Business casual attire is defined by the urban dictionary as a clothing style that lies between casual and formal wear.
It is intended to be laid back while still giving a professional and business-like impression. While it sounds easy to pull off, it can be quite tricky to ensure you’re not looking like someone out for a stroll along the beach, on your way to the gym or to a street party.
The way we dress, even in this laid-back world, is still the first thing people use to sum you and your personality up. Professionals, while keeping with the times, still want their employees to represent their businesses appropriately.
The male models in magazines look so well dressed and make it look so easy to pull of.
It can get overwhelming for the average male professional, i.e. shopping while ensuring style and appropriateness.
In this article, we do our best to outline different aspects that you can think about as you choose your winning business casual attire to suit you and send the message you want to portray both to your superiors and your peers at the office.
First let’s look at what to consider as you shop around, before we delve into the items that make up the perfect business casual outfit for men.
- Survey your surroundings
Just like the way you would read the reviews of a book before buying it or learn the housing market before buying that dream house, you want to learn about your company and its standards before investing in a completely new wardrobe.
Business casual can entail several clothing items and styles and the last thing you want is to end up with a style that puts you out of place and the laughing stock of the office.
I once worked in a company that considered a certain style of jeans as appropriate. However, I have also worked in places where jeans are a complete no-no, regardless of the style. So, when the interviewer asks the question “do you have any questions for us?”, ask about their dress code.
While the answer may be vague, they’ll almost certainly tell you what they ‘DON’T’ accept as opposed to what they DO, so take note!
If you already have the job, look at your superiors, the management teams, see how they dress. Learn more about the company standards, scan and survey your surroundings, then use this knowledge as you invest in your brand-new wardrobe.
- Be consistent
When the time comes to shop, it is important to be consistent in your style choice. If you usually wear long slacks with button-up shirts five days out of the week, don’t throw in an outfit that completely contradicts that style.
Please feel free to mix up colors and styles but don’t do a complete 360 to the point where nobody knows who you are one day. If you went to work as John on Monday, don’t show up as Spiderman on Friday, that’ all I’m saying!
- Mind your VIP meeting dates
This one is just a side note that in my interactions, is often not considered. While the norm is business casual, consider being a little conservative on meeting days for example with clients, the CEO etc.
It simply shows respect for yourself, your company and the people you are meeting with. This fact is often forgotten in today’s world of flip flops and ripped jeans – I call it the ‘don’t-care’ generation.
I sometimes wish I could be as ‘don’t-care’ as they are, but I can’t bring myself to do it, unfortunately. It’s just on of those things you envy but can’t and really shouldn’t do.
Generally, a professionally dressed man is one who is wearing a blazer, a shirt, an inner vest, trousers, socks and shoes.
The design, accessories and how these items are put together is what differentiates traditional formal wear from the business casual attire for men.
In the following sections we will describe these items individually and hopefully this will ease or eradicate the confusion when it comes to fulfilling the business casual male attire spectrum.
Battle of the Blazers
The blazer is the one significant item of clothing that every professional working man must or should have.
I call it a battle because choosing a blazer can get you noticed for all the right reasons or it can go horribly wrong and make you less than a laughing stock. The thing to consider when purchasing your blazer, especially for business casual is the material.
According to D’marge.com, the blazer can be classified as structured – a close fit with lining and padding – or unstructured – a bit of a loose fit that flows on the body as opposed to hugging it.
Regardless of the style you choose, a blazer ties in a man’s overall outfit. The unstructured blazer is generally better for summer months as it isn’t padded or lined making it lighter and breathable for the hotter months.
It is also more business casual inclined as the casual aspects are already in its design. i.e. the lack of inner lining, padding and even in it’s stitching.
In terms of colour, blue tends to be the most versatile. As you shop, you can invest in a variety of blues – navy or sky blue; feel free to explore with this one. It cuts right in the middle of being too loud e.g. bright yellow or too blah e.g. black.
Battle of the shirts
The shirt, just like the blazer, is also often misconstrued and the ‘casual’ in business casual attire is often misunderstood.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across wearing a golf shirt to work under the label ‘business casual’. A golf shirt is simply casual and there isn’t anything business about it! as its name suggests, it belongs at the ‘golf’ course and nowhere near the office.
The traditional formal shirt is mainly made up of three things: it is long-sleeved; it is buttoned down with a collar; it is often one color; and, it is usually made of cotton. A business casual shirt is generally all these things except the color and pattern.
