Business Casual Dress – What is Business Casual?

Business casual dress causes a great deal of confusion in the workplace. What exactly should you wear? Are jeans acceptable?

Here’s an explanation of what business casual means, and how you can put together a wardrobe that still looks professional.

Business casual dress is a combination of the formal, dark colors of business wear, with the relaxed, comfortable look of casual wear. But be careful. It’s not weekend wear, or sportswear. It’s somewhere in the middle ground. It combines the professionalism of business dress with the comfort of casual dress, to create a smart, polished office look that’s a step below business formal.

Here are 5 tips to guide you in planning your wardrobe.

1. If you wear business formal dress (a suit) to work everyday, and are now allowed to wear business casual on Fridays, dress one notch down. So you can wear a jacket and pants, but men can remove their tie. Or women can wear a pants suit instead of a suit with a jacket.

2. If your company allows you to wear business casual dress every day, when you are working in the office or for sales meetings, you still need to look professional. You don’t have to wear a suit, but you should wear neat separates. This would include a crisp blouse or shirt, or a nice sweater with pressed business pants (or skirt for women).

3. Keep a jacket handy for unexpected meetings or client visits. Most companies that allow business casual in the office still want their employees to dress up when meeting clients.

4. Dress to make