So what does business casual actually mean? If you’re working in an office that requires business casual dress, you can bet there’s no need to iron your formal suits. But what exactly should you wear? Well, that’s up to interpretation. Traditionally, business casual means slacks, khakis, pencil skirts, and button-downs. But, of course, not all industries or companies behave traditionally. That’s especially true for the tech industry and elsewhere here in the Northwest, where comfort and denim reign supreme. So, instead of more confusing guidelines that tend to muddy the definition of business casual, we’ve turned to products that should inspire great professional, yet relaxed outfits. We call these the seven essentials to a business casual wardrobe.
Brown Leather Shoes
Traditionally, dress shoes are black, but for a business-casual environment, brown leather shoes are safe as long as they’re not too scuffed. Investing in a pair made from full-grain leather is worth your dime. With quality leather, scuffs can easily be rubbed out with a conditioner. Plus, the shoes will last forever. Ladies, we recommend booties with a heel you would feel comfortable hiking in. Seriously — how you stand and walk in your shoes can affect your posture and sense of confidence in the office.
Dark Wash Denim
Before you start a new job, you should find an answer to the question: Can I wear jeans? Openness to denim is really the deciding factor between an office dress code that ranks traditionally business casual or more casual-business casual. Is your brain spinning yet? If you can wear jeans, your workwear options just tripled. However, don’t show up to work looking like you just rode in on a horse. Your jeans should be dark wash and fitted. No holes or rips, please and thank you.
Merino Wool Cardigan
A cardigan sweater is a classic for men and women. It’s a practical garment that’s been around for centuries. However, you can go terribly wrong with a cardigan. If your sweater is boxy, pilly, or faded, get rid of it. Also, the placket of your sweater (where the buttons line up) should fall straight. If there are uneven lumps because your cardigan shrank in the dryer, say goodbye and vow to treat your next one better. We recommend merino wool sweaters. They are warm in the winter but breathable and cool in the summer. They just look classy.
Colorful Dress Socks
OK, are colorful dress socks really an essential clothing piece? It’s debatable. Clearly, they’re not as important as, say, pants, but little accessories matter, and socks are an easy and subtle way to add something charming to your outfit. Fun, colorful socks are as trendy as ever and often inexpensive (aka low-risk). If nothing else, adding some personalized touches shows that you thought about what you put on. Effort is in the details. Make your work count.
A Belt for Structure
A good belt is like the foundation of a well-crafted home. The rest of the outfit can have elements that are loose or flowy, but the belt holds it all together. Men, a quality belt for your jeans in a shade of leather that goes with your shoes is essential. Ladies, find a few high-waisted belts that will add structure to a dress with a looser fit.
Take the Time
People are surrounded by dozens of devices that tell the time — phones, computers, cars, etc. But there’s something about a watch that remains forever classy. It’s an accessory that’s not only stylish but sets the expectation that you’re busy and punctual. Find a watch you can wear with anything and to any occasion. It’s worth your time.
Light Blue Oxford Cloth Button-Down
When you think of neutral-colored button-downs, white and black likely come to mind. But, a light blue Oxford shirt is a good substitute. It goes with almost any color, it’s a classic, it looks good on just about everyone, and it layers nicely behind a long list of sweater types. It’s a little more casual than a crisp white button-down, but it’s simple enough that it serves almost all the same needs.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of “425 Business.”