What Is Business Casual? Guide For Men, Women, Summer [2020 Updated]

You’re about to go in for an interview and the HR manager says the dress code is business casual. Or one of your managers suggests that you attend a business dinner and recommends business casual attire. What does that mean? How do you dress for it? And how do you dress for it for the seasons (summer especially).

We’re going to cover everything you need to know about dressing business casual (or business professional) and make sure you attend your meetings looking professional.

Ready? Let’s jump right in.

Table of Contents

What Is Business Casual?

Business casual is a term that describes a dress code which isn’t formal but not entirely relaxed. Formal wear for men would be considered a suit and tie, usually a dark suit with a white shirt and tie. For women, formal wear for work would usually include a pants suit.

So what does business casual mean? It means that you should wear clothing that doesn’t appear as though you would be lounging around the house or attending a sporting event. For example, you shouldn’t wear sneakers. And you most likely should not wear light blue jeans.

You’re probably wondering what that means in terms of outfits. Before we cover that, let’s discuss why business casual is the new normal dress code.

Why Might A Dress Code Be Business Casual?

Formal dress attire has mostly been irritated from the workplace. In fact, the last workplace to require formal dress code was Goldman Sachs, and recently (in 2018/2019) have been more flexible on their dress code, resulting in business casual.

Pro fact: Princeton University recently performed a study and found that it only takes 1/10th of a second for someone to have a first impression about you. Meaning, what you wear can be critical to making a good first impression.

Technology startups have mostly paved the way for helping to show that dress code doesn’t affect the workplace negatively. Normally, formal dress code brought a professional presence and sense of respect to the workplace. But technology startups (even public ones like Snapchat or Facebook) have shown that professionalism doesn’t start with dress code.

A business casual dress code is usually indicated when your employer or future employer wants you to feel comfortable but still presentable.

Business Casual For Men

What does business casual mean for men? Business casual for men usually entails a button-up shirt (tucked in preferably), pants (khaki’s or pleated pants), boots (no sneakers) and sometimes a blazer or dress coat.

What isn’t business casual:

  • Nike sneakers
  • Light blue denim jeans
  • A short sleeve or long sleeve t-shirt
  • Shorts
  • Fitness apparel

Related: The Best Color To Wear For Interviews & Professional Meetings

What is business casual:

  • Workwear boots (like Redwings or J. Crew for example)
  • Long sleeve sweaters (v-neck or crewneck)
  • Dark denim (preferably black or very dark blue denim)
  • A long sleeve shirt (preferably with little pattern but some check or plaid is okay)
  • An optional tie (for example a tie underneath a v-neck sweater)

As you can see, business casual entails normally darker clothing that you might wear if you went to a graduation event or some type of key milestone celebration event.

Business Casual For Women

What does business for women mean? Women have a slightly harder time dressing business causal than men. Mostly because it can vary depending on the time of year. Generally speaking, business casual for women should never be revealing (no bra straps showing, not too tight, not too low cut, and not too flowing).

What isn’t business casual:

  • Short skirts
  • Shorts of any kind
  • Too high of heels
  • Revealing tops
  • Tube tops
  • Tight t-shirts
  • Any athletic apparel

What is business casual:

  • Dark pants
  • Mid sized heels
  • Blazers
  • Looser v-neck blouses that aren’t revealing
  • Long skirts (below the knee)
  • Pant suits
  • Long sleeve sweaters (v-neck or crew neck)

For women, the ideal business casual attire is dark and not revealing (no bra straps showing, not too tight, not too low cut, and not too flowing). When it comes to makeup, try not to wear too many bright colors, stick to natural or neutral color tones with your makeup. As long as you stay within those guidelines, you’ll be okay.

2 Outfit Ideas For Men

Here are a few business casual outfit ideas for men.

Outfit one:

  • A long sleeve shirt
  • A v-neck sweater
  • A tie on the long sleeve shirt
  • A pair of dark cotton pants
  • Black or brown leather belt
  • Boots (like Redwings)

Outfit two:

  • A long sleeve check shirt
  • Shirt tucked into your pants (khaki)
  • Black or brown leather belt
  • Casual dress shoes (like Alden shoes)

2 Outfit Ideas For Women

Here are a few business casual outfit ideas for women.

Outfit one:

  • A long sleeve v-neck sweater
  • A pair of dark blue jeans
  • A pair of black mid-sized high heels (no higher than 4” heels)

Outfit two:

  • A loose but not releasing dark grey blouse
  • A pair of black jeans
  • A pair of black mid-sized high heels (no higher than 4” heels)

How Should I Dress For Business Casual In The Summer?

