There’s no overlooking the fact that the work environment has changed over the years. The traditional nine-to-five office workday 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.
Historical Evolution of Business Casual
The term business casual might seem like a recent phenomenon, but its roots trace back several decades. In the 1960s, as American corporate culture started to shift, companies began introducing "Casual Fridays" to boost employee morale. This was a departure from the rigid, formal attire previously required. By the 1990s, the Silicon Valley tech boom brought with it a more relaxed approach to workplace attire, setting the stage for what we now recognize as business casual.
- 1960s: Introduction of Casual Fridays.
- 1980s: Emergence of 'power suits' but with a slightly relaxed touch.
- 1990s: Tech boom promotes comfort with style.
- 2000s and beyond: A blend of comfort, professionalism, and individual expression.
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 vs. Smart Casual
While both business casual and smart casual prioritize a polished look, they serve different occasions and environments.
- Sits between business casual and casual. Think of it as a dressed-up version of your everyday attire.
- Denim or jeans are acceptable if paired with a blazer or a nice shirt.
- Footwear can range from sneakers (clean and stylish) to boots or brogues.
The main distinction is the level of formality: business casual leans more toward the professional side while smart casual offers a bit more flexibility.
|Business Casual vs. Smart Casual|
Business Casual vs. Business Formal
This is where clear boundaries are drawn. Business formal is the attire you'd expect in traditional corporate settings, law firms, or high-profile meetings.
- No strict need for a suit jacket.
- Neutral colors but with some room for patterns and brighter hues.
- Ties are optional.
- Suits in dark shades like black, navy, or charcoal.
- Ties are mandatory, typically in solid colors or subtle patterns.
- Polished leather shoes, and accessories like cufflinks and pocket squares might be expected.
It's crucial to gauge the environment and occasion when choosing between the two.
|Business Casual vs. Business Formal|
Considering a Casual Outfit for a Wedding? Here's Your Guide!
Wondering if you can don a casual ensemble for a wedding? The answer isn't a simple "yes" or "no". It largely depends on the wedding's dress code and etiquette stated in the invitation. Here's a breakdown with Hockerty's insights:
1. White Tie or Black Tie: These are the most formal dress codes, where tuxedos or evening gowns are expected. A casual outfit would be inappropriate for such events.
2. Cocktail Attire: This is a step down in formality but still demands a sharp look. While a full suit is recommended, you might get away with a smart blazer and trousers.
3. Beach or Garden Party: These events often have a more relaxed vibe. A blazer with well-fitted jeans can be a perfect choice, striking a balance between laid-back and elegant.
4. Casual: Here's where you have the most freedom. Embrace the casual look fully with a stylish blazer and jeans combination.
If the invitation doesn't specify a dress code, or you'reunsure, it's always best to err on the side of being slightly overdressed than under. Remember, it's easier to slightly dress down an outfit (like removing a tie or unbuttoning a top button) than to magically upscale a too-casual look on the spot.
5. Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual: This is somewhere in between cocktail and casual attire. Think of a neat button-down shirt paired with tailored trousers, potentially accompanied by a blazer or a sophisticated sweater. Ties are optional here but can add a touch of refinement.
6. Theme-based Weddings: These are special events where the couple has chosen a unique theme for their big day. Whether it's vintage, boho, or even costume-themed, your best bet is to align your casual look with the wedding's theme, adding a touch of personality to fit the occasion.
Feeling inspired yet? If you're leaning towards a relaxed yet distinguished look, pairing a blazer with jeans remains a timeless choice. The combination effortlessly merges comfort with style. To perfect this ensemble, delve into our detailed guide on how to wear a blazer with jeans to weddings. This way, you can be certain to make an impression while also feeling completely at ease.
At Hockerty, we believe that dressing for a wedding – or any occasion for that matter – shouldn't be a stressful task. It's an opportunity to showcase your style, be it casual, formal, or anywhere in between. Take pride in your choices, trust in our guidance, and you'll undoubtedly be the epitome of style and grace on any special day!
Business Casual Tops
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.
Beige linen unlined Suit Jacket
Onyx Black rounded lapel unlined Suit Jacket
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.
Blue short sleeved slim fit Polo shirt with custom placket collar
Blue long sleeved slim fit Polo shirt with custom placket collar
Blue long sleeved slim fit Polo shirt with custom placket collar
Grey short sleeved slim fit Polo shirt with custom placket collar
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 workwear 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 a 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.
