Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Business Casual: The most common and most misunderstood dress code

Business Casual, in my opinion, is the most common dress code and is pretty standard on college campuses and many office environments.  But, I also believe that many people are confused about what Business Casual actually means.  Some hear the word "casual" and equate it with comfortable and dressed down.   Don't make that mistake, business casual is a distinct category of business attire and is actually not casual at all.  It is a more relaxed version of business professional dress but it still models closely the tailored and professional look that is expected in business and office settings.

For students Business Casual dress is appropriate to wear to Career Fairs, information sessions, networking events with employers, interviews for leadership positions and jobs on campus, and award ceremonies.

Business Casual attire is where my love for the pencil skirt plays out.  A pencil skirt and peep toe shoes is probably my favorite thing to wear to work.  I feel polished and professional and able to conquer the world in this combination.  A pencil skirt can be paired with a blouse, a cardigan or a blazer, so it is very versatile and a staple in any career girls wardrobe.

So, what does Business Casual look like?
1.  This is the classic pencil skirt, sweater and black pumps.  This look is a timeless staple for career women.

2.  A tailored, sheath dress is classy looking and can easily have a jacket or blazer added to model the look of a suit.  Open-toed shoes are acceptable for business casual.

3.  Tailored, solid colored pants with bouses, shirts and blazers are appropriate for business casual.

4.  A wrap dress is another classic wardrobe essential and it flatters most every figure.

For Women:

Pants (creased and tailored, solid colors are best)

Skirts (length that lands at or above the knee)

Tailored dress Tailored shirts, blouses, knits, sweaters and cardigans

Blazers and jackets

Both closed toed and open toed heels are appropriate, boots, booties and flats (some sandals)

Jewelry and accessories (such as belts, scarves, watches) should be classic and conservative Hose are not required but the weather should be considered (walking around campus in Blacksburg in February with a skirt and no hose might make someone question your judgment and good sense)

A structured bag or a small purse coupled with a business bag

For Men:

Khaki, gabardine, cotton, wool pants (jeans are not considered business casual)

Long-sleeved button down shirts, polo shirts and sweaters

Sports coat

Ties are not necessary (when in doubt err on the side of too formal)

Dark socks Leather shoes and belt
Smart Casual and Business Casual are very similar.  The main difference is wearing jeans.  Jeans are not appropriate for the Business Casual dress code.  Smart Casual also allows for a little more variety in style and the ability to incorporate current trends into your work wardrobe.
Which casual dress code do you prefer, Smart Casual or Business Casual?


  1. Becca,
    Thank you for your helpful advice. I am a stay-at-home mom who was invited to an open house. The attire was business casual and since I have not been in the business world for a few years I needed some pointers. I appreciate your pictures and outfit combinations. Thank you!

  2. youngpolishedandprofessionalJanuary 4, 2013 at 9:11 PM

    Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. I'm glad you found it helpful.

  3. Becca,
    I just wanted to thank you for this post. It was very helpful; I'm 29 and just got a new job after 2 years of just being a student so I appreciated the tips :-)

  4. youngpolishedandprofessionalFebruary 11, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    Hi Paula,
    I'm glad you found the post helpful. Good luck with the new job and thanks for stopping by the blog.

  5. Hi! I'm about to start an internship as a psychologist & researcher. I don't have a clue what to wear though. My current style is quite rocker, casual and with a bit of new ethnic twists. I want to fit in, but don't want to lose my own style. Furthermore, I've been a student for quite a while and don't have a lot of money to spend on business wear or a new wardrobe. Tips?

  6. youngpolishedandprofessionalMarch 14, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    Hi, thanks for stopping by my blog. Congratulations on the internship, it sounds exciting. My first thought is regarding what setting will you be working in? Office, University, School, Hospital, etc? That might help determine what some of the "norms and expectations" might be. I think if your style is more rocker and casual if you move too much into the "conservative" zone you might feel uncomfortable and awkward. I think you can honor your "rocker chick" but tame it back a bit with classic cuts and lines. You could really use accessories, jewelry and shoes to bring business casual into your comfort zone. Check out Victoria's Secret and Express for some inspiration. They might be closer to your price range and you could find some "edgy" inspiration. If you could spend the money on a suit that has a cut you like then you could go to other less expensive stores for completer pieces. You can break a suit down into so many different outfit combinations with just a few other items. I know we are moving into spring and summer now but you might consider some leather pieces or clothes with leather accents. Recently, I combined a rather preppy dress with a black leather jacket, tall suede boots and textured tights and it looked way more edgy than preppy. Good luck!

  7. Gah... why does everything but one have such bloody high heels! I'd break my neck those! Do women actually wear those? I mean it can't be comfortable.

