What Is Business Casual Attire?

Definition & Examples of Business Casual Attire

Five coworkers dressed in business casual attire looking at a speaker.
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Business casual attire refers to a style of office wear that is less formal than traditional business professional attire.

Find out what clothing is appropriate for business casual attire.

What Is Business Casual Attire?

Business casual attire is a dress code that dictates what employees can wear to work and still be appropriately dressed. It's more informal than a suit and tie, but not as casual as gym wear, beach wear, or weekend wear.

The specifics of business casual attire vary from organization to organization, as each has its own workplace standards and expectations, so there is no one code of dress that works for every office. But generally, business casual attire is neat, clean, and professional, without requiring a tie. A collared shirt and pressed pants or a skirt would make an acceptable business casual outfit.

More than half of U.S. companies have a business casual dress code, and even formal workplaces may offer employees a casual option, such as casual Fridays. Business casual attire is appropriate for these instances, but employees should consult the dress code, employee manual, or human resource department to be sure.

A business casual dress code policy that includes specific examples will help employees meet the expectations of how they should dress for work.

How Does Business Casual Attire Work?

Business casual attire is usually more common in departments with little to no client contact, and in industries that are more creative or technical, such as a software development firm or a graphic design agency. Banks and law firms are more likely to have dress codes that require business professional attire.

Appropriate business casual attire for men usually includes:

  • Dress pants
  • Collared shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Closed-toe shoes

It can also include a blazer or jacket. Shirts might be long-sleeved or short-sleeved, such as polos. T-shirts, especially graphic tees, are usually not allowed under a business casual dress code.

For women, business casual attire usually includes:

  • Dress pants
  • Collared shirts or blouses
  • Sweaters
  • Blazers
  • Closed-toe shoes
  • Skirts or dresses

Sometimes sleeveless blouses are acceptable, but tank tops usually are not. Some open-toed footwear may be acceptable depending on the office, but it's worth checking before you wear sandals to work.

In general, denim, spandex, sweatshirts and sweatpants, T-shirts, exercise clothing, sundresses, and sandals are inappropriate in a business casual workplace. So is ripped, tight, fraying, revealing, or see-through clothing.

Suits and ties are typically too formal for a business casual look; removing the tie, and possibly the jacket, makes the outfit business casual. For women, going from business professional to business casual might mean losing the blazer, swapping the blouse for a more casual top, or exchanging a pencil skirt for smart trousers.

Sometimes an employer is comfortable with relaxed casual attire for work. For example, many companies allow employees to wear jeans on Casual Fridays. For employees who are not customer-facing, casual clothing may be acceptable workwear.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Business Casual Attire

Advantages
  • More comfort

  • Improved employee morale

  • Lower clothing costs

  • Lower maintenance costs

  • More self-expression

Disadvantages
  • Room for misinterpretation

  • May require policing

  • May affect business

  • Could reduce professionalism

Advantages Explained

  • More comfort: Employees who are comfortable are likely to be happier and more motivated
  • Improved employee morale: Employees are more likely to feel positively about their work environment
  • Lower clothing costs: Casual clothing is less expensive than formal clothing such as suits
  • Lower maintenance cost: Casual clothing doesn't require the same kind of high dry cleaning bills as formal clothing
  • More self-expression: Employees can express their personality better through business casual attire

Disadvantages Explained

  • Room for misinterpretation: Employers may need to establish detailed dress codes to clarify expectations, and piecemeal guidelines after the fact can damage employee morale
  • May require policing: Constant management of employees' work attire can damage work relationships
  • May affect business: An employee may project an image to customers that is at odds with what customers expect from their firm
  • Could reduce professionalism: Some believe that business casual clothing encourages a casual attitude from employees, while formal clothing signals professionalism.

Key Takeaways

  • Business casual attire is office wear that's more informal than traditional business attire.
  • A typical business casual outfit might be a collared shirt, dress pants or skirt, and closed-toe shoes.
  • Business casual might be less formal than a suit and tie, but it must still be appropriate for the office.
  • The exact definition of business casual attire varies from company to company, so it is important to consult your office's dress code for what is acceptable.

Article Sources

  1. International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. "Suits to Sneaks: Change in Workplace Dress Codes." Accessed Oct. 4, 2020.

  2. SHRM.org. "Managing Employee Dress and Appearance." Accessed Oct. 4, 2020.

  3. Social Psychological and Personality Science. "The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing." Accessed Oct. 4, 2020.