Business casual is a very common dress code for offices around the country — but it wasn’t always that way. It first started gaining popularity around the 1990’s with the introduction of casual fridays and some well-placed marketing campaigns from brands like Dockers. But even in that short time frame, the meaning of the phrase has begun to evolve.
In general, business casual is a dress code that’s meant to be a mix between traditional business attire and casual weekend wear. However, your exact outfit decisions should be tailored to your specific workplace and the demands of your position. Some more traditional offices may still require that men wear suit jackets and ties on a regular basis, but others are open to slightly more casual looks like khakis and cotton shirts.
Though different offices may have more specific policies or tendencies, there are some general do’s and don’ts that can help you make sense of the ever-present business casual guideline in offices around the country. Here are some guidelines for business casual menswear.
Business Casual Shirts for Men
In most office environments, long-sleeved button-down shirts are the norm. Choose ones made out of cotton or another casual type of fabric. Classic oxford shirts in white, light blue or other pastels are perfect. However, you could also opt for nice dress shirts in solid colors or classic patterns like stripes. You can also pair them with a sweater, vest, fitted cardigan or casual jacket. When it comes to blazers and sport coats, opt for single breasted options in neutrals or subtle patterns.
Overall, you should stay away from anything too casual, like t-shirts or henleys. In fact, short-sleeved shirts in general tend to be a bit too casual for business casual environments, though polo shirts may be okay in offices that veer more toward the casual side of business casual. In addition, you don’t need to get too formal with fancy suit jackets or high end materials like silk.
You can’t go wrong with a classic white oxford like this one from Eddie Bauer.
You could also integrate some light colors like this one from Stafford.
A dress shirt like this one from Van Heusen works best for slightly more formal environments.
You can also integrate some simple patterns with shirts like this Calvin Klein one.
A classic cable sweater like this one from Brooks Brothers is appropriate for the office during winter.
You could also layer a classic cardigan like this one from Lands’ End over other dress shirts to stay warm.
During winter, you could layer with a zip-up sweater like this from Jos. A Bank.
Or you can add a classic sport coat like this from Ralph Lauren.
This corduroy option from Stafford offers a bit of a different look.
If you prefer a patterned sport coat, go for something like this US Polo Assn. product.
Business Casual Pants for Men
When it comes to pants, a good rule of thumb is to stick with slacks or trousers in neutral colors like gray, navy, brown or khaki. You can also opt for chinos or corduroys if you pair them with a nice sport coat or shirt and tie combo that elevates the outfit a bit. You may even be able to get away with high quality dark-wash denim if your office tends to be a bit more casual. Flat front and pleated styles are both fine; it just depends on your personal style and preference.
However, stay away from shorts, loose denim, bright colors or ill-fitting pants. Black also tends to be a bit too formal for business casual environments. So save those for your next weekend event and stick with gray, blue, and brown during the week.
Classic dress pants like these from Haggar work in nearly any office setting.
These twill Ralph Lauren pants offer a bit of an elevated look.
For a more casual look, go for these khaki chinos from Lands’ End.
For those who work outside or want an especially casual option, these chinos from Eddie Bauer are lined with fleece.
These classic Perry Ellis dress pants go with almost anything.
Similarly, these Ralph Lauren pants have a bit of a pattern but are still very subtle.
If you prefer pleated pants, go for something like these from Dockers.
For a slightly trendier option, these chinos are from Bonobos.
Corduroys can also work in an office setting. These are from L.L.Bean.
If you have a casual office that allows denim, go with a black or dark wash like these from Calvin Klein.
Business Casual Shoes for Men
There are a wide range of dress shoe styles that can be appropriate in business casual offices, from classic oxfords to monk straps or loafers. In the winter, you can also wear chukka or chelsea boots, or another dressy style that offers more coverage. When it comes to color, brown and tan are classic options that go with most business casual outfits. But you could also opt for something a bit more interesting like burgundy or oxblood.
Stay away from sneakers unless your office is very casual. And even then, stick to high quality leather ones in a dark color. Generally, anything aside from leather or suede should stay in your closet throughout the week. And of course, no sandals or slip-ons.
These oxford shoes from Clarks are a classic choice for any office.
You could also go with something a bit more ornate like these from Dockers.
If you want something a bit more durable, these Timberland shoes could work.
Classic penny loafers are also appropriate during the summer. These are from Brooks Brothers.
These Eastland loafers come in a variety of colors.
If you have an especially casual office, these Johnston & Murphy loafers may work.
In the winter, you can go with something like these dress boots from Johnston & Murphy.
These Steve Madden chukka boots are a bit more casual but can also work in the winter.
For more formal offices, these monk straps from Brooks Brothers may be appropriate.
Or if your workplace is more casual, you can go with a black leather sneaker like this pair from Cole Haan.
Business Casual Accessories for Men
Ties are fairly popular in business casual offices, though not usually required. Pair a nice tie with a casual oxford shirt and chinos to elevate the look a bit or stick with a knit tie so it’s not too formal. Simple wristwatches, tie bars and classic leather briefcases can also work, but are not essential.
In general, you want to keep the accessories pretty simple. So steer clear of anything that’s especially formal like pocket squares or collar pins, unless your office is pretty traditional or you’re attending a special event. And don’t go too casual with your look either; don’t swap the leather briefcase for a backpack unless you’re traveling and stay away from those silly ties.
For traditional offices, you could opt for a patterned tie like this one from Brooks Brothers.
A solid color tie like this one from Bloomingdales could also work.
Knit ties are also gaining some popularity. This one is from Nordstrom.
A classic leather briefcase can be both practical and stylish. This one is from Jack&Chris.
For a more durable briefcase, go with this one from Duluth Trading Co.
A classic wrist watch like this one from Shinola can help to elevate an outfit.
This Citizen watch provides another style that’s appropriate for the office.
Simple tie bars can also elevate an outfit. These are from Nordstrom.
If you wear a shirt with French cuffs, add some cufflinks like these from Kenneth Cole.
These Cathys Concepts cufflinks come monogrammed so you can add some personalization to your outfit.
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