There’s no overlooking the fact that the work environment has changed over the years. The traditional nine to five office work day is becoming less and less the norm and going along with it is the traditional suit and tie work uniform. It would seem only natural that the standard business attire would also change.
Undoubtedly, the biggest noticeable change is the growing business casual dress code. Business yet casual, the phrase alone would’ve left gentlemen from past generations utterly confused, and asking “What is that even supposed to mean?” Although, to be honest, it does seem to leave even some of the gentlemen of today confused as well.
What Exactly is Business Casual for Men?
The key to the business casual outfit is to balance the fine line between professionally appropriate and casual comfort. That may seem vague and it is. This is because the business casual aesthetic can be translated in many ways. It does not only depend on one’s own personal style but it also depends on the specific industry you work for and even the office culture of the company you’re a part of. In order to clear the confusion, we’re breaking down some of the key considerations for you to easily and appropriately step out and step into the office in your own business casual ensemble.
Business vs. Casual
While some may describe garments with more details as being more casual, we tend to consider this in a more nuanced manner. The devil is in the detail and we at Hockerty take pride in considering every detail that makes up the style and fit of a garment – from fabrics to dimensions and everything in between. So, stating that more detail means more casual is over simplifying and generalizing it. Instead of considering that garments with more details mean more casual, we see it as garments with more embellishments mean more casual.
To describe it in a visual manner, garments with more embellishments and bells and whistles tend to fit better in louder and more casual settings. Case in point, loud printed shirts and cargo pants with large side pockets would be more appropriately worn outside of working hours. On the other hand, sleek and streamlined designs along with more muted color tones are considered more formal and appropriately worn for professional settings, as well as official events. Now, somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum is your ideal business casual style. Putting together just the right ensemble means combining the ideal top and bottoms, as well as accessories.
Business Casual Top
Traditionally, the business top would mean a dark solid colored suit jacket worn over a white long sleeves dress shirt and paired with a coordinating black or dark colored necktie.
Now, if you’d like to step just slightly away from the formal business look, you can start by removing the necktie. Wear your dress shirt unbuttoned at the top and leave your suit jacket open for a more relaxed approach. If you prefer for your men’s business casual look to still include a blazer or jacket, consider its color. Darker suits in black, navy and charcoal grey tend to lean towards the more formal and traditional business style. Lighter colored suits like beige, light blue, light grey and white, as well as non-traditional patterns and colors such as coral and army green are perfect for the business casual style while still looking sharp.
Next, you’ll want to consider what type of top to wear under your suit jacket or blazer. As mentioned, even just wearing a dress shirt that’s unbuttoned at the top already conveys an air of casualness. However, today, the dress shirt no longer fits all professional styles. One can choose to wear a short sleeve button down shirt under a suit jacket, as well as a piqué polo shirt or even a simple crew neck or v-neck t-shirt or jumper.
In truly laidback professional settings and industries, you may even want to forego the suit jacket entirely. You can simply choose to wear either a long sleeves or short sleeves button up or button-down shirt, a pique polo shirt or even a t-shirt.
A great way to infuse your personal style into your business casual outfit is by layering your tops (weather permitting, of course). Wear your simple crew neck t-shirt under a colored v-neck jumper or pair your button-down shirt with a round neck jumper and a light colored suit jacket or blazer. Layering adds depth and dimension to your business casual ensemble. You may look relaxed but you’ll still appear stylish.
Business Casual Bottoms
Now, once you’ve selected the type of top or tops to wear, the key then becomes pairing it with the appropriate style of bottoms. Of course, dress pants that perfectly match your suit jacket and have that single clean break over your shoe are the traditional bottoms for business occasions. Unsurprisingly, the style is no longer a work wear requirement.
While formal trousers will never go out of style even in the office, men today have a wider selection with chinos, jeans and even drawstring trousers considered acceptable options in business casual environment. Again, what’s appropriate would largely depend on your particular profession but we would draw the line on shorts.
What can really make the difference for your business casual outfit is the actual fit and style of your bottoms. Loose fit bottoms appear casual. Conversely, skinny and tight fit bottoms can also be considered more casual. When it comes to the length, cropped bottoms or long trousers that you choose to fold up with a cuff at the hem also make for a more casual appearance. Of course, denim jeans would be the most casual option with the actual style of your jeans dictating the degree of casualness.
While denims are more than acceptable in today’s office, when it comes to jeans, not all styles may be appropriate for all business casual occasions. Slim or straight leg jeans in a dark wash with the pant leg ending just at your shoe is the most “formal” of the casual bottoms. In terms of fit, baggy jeans on one hand and skinny jeans on the other, as well as a bootcut fit are all more casual than the customary straight leg. For length, cropped jeans, which look great when worn with loafers, as well as a cuffed or a rolled-up style also have a slightly more casual appearance. When it comes to color, the lighter the wash your jeans have, the more casual they’ll also be. Think stone or medium blue jeans, as well as white or even khaki jeans, all of which are great for a more laidback business casual approach.
