Business casual allows you to dress in a way that is neither too formal nor too casual. While many companies allow you to wear business casual on certain occasions, there is no consensus on the exact types of clothes and accessories it includes. Understanding the norms of business casual dressing can help you make the right impression without feeling awkward at the workplace. In this article, we discuss what business casual attire is and also provide tips on business casual dressing for the workplace.
What does business casual mean?
Business casual refers to the attire that is less casual than conventional casual wear and is suitable for wearing at the workplace. Unlike traditional business formal like a suit and tie, business casual gives you greater choices of vibrant colours and accessories. It can give you a more relaxed look, while still being appropriate for a business environment. For example, wearing blazers and vests allows you to express yourself, while still maintaining a decent appearance.
You can often see employees wearing business casuals at call centres, tech companies and marketing departments. Some companies allow business casual attire on Friday or some other specified day of the week, while others may allow it for business meetings and get-togethers. Confirm a company's dress code with their Human Resources department if you want to wear business casual for an interview. If you are unsure whether a company allows business casual, it's best to stick to the safe option of business formal instead.
The ideal business casual look
The traditional casual dress code does not qualify as business casual. For example, the following types of clothing are not suitable for a business environment:
- Shorts and knickers
- Sleeveless vests
- Faded, ripped or distressed jeans
- Sports shoes, canvas shoes and slippers
- Backless dresses, cold shoulder tops and strapless shirts
- Short skirts and crop tops
- Printed shirts and hooded sweatshirts
- Skinny, acid-washed and faded jeans
- Clothing with distracting patterns
- Clothing with unprofessional quotes, logos and images
Are jeans business casual?
Due to the difference in work culture and dress code across industries, some companies may regard jeans as business casual, while others with a more traditional attitude towards attire may choose to exclude them.
If you wear jeans for business, make sure you go for classic styles instead of bright-coloured ones with flashy details. They should be free from tears and fraying. Consider pairing your jeans with suitable accessories and layers, such as blazers and collared shirts.
Business casual attire for men
It is safer to err on the formal side than on the casual while choosing your business casual attire. Here are some business casual ideas for men:
- Well-ironed khaki pants, chinos or slacks (pleated or flat fronted)
- Vests, collared shirts, button-down shirts, polo shirts or sweaters
- Shirts with simple checks or stripes
- Blazer, jacket or coat
- A pair of close-toed shoes with or without socks
- Dark socks or invisible socks (optional)
- A belt to match with your shoes
Business casual attire for women
Women can choose from a wide variety of options ranging from skirt suits and collar-in skirts to chiffon sleeve dresses. Following are some of the business casual dressing options for women:
- Knee-length or longer dresses, such as skirt suits
- Collar-in skirts, knee-length skirts, slacks or chinos
- Blouses, tops, sweaters, collared shirts, full-sleeve shirts, button-downs or polo shirts
- Outer thermal wear for winter
- Cardigans, trench coats, jumpers, blazers or jackets
- A pair of closed-toed shoes, boots, pumps or mules
- Belts, scarves, headbands, jewellery or other accessories
Gender-neutral business casual attire
Unisex or gender-neutral clothing breaks you free from conventional feminine and masculine stereotypes. It is fun to wear and often adds to your confidence. Here are some gender-neutral business casual options:
- Chinos, slacks and khaki pants
- Full-sleeve shirts, button-down shirts and polo shirts
- Sweaters, blazers and jackets
- Boots and loafers
Business casual dressing tips for the workplace
Companies in Hong Kong tend to have a conservative outlook towards business attire compared to their western counterparts. Men usually dress in shirts, suits and ties, while women wear knee-length skirt suits.
Professionals in creative industries, such as marketing and fashion, have more freedom in their choice of wardrobe because their attire acts as an extension of their talent. However, they too should follow professional courtesy. Make sure your dress does not reveal too much skin, since that may be considered indecent. You may carry a briefcase to add an element of elegance to your appearance.
Consider following a dressing style that weighs more on the formal side than on casual. Here are some helpful tips for choosing and wearing business casual for work and interviews:
Follow your company's dress code
Different companies have different rules regarding business casual dressing. Some companies may allow you to wear more casual attire, such as jeans and flip-flops, while others may insist on wearing more formal types, such as full-sleeves and non-denims. Try sticking to your company's dressing practices while choosing what type of business casual to wear. Most of the times, companies define their dress code in their employee handbook. Sometimes, the dress code may vary by department. Consult HR if you need any clarification on your company's dress code.
Consider suitability for the occasion
Some companies may allow more flexibility on certain occasions, like company outings, birthday celebrations and team activities. Similarly, they may expect you to wear more formal attire during occasions like conferences, client meetings and trade shows. Make sure what you wear is acceptable and appropriate for the situation. For example, if your company allows you to dress casually on the second and last Fridays of the month, you can wear business casual only on those two days of the month.
Observe what others are wearing
If you are new in a company, consider wearing formal for the first few days. You can then observe how your colleagues dress and make changes to your attire accordingly. For example, if you are uncertain whether you can wear jeans during a trade fair, it is better to avoid them initially. If you see your colleagues coming in jeans, you can observe the sobriety and pattern of their attire, and follow a similar style next time. To be on the safer side, consider following the dressing style of your supervisor.
Keep it neat and decent
Make sure the clothes you wear are clean and give you a decent appearance. Go for clothes that cover your body well. If you are wearing a dress that exposes your back or midriff, consider adding another layer like a blazer or a pullover. Consider wearing more rather than wearing less.
Take permission for medical and religious deviations
Sometimes, you may need to wear or avoid certain accessories due to health or religious reasons. For example, a leg injury may prevent you from wearing shoes or your doctor may prescribe orthopaedic shoes for you. Similarly, you may be wearing a rudraksha bracelet due to your religious belief. In cases, where you need to deviate from your company's dress code policy due to medical or religious requirements, make sure you inform your company and take necessary permission.
Choose a comfortable fitting
Choose clothes that fit well. Bodycon dresses, skintight dresses, loose-fitting outfits and off-shoulder tops are too casual for a business setting. It's important to consider the comfort factor while choosing your clothes. Make sure you can sit, stand and move around freely to carry out your office tasks throughout the day.
Go for dark-wash jeans
It is important to be extra careful while wearing jeans as business casual. Consider wearing dark-wash jeans because they look like traditional slacks and are more appropriate for office wear than light-wash jeans. You can easily pair dark-wash jeans with a light-coloured top. Dark colours also hide any sign of fading.
Keep it sober
Even if your company allows jeans as business casual, you need to be careful while choosing one. Jeans come in a wide variety of styles. Consider choosing a sober design instead of one with glitter, heavy embroidery or bright neon shades. The length should run below your ankles and the fit should be comfortable.
Wear blazers and accessories
If you want to further tone down the casual look of your jeans, consider wearing a blazer of a matching colour. A light-coloured shirt or sweater goes well with dark-coloured jeans and blazer. For example, you can wear a white-collared shirt with dark blue straight-leg jeans and a matching blazer. Similarly, a neutral-colour button-up shirt would look great with black boot-cut jeans and blazer.
You can further complement your jeans with a belt and formal shoes or ankle boots. Formal accessories, such as metallic watches, simple necklaces and handbags can add an element of elegance to your outfit.