sure to make up for your lack of tie with a good ironing for your shirt, an appropriate undershirt and a leather belt and shoes.

Ladies can rejoice – you’ve been liberated from itchy, ill-fitting pantyhose. That doesn’t mean you can dress for the beach, however – tight, revealing clothing and baggy, shapeless exercise wear is still out. Stick to basic dark or neutral colors and coordinating tops and skirts or slacks. Liberal use of the iron will go a long way in ensuring that your look is casual, but not sloppy.

When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism. In an environment where you might interact with clients or future business contacts, your clothing does make an impression, dress code or no. A little common sense goes a long way. Excessive hair gel, makeup or perfume is a no-no in any office, as is dirty, baggy or too-tight clothing. But with a bit of caution, you can enjoy a business casual atmosphere without becoming the office scapegoat.

Bottom line: relax. But not too much. There’s still a bit of ‘business’ in business casual.

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