- Traditional Choices: Leather Oxfords, Derbies, and Monk Strap shoes are timeless.
- Loafers: Horsebit, penny, and tassel loafers are great for business casual styles.
- Sneakers: Gaining popularity in the office, but opt for minimalistic, solid-colored designs.
- Express Your Style: Mix materials, colors, and patterns like two-tone wingtip oxfords or semi-brogues with tweed.
- Not Just Low-Cut: Consider leather Chelsea boots or two-tone chukka boots for a dash of flair.
- Sneakers with Suits: An emerging trend, leather sneakers can add edge to a formal suit look.
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: Do's and Dont's
Business casual has evolved to be a versatile style, bridging the gap between strict corporate attire and more relaxed, everyday wear. This provides an excellent opportunity to play around with accessories to add a personal touch or a splash of individuality to your outfit. Here's a handy guide to accessories that fit the bill for a business casual look, and those that might be best reserved for more formal settings.
|Accessory||Business Casual||More Formal|
|Necktie||Optional (Consider non-traditional fabrics, patterns, and colors)||Yes (Stick to more conservative options)|
|Pocket Square||Optional (Experiment with playful designs)||Yes (Choose refined and muted patterns/colors)|
|Socks||Brighter colors or patterns for a fun twist||Subdued and matching the trousers|
|Belt||Contrasting for added flair||Matching with shoes|
|Scarf||Patterned or bright colors to stand out||Neutral tones and subtle patterns|
Remember, the essence of business casual lies in balancing professionalism with personality. While it's crucial to appear polished and put-together, there's plenty of room for creativity and personal expression. Accessories can be the key to adding that unique touch, so choose wisely and wear them with confidence!
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.
- Overcoats: Single or double-breasted styles are classic choices.
- Pea coat & Duffle coat: Ideal for a more formal business casual look.
- Trench coat: Versatile for varying weather conditions.
- Leather bomber jacket: Complements a T-shirt, jumper, chinos, and loafers ensemble.
- Field jacket: Pairs well with a button-down shirt, trousers, and boots.
- Denim or leather jackets: Best for a relaxed business casual look.
- Experiment: Don't be afraid to deviate from your usual overcoat; try an unexpected field jacket!
|Blue Overcoat||Linen Field Jacket|
Seasonal Business Casual Tips
The change in seasons should not compromise style or comfort.
- Spring & Summer:
- Lightweight fabrics like cotton or linen.
- Pastel and lighter shades for shirts.
- Loafers or boat shoes can be a good choice.
- Fall & Winter:
- Layering is key. Think of cardigans, vests, or blazers.
- Darker, richer colors like burgundy, forest green, or deep blue.
- Boots or leather shoes work well.
Remember, the goal is to maintain a professional appearance while adapting to the weather.
Navigating Business Casual Dress Codes
Every company interprets business casual differently. Here's how to navigate these murky waters:
- Research the Company: Before an interview or starting a new job, look into the company's culture. Maybe even ask HR directly about the dress code.
- Start Conservative: On your first day, it's better to be slightly overdressed. You can then adjust based on what colleagues are wearing.
- When in Doubt, Overdress: If there's an important meeting or event, it's better to err on the side of formality.
- Accessorize Smartly: A good watch, belt, or even glasses can elevate your business casual look.
It's all about balance. While you want to express individuality, it's crucial to respect the company's ethos and culture.
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.
At the end, the best business casual is the one that works for you and matches your style. That's why you have to design your own custom suits and custom dress shirts.
Find out more business casual tips for men in this video:
FAQ section for Business Casual
Do I need to wear a tie for business casual?
Wearing a tie is not always necessary for a business casual dress code. In many cases, you can achieve a polished look without one. However, it's always a good idea to have a tie handy for more formal meetings or events where it might be expected.
Can I wear slim fit clothes in business casual outfits?
Yes, you can wear slim fit clothes in business casual outfits, as long as they are well-tailored and not overly tight. Slim fit trousers, shirts, and blazers can provide a modern and stylish appearance while still maintaining professionalism. Ensure that the slim fit garments you choose are comfortable and allow for ease of movement.
Are jeans acceptable for a business casual dress code?