  8. youngpolishedandprofessionalMay 6, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    Hi Belinda - thanks for stopping by the blog. Yes, I actually wear heels almost everyday. I'm a shorty (5'4) and like to be taller. And, yes, sometimes they kill my knees and feet! I like wedges because they provide additional support. Of course you can wear flats but heels just add a more polished detail (but I love heels). Try a short little kitten heel or a wedge if you aren't comfortable in heels.

  9. No offense, but totally disagree on the 'more polished' look; it just looks to me like impracticality/torture for the sake of so-called "fashion". :/

  10. Stephanie TharpeMay 13, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    These outfits are amazing!!! Where do you find your clothing pieces?

  11. disqus_PpYkzAcTb3May 14, 2013 at 9:25 AM


    I am a 36 year old mom of two getting back to work after a long break. I need to buy all of my work clothes since obviously I do not fit into anything that I have from when I used to work earlier. Loved this article of your :-) Where is a good place to buy such outfits for petites at a reasonable price? Since I have not been working for a long time, spending a lot on attire is not an option for me.


  12. Belinda,
    I totally agree with you on this one. Can't stand heels and don't want to figure out how as I refuse to kill my back in them.

  13. Of course women wear them. And we look like mf goddesses in them too. I rock my business casual outfits with flats personally, and business formal with the heels, but that's the difference in my head. Heels aren't made to be practical fyi. :) But, they look great!

  14. Thank you so much for this article!! I have been on the fence about what to wear for work... Eveyone else I work with seems to be getting more and more casual, but I live to dress up! :) I just never want to over-do it and my boss made a point to tell me that the work attire there was business-casual. I'm just not a casual girl! lol but this helps. Thanks again! The clothing options are super cute btw. :)

  15. I've literally never heard of open toe shoes (even the peep toes featured here) being considered professional in any business setting. I've worked both in the office setting and in the hospital setting.

  16. Hi,wow. this post is very nice.

  17. I am in love with these looks. The outfits can be mixed and matched so seamlessly!

  18. So, what kinds of boots are considered business casual? I have two pairs of black boots-one set has a dull finish, are almost knee-height and are snowboots, and the other pair is leather, about mid-calf height, and are lace-up combat boots, but the hem of any decent pair of jeans/slacks/pants covers the laces. Which, if either, of these pairs is considered business casual?

  19. Hi, I was wondering what type of dress is the red one on the bottom row, second to last? Love it!!

  20. Oh my goodness -- this has helped me so much! I was getting ready for my RA interview and wanted to clarify what "Business Casual" ment when I stumbled upon you blog. As I read through it, I saw that you wrote "...walking around campus in Blacksburg in February with a skirt and
    no hose might make someone question your judgment and good sense..." and was so excited because it's February and I got to school in Blacksburg and had decided to wear black sheer stockings to my interview.

  21. Wonderful idea, would you be a sweet darling and do an article about 30 empowering outfits for business woman from 15 or less pieces please! I love your blog.

  22. Hi! Great article :) I'm starting a short summer internship soon and i have a huge dilemma: can i wear jeans if the other employees wear jeans? We had some courses held by the employees from different departments and they were really casually dressesd, tshirts or sporty checkered shirts and jeans. Can i wear an elegant blouse and dark jeans?

  23. I'm 17 and attending an awards ceremony for college. We're been told that the dress code is 'business' but that's all that is says. Considering I'm 5'3, 17 years old, have dreadlocks and very very little money, how am I supposed to do this? I own a black waist high skirt and a couple of nice woolen jumpers, but shoe wise all I own is one pair of black ankle boots...

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  26. These high heeled shoes are absolutely not appropriate for business casual. I do not think the author of this blog understands in the least, what business casual means in most companies. Certainly not those gigantic necklaces, high heeled shoes, short shirts and tight sweaters. That's all totally wrong.

  27. There are no boots that are considered business casual.

  28. I have been where you are and place like good will is your friend most of what I have is from there and if done right super cheep

  29. youngpolishedandprofessionalMay 26, 2015 at 4:09 PM

    I'm afraid Frank didn't actually read the article. Business casual is most certainly everything that I described. Business casual is a notch down from business professional but still models the professional look. Business casual puts the emphasis on "business", not "casual". So, high heel shoes are absolutely appropriate (if you choose to wear them). Never in the article did I suggest anyone wear tight sweaters or short skirts. All business skirts should land at, or slightly above, the knee and statement necklaces and are also appropriate for a business casual environment but not a requirement. This is a style blog, the idea is to offer suggestions on how one might like to style a business casual outfit. If Frank chooses not to wear high heels, statement necklaces and skirts that is certainly his prerogative.

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