The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual, Business Formal, and Casual


How many times have you applied to a job and saw the words “business attire,” or “business casual”? And how many times have you Googled these same phrases, unable to come up with a definition that suits your wardrobe?

Let’s put all of the guesswork to rest with a real working definition of modern dress codes—along with a guide to the trousers you’ll need to best pull these styles off.

How to Dress Business Casual

Today’s offices aren’t the same as they were in the world of Mad Men. Business casual is the dominant office style these days, thanks in large part to the influence of Silicon Valley on our popular culture.

The business casual style, however, is by no means casual. The trick is that there is no specific definition of business casual. But you’ll definitely want, at a minimum, these clothes in your outfit:

  • A shirt with a collar. Polos are on the casual end of this, while button-up shirts (the ones with no buttons on the collar) are on the formal end.
  • A pair of khaki trousers. These Charleston Khaki Tencel trousers in a flat front are versatile enough for a business casual office.
  • A belt. Tuck in your shirt for business casual, even though the word casual is present. Tucking in without a belt in most cases will look a little strange.
  • Professional shoes. Try to avoid canvas shoes and sneakers; stick with loafers and even oxfords. The quality of your shoes will help tie the outfit together. Oh, and you did match your shoes to the color of your belt, right?

How to Dress Business or Business Formal

Business or business formal refers to the general need of a suit. This means for business forma, you’ll need everything you found in business casual, plus a tie and a jacket.

  • Suit trousers like these Super 100’s Gabardine in pleated are a great introduction for a more formal business environment.
  • A blazer or jacket is necessary, even if a tie is optional. Invest in a navy blazer if you’re low on cash and need the most possible versatility.
  • Dress shoes are expected with a suit, so you’ll do fine with your oxfords. Loafers may still be a possibility depending on your individual office.

How to Dress Smart Casual—but Not Casual Fridays

If you work in a less formal office setting, dressing business or business casual may get you odd looks. It’s time to tone it down with something a little more casual—but not so casual that you’d wear it around your apartment.

  • Khakis are once again a good baseline here, but feel free to experiment with colors, including Charleston Khakis in Charleston Brick.
  • Polos gently walk the line between casual and business, which makes them perfect for the smart casual style.
  • Blazers are optional, but can be muted with a pair of jeans in order to bring them down a bit.

With each of these dress codes, make sure to build an outfit starting at the trouser. This will help you get a solid foundation for making smarter wardrobe choices as you add two skill sets: mastering the corporate ladder… and acing the sartorial tests that come with it.

July 26, 2016 by Berle Editor
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