While jeans are becoming more accepted in some business casual environments, it's important to use discretion. Opt for dark-wash jeans without excessive distressing or fading. Pair them with a tailored blazer, dress shirt, and leather shoes to elevate the overall look. However, it's always best to check your company's specific dress code policy to ensure jeans are appropriate.
Can I wear sneakers in a business casual setting?
In some more relaxed business casual settings, clean and minimalist sneakers can be acceptable. However, it's crucial to choose sneakers that are stylish and well-maintained, avoiding overly casual or athletic styles. In most cases, it's safer to opt for dress shoes, loafers, or brogues to maintain a professional appearance.
Should I tuck in my shirt for a business casual outfit?
For a business casual outfit, tucking in your shirt is generally recommended. It creates a more polished and put-together appearance. However, there may be instances where a well-fitting, untucked shirt is acceptable, especially in more creative or casual work environments. Use your discretion and consider the overall look and level of professionalism you want to convey.
Can I wear shorts in a business casual environment?
Shorts are typically NOT considered appropriate for a business casual dress code, unless you work in a specific industry or geographical location where it is widely accepted. Stick to tailored trousers or chinos for a more professional and polished appearance.
Can I incorporate patterns and colors into my business casual outfits?
Absolutely! Incorporating patterns and colors can add personality and style to your business casual outfits. However, it's essential to strike a balance and avoid overwhelming combinations. Choose patterns and colors that complement each other and pair them with neutral tones for a cohesive and sophisticated look.
Is grooming important in a business casual setting?
Grooming is crucial in any professional setting, including business casual. Ensure your hair is well-groomed, facial hair is neatly trimmed, and nails are clean and well-maintained. Pay attention to personal hygiene and wear subtle, appropriate scents if desired. A well-groomed appearance enhances your overall professionalism and attention to detail.
Is Combining a Turtleneck with a Suit Fashionable?
Definitely! Merging a turtleneck with a suit creates an elegant fusion of time-honored and modern aesthetics. This combination not only exudes a refined charm but also refreshes the conventional suit look. Success lies in selecting a well-fitted turtleneck, harmonizing colors and materials, and crafting a cohesive appearance.
If you want to learn about the business casual dress code for women, find out more in our sister Sumissura blog post.
4 Business outfits ideas for Spring
Spring is in the air, and as the flowers bloom, so should your style. It's the perfect time to breathe new life into your business attire. Whether you're attending a conference or an after-hours networking event, these four outfits will ensure you stand out this season.
1. Charcoal and Blue Elegance
Bold choices often make for unforgettable outfits. That's precisely what the blend of charcoal and blue accomplishes in this ensemble. Instead of the traditional navy, the charcoal gray suit makes a statement. When matched with a vivid blue dress shirt, it's nothing short of elegant. The ensemble's crescendo comes in the form of brown double monk strap shoes – a daring, yet sophisticated touch.
- Charcoal Gray Suit: A versatile and trendy choice.
- Vivid Blue Shirt: Adds a pop of spring color.
- Brown Monk Strap Shoes: Modern and stylish.
2. Understated Navy & Stripe Duo
Navy is the cornerstone of men's suiting. In this look, the navy suit is given a fresh spring twist with a subtly pinstriped shirt. It's all about the delicate details that elevate this ensemble. With glossy black leather Oxford shoes to round off the outfit, you're ready for any business rendezvous this season.
- Navy Suit: Timelessly chic.
- Light Pinstriped Shirt: Adds depth and texture.
- Black Leather Oxfords: Classic and polished.
3. Brown Sophistication
As spring beckons, why not experiment with earthy hues? This brown double-breasted suit is a testament to that. It may not be conventional, but it is undeniably sophisticated. Paired with a pristine white shirt and gleaming black loafers, this outfit resonates with the warmth of spring.
- Brown Double-Breasted Suit: Unique and bold.
- Crisp White Shirt: A clean contrast.
- Glossy Black Loafers: For that added flair.
4. Soft Green and Blue Pastels
Spring is synonymous with pastel colors. Think of a soft green or pale blue suit, paired with a white or light lavender shirt. Complement it with navy brogues or loafers. This outfit is a gentle nod to the blossoming nature of spring, offering a fresh and airy feel.
- Beige or Pale Blue Suit: Embodying spring vibes.
- Light Lavender Shirt: A hint of floral inspiration.
- Navy Blue Brogues or Loafers: Perfectly season-appropriate.