We then go back to our rule of more embellishments means more casual. Trousers that have more trimmings, including pockets, drawstrings, wide cuffs, and visible stitches, as well as patterns and prints will always give you a more casual appearance. They may still be business casual appropriate, depending on the precise style, fit and the overall culture of your office. However, wearing distressed, ripped and raw edge jeans may no longer be appropriate for the office as they are way over the casual line.
Business Casual Shoes
Of course, after your trousers comes your shoes. Leather Oxfords, Derbies and Monk Strap shoes will never go out of style, even in the office floor. You can wear them with any suit and almost any business casual outfit. While you can never go wrong with the traditional style, men today also have more fashion forward options for footwear.
Horsebit loafers, penny loafers and tassel loafers work perfectly for the business casual style, especially when worn with chinos or jeans. Same goes with sneakers - yes, you heard us right. Sneakers are becoming a more common and acceptable type of footwear at the office. However, it's best to keep your sneakers as minimalistic as possible and wear them in solid colors. Afterall, sneakers are known to dress your outfit down, so try going for a smart pair.
Men today don’t have to settle for single colored leather footwear. Feel free to express your style by mixing materials, colors and patterns. Wear semi brogue shoes in a combination of black leather and tweed fabric or two-tone wingtip oxfords in black and blue leather.
Office wear is also not limited to just low-cut leather shoes. A leather Chelsea boot or a two-tone chukka boot can give your business casual outfit that added dose of style. Lastly, even sneakers are no longer office limits when it comes to work wear. Some of the most stylish men today have been known to wear leather sneakers with their suits. It’s a nice contrast, giving the formal look that slight bit of edge that can make all the difference.
Naturally, sneakers also work great when your business casual outfit involves jeans and chinos. When opting to wear sneakers to work, bear in mind that they’ll only actually work if your sneakers are clean and are designed for more style rather than sports. This isn’t necessarily the time to wear your running or basketball sneakers.
Business Casual Accessories
When it comes to accessories, wearing less of the traditional men’s accessories will certainly give you a more relaxed and less uptight appearance. You can forego with the waistcoat, necktie, tie bar, pocket square, and cufflinks when it comes to the business casual aesthetic. Alternatively, you can keep the necktie and pocket square on but choose a non-traditional fabric, pattern and color to give your business wear a less business and more playful vibe. Similarly, you can choose to wear a brighter colored pair of socks, a contrasting belt, and a patterned scarf to add more personality to the usual serious business ensemble.
Business Casual Outerwear
Before stepping out the door, you’ll want to wear the right outerwear to complement your business casual style. You can almost never go wrong when going about your work day in a single- or double-breasted overcoat, pea coat, duffle coat or even a trench coat. However, the business casual style opens the door for many other styles of outerwear.
Your t-shirt and jumper with chinos and loafers would look great with a leather bomber jacket. Your button-down shirt with trousers and boots would also pair perfectly with a field jacket. If you’d prefer to go truly more casual, you may even consider a denim or leather jacket. So, while you may be accustomed to throwing on your classic overcoat when heading for work, you may want to pause and slip on an unexpected field jacket instead.
|Blue Pea Coat||Linen Field Jacket|
Business Casual that Works
The spectrum of business casual for men, with traditional business on one side and modern casual on the other, is quite broad. So how do you determine what fits right for you?
You’ll want to consider the industry you’re a part of. Traditional corporate professions such as those in the financial industry, as well as law firms and C-suite executives would still skew more towards the business than the casual side. On the other hand, tech and creative industries, as well as the start-up scene are more casual in their approach.
In addition to looking at your professional industry, you’ll also want to consider the specific company you’re a part of. Pay attention to how your colleagues dress and the actual office environment to ascertain what style would be suitable.
Last but not least, consider your own personal style. What do you want to wear as you go about your work day and what fits you well? Regardless of what you’re wearing, fit is always paramount and the business casual dress code is no exception to this. Wear clothes that fit you perfectly and are sized on purpose because business casual for men does not mean sloppy. Not only do you want to feel comfortable and confident as you get the job done but you’ll also want your style to reflect your personality. Striking the perfect balance is what will make your business casual style work for you. Check also about semi formal attire for men, so you distinguish it better from business casual style.
Find out more business casual tips for men in this video:
If you want to learn about business casual dress code for women, find out more in our sister blog post.