Here, you could get a shirt that is a mix of two or three shades or one that has a non-conflicting pattern. Don’t go too wild though, the colors and/or patterns still need to work well together.
Some business casual shirts may be V-necked as well. Again, this may require a bit of research on your part as to what the standards of the organization are. I must say though; the V-necks take business casual attire for men to a whole new level – positively!
The inner vest
The inner vest is not mandatory when it comes to business casual but adding it to your outfit can make you stand out for all the right reasons. The shirt collar, neatly folded and pressed into a contrasting vest or snug filling cardigan takes the professional look to new bounds.
If you have a blue and green shirt, a dark grey vest or cardigan would contrast well and even allow the shirt colours to stand out through its collar. This vest or cardigan can be worn with or without the blazer.
However, be mindful of the colour if you choose to wear it on its own. The outer parts of your outfit should be the least loud.
This is basically one of the must have items in any mans outfit, but it is often worn wrong and is usually misrepresented in the business casual spectrum. A wide variety of trousers can be worn as business casual and really, trousers would be the easiest clothing item to shop for.
When in doubt, always go for dressy black. You will still look business casual based on the shirt and blazer choices you picked. However, please do not go into work wearing shorts, ripped up or faded jeans or my personal favourite, athletic wear.
These will simply not work in any kind of professional setting, and you will be leaving a very bad impression with every step you take!
Now don’t get me wrong, jeans for example can be very stylish and can be worn as business casual provided, they are uniformly coloured and of high quality.
A thing to note is that some businesses still frown upon any-kind of jeans and so, research is key here. Lastly, just remember, if it feels like the street, it belongs in the street!
One would think that socks aren’t important because no one see them, however, this notion couldn’t be more wrong.
Many a time I’ve come across an impeccably dressed gentleman, from tip to toe, he is like an image from a magazine. That is until he sits down, the trousers pull up and a crazy coloured patterned sock is revealed.
Can you hear the glass breaking? A perfect image dissolved and forgotten because of one small piece of clothing. An even worse scenario is when a little ankle bone peeks out of neatly pressed trousers – the dude has NO socks on!! Invest in socks.
Keep them conservative and dark neutral here. No crazy colours – don’t try to match them with what you have on. Black, dark blue or grey will work perfectly with whatever combination you have on.
I think it goes without saying! Sneakers, flip-flops, and Sandals are a big no-no. While casual, they are NOT business casual. Dress shoes are the way to go here.
Now, I don’t mean to go the generic dress- shoe route. Remember, we are still talking about business casual attire for men and there are plenty of styles that fit this spectrum. Examples are slip-ons such as loafers (made with leather soles) or Moccasins (opposite of loafers). They also come in a variety of designs such as with or without straps and/or heels.
A shorter person may prefer shoe with a heel for the added height and a heavy-footed person like me would generally go for the flats as they last longer whereas the heel tends to wear out unevenly.
Other business casual shoe designs to consider are the Oxford and Monk Strapped shoe. Both are mostly made with leather and come in a variety of colors, adding an ‘impossible -to-miss’ touch to your outfit.
Try on multiple pairs to find the one most comfortable for you. These days, cobblers go to great lengths to ensure their shoes are comfortable.
Many are padded on the soles and sides offering extra support and conform to the shape of the foot. Gone are the days where dressy meant discomfort!
The best thing about business casual attire for men is that, the tie is out! Wear it or not, it won’t make or break your outfit.
It is completely optional! I know this is the best part for many. I remember back in the day, we used to have tie-tying lessons.
It was an imperative skill one had to have as part of the job seeking process- kind of like formal letter writing. Some tried to cheat by wearing the ready-made ties with the elastic around it, but it embarrassed so many people when the elastic would break at the worst possible moment.
So what accessories work for men you ask? Well, watches are still very much in. Perhaps a nice leather bag equipped with a leather notebook, calculator and ample space for laptop and/or other gadgets. The options are limitless. Have fun with this one, you’ve saved lots of tie-tying time, enjoy!
Choosing business casual attire for men doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be fun. It does, however, need a bit of an educated decision-making process.
While the traditional formal wear is slowly becoming a thing of the past, business owners still agree that a certain level of professionalism is imperative – and this includes the dressing.
Employees are the representatives of the business and thereby their appearance reflects the business itself; badly dressed employees could very well deter potential and existing clients.
Remember to keep in mind the phrase, “if it feels like the street, it belongs in the street!” Have fun and look like a million-bucks at work.