Dressing business casual in the summer can be very complicated. Because in the fall or winter it can be easier, you can wear sweaters and blazers to bring your casual attire up a notch. For example, you could wear dark denim jeans with a blazer, resulting in business casual.

But what happens in the summer? How can you make sure that you aren’t sweating through your clothing, causing you to be uncomfortable but still meet the business casual dress code?

Dressing Business Casual In The Summer For Men

For men, dressing business casual in the summer usually entails a long sleeve dress shirt tucked into either dark denim jeans with boots or cotton pants (like khaki pants) with a tucked-in shirt.

It’s okay to eliminate any jacket in the summer and still be business casual. The best thing you can do is make sure that your long sleeve shirt is a solid color, is ironed properly and is tucked into your pants.

Avoid sneakers in the summer if possible.

Dressing Business Casual In The Summer For Women

For women, dressing business casual in the summer can be hard to determine. The most popular thing to wear for women in the summer is a loose v-neck blouse with dark jeans and high heels.

Be sure that you avoid any revealing clothing in the summer. And if you wear any v-neck tops, be sure that they aren’t cut too deep, showing any cleavage or above the naval skin.

Blouses will be your best friend in the summer for women as they provide enough breathing room to stay cool but can be dressed up to make you look professional.

What’s The Difference Between Business Casual and Formal

Formal wear is often worn to a nighttime celebration event or what you might have worn to your prom dance. This would be tuxedo’s for men and formal long dresses for women.

Business casual as it relates to formal is pretty far from one another. With formal attire, you wouldn’t wear a sweater (for either men or women). For business casual, you have the option to wear a long sleeve sweater along with a pair of cotton pants.

Shoes, for both men and women would be non-revealing formal shoes with a shine. In business casual, boots and flats are okay.

What’s The Difference Between Business Casual and Business Professional

Here’s a common question, is business casual and business professional the same thing? The answer is no. Business professional is one step below formal. For men, that means you wouldn’t wear a tuxedo. But you should absolutely wear a suit and tie (with a jacket optional in the summer). For women, this means that you should wear a pants suit with a white blouse underneath. Business professional is the classic professional attire that you might see in movies or TV Shows (like Suits on USA Network).

Business Casual FAQ's

The following are common questions job seekers have when asking about business casual clothing and business casual attire.

Are open-toed shoes considered business casual attire?

For women, potentially. For men, absolutely not. For women, your open-toed shoes should be professional in nature. Not something you would want to wear to a night club or bar.

Are athletic shoes business casual attire?

Some shoes are. For men, as long as you are wearing khakis or a blazer you can wear sneakers or athletic shoes. Same goes for women.

Why are solid colors considered more business casual attire than not?

Solid colors make you look like you have thought about your ensemble. In this vein, it makes you look more presentable. Neutral colors are also fine to wear and considered business wear.

What about loafers for men and women?

Yes, this is considered business casual attire.

What about dark socks?

Dark socks are preferred. White socks don't look as professional.

Is a cardigan considered business casual attire?

For both men and women, the answer is yes.

What about my leather jacket?

For both men and women, if this were a brown or black leather jacket and were Italian in nature or very expensive, then yes. Avoid motorcycle-wear.

Why can't I wear jeans? Why isn't this considered business casual attire?

Some jeans apply. For example, a dark pair of selvage denim would be okay. But your worn-out pair of jeans with holes in them, would not be okay.

Where should I shop for business casual clothes?

There are a number of places across the country. J.Crew is fantastic for both gender's casual clothes. Additionally, Express and Banana Republic are fantastic and affordable options as well. Finding business casual clothes doesn't have to empty your wallet.

Can I wear sandals?

For both genders, absolutely not.

What types of trousers should I choose as a man?

Trousers should be fitted, not pleated, solid in color and presentable. The best trousers are those that feel comfortable and look professional. Solid khaki, navy, or black are your best options in terms of colors.

Need additional help with your wardrobe?

If you simply aren't sure about your wardrobe, ask a friend or family member. Most likely they've had to go through exactly what you are in this current moment. Finding a good choice of clothing for a business event. Ask a friend, a neighbor, a family member or another colleague.

Are tank tops acceptable?

Absolutely not.

What color belt should I pick?

Brown or black. Avoid white, studded, or any other kind of specialty belt.

What's an easy way to go from casual wear attire to a professional appearance?

If you feel like you are sensing that your clothing is a bit more relaxed in appearance, try to tuck your shirt in, change your socks to a dark color, choose leather shoes, and pick a button-up shirt. See what that does.

Other Attire Related Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


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