What Does a Business Casual Dress Code Mean?


Office environments have long been the haunt of stuffy formalwear like the traditional business suit, shirt, and tie. But in recent years, new media industries and the technology sector in particular have been shaking up perspectives on worker’s attire. Now, with casual Fridays becoming a popular feature of modern offices, company bosses have begun to loosen their rules (and their ties).

You may have come across the term business casual dress code and wondered exactly what it means for your wardrobe. And no, those trendy flip-flops you bought recently are not okay to wear to your next business meeting!

What is a business casual dress code?

Get rid of that old suit and make room for an exciting array of stylish, sophisticated and functional clothing. With a business casual dress code you are expected to project an aura of professionalism, but you also have a chance to hint at your own personality.

Depending on your industry, you may be given more or less leeway on the ‘casual’ side of the spectrum. Some trendy pieces might work, but be careful not to go overboard. Anything you would wear to a nightclub or that shows too much skin (i.e., chest, cleavage, midriff, back or feet) is a no-go. Similarly, items typically sported at the beach or gym are unlikely to be deemed appropriate when following a business casual dress code.

Tops: For men, a button down shirt with a collar (no tie) is standard business casual style. Polo shirts, cable knit sweaters and smart blazers or jackets can also be worn. Simple patterns and solid, neutral colours are preferable to bold prints. In the tech sector, trendy crew neck t-shirts may be acceptable, but V-necks or vest tops are unfitting—nobody wants to see your chest hair in the office! If you do wear a top with text, be sure that it is unlikely to offend or has a company logo.

For women who want to follow the business casual dress code, tops or blouses in brighter colours and with subtle patterns can be worn. Garish colours, strappy vests, and low-cut pieces should be avoided. Cardigans or light sweaters work well on a day-to-day basis. Alternatively, a suit jacket or blazer can be added to make an outfit look a little classier.

Footwear: Closed toe shoes are a must. Women may opt for flats or heels. For men, loafers or brogues in classic colours are both comfy and versatile. Sandals and flip-flops are just too casual for the office. Keep those little piggies under wraps! In general, socks or stockings should be worn in neutral colours. If you happen to work in tech, adding a pair of colourful patterned socks may express your individuality without distracting your co-workers from the task at hand.

Pants, Skirts and Dresses: Chinos, tailored slacks and classic dress pants all fit the business casual dress code, while khakis are considered a grey area by some. Knee length skirts or dresses work well. Jeans are generally viewed as too casual, but again, this may depend on your industry or company’s policy. Leggings and track pants are better left for your exercise class!

Accessories: As a rule, jewellery, watches and handbags should be kept classic and minimal. In some industries such as advertising or fashion, fun statement pieces might be acceptable.

Hats: Broadly speaking, hats and headgear, unless worn for religious or cultural reasons, are deemed unacceptable in an office environment.

Why is a business casual dress code good for your company?

Many believe that offering their staff more freedom and comfort in their choice of office wear will improve productivity and creativity as well as overall staff job satisfaction. This can be seen in Silicon Valley where their progressive approach to office working environments is thought to be a potential draw for employees. Even the financial sector is getting on board with this trend. In June 2016, JPMorgan Chase switched from a business formal to a business casual dress code for the firm’s 237,420 staff.

It’s important to note that what a company views as a business casual dress code may differ depending on the type of industry or their target customer. Companies that deal with young, hip millennials may lean more towards the ‘casual’ than the ‘business’ side. A financial company may take a more conservative approach while at the same time wanting its employees to appear friendly and approachable. If you are unsure of what is acceptable in your company, better play it safe and consult with your human resources department about their expectations.

Need some inspiration to put together your take on a business casual dress code? Why not check out Pinterest for 1000’s of images and ideas!