The Lookbook: Business Casual



This week I am featuring a new dress that I recently bought from Zara. The dress is bright red, long-sleeved and features covered buttons and a pussycat bow neckline. Working in the Admissions Office as a Senior Fellow, I have to wear business casual attire at least once a week. Given that professional clothing can be very expensive, I was super excited to find this dress on clearance for less than twenty dollars. I felt that it was the perfect dress to match my preppy style while also looking office appropriate. 

I find that many companies are adopting inclusivity and wellness practices into their work environments. One main component of this is allowing employees to dress in a way that allows for self-expression and comfort. “Business casual attire” is supposed to be the happy medium between business professional and casual clothing. Clothes that are informal enough for you to feel at ease, but professional enough not to disrupt the work environment. Despite my past internships and career bootcamps, I still sometimes struggle to discern which articles of clothing I should wear to the office. What clothes are suitable and which are pushing the limits of professionalism? I find that many people my age and across industries, struggle when deciding what to wear to work in the mornings. This is why I wanted dedicate a column to unpacking and explaining what it means to adopt a business casual attire. 

So, here are some tips for how to navigate the business casual work space:

1. Skirts and dresses above the knee are typically not acceptable, but capri cut slacks and khakis are fine. Never jeans. 

2. Collars on shirts are nice but are not required. Feel free to wear a stylish blouse or shirt of your choosing–just stay away from anything too revealing. Polos and short sleeves are acceptable. Ties are optional. 

3. For shoes, please stick to closed-toed dress shoes. Peep-toe sandals and mules are typically acceptable, but flip flops, slides and sneakers are a no-no. 

4. Wrinkles are never acceptable, so allocate time to ironing your outfit in advance. Also, “distressed” anything is definitely unacceptable. Stay away from ripped, bleached or cut up garments. 

5. Business professional attire typically only includes dark and neutral colors. So, business casual attire means you have room to experiment with colors and patterns. Be careful not to go overboard–but this gives you room to experiment.

6. When it comes to jewelry, have fun, but in moderation. A nice necklace, watch, lapel pin or belt can add a pop of style as long as they aren’t too distracting. 

7. Makeup is also acceptable in moderation. Feel free to sport a bold red lip, but don’t come to the office looking ready for the Grammys. 

8. I believe that everyone should at least own a blazer or suit jacket for initial interviews but it is not needed for the office. A nice cardigan or vest is all you need. 

9. In the name of sustainability, I recommend shopping at thrift stores to find clothes. Especially when you’re on an intern salary or just starting your career. 

10. Finally, stockings are typically required for business professional settings but not business casual. Leggings as pants are never a good idea in the workplace but may be a nice option to wear under your work dress. 

While these tips provide an idea of how to dress appropriately, these aren’t fixed rules. Above all else, I recommend being a tad over-dressed for the first day. This not only helps you make a good first impression but saves you from unknowingly wearing something too informal. 

Also, because every company is different, no one work culture is the same and neither are their definitions of business casual. Take at least a week to feel out the company. Take mental notes of what other employees are wearing and maybe even have a chat with the Human Resources representative to learn official company policy on clothing. This way you can find the happy medium between professionalism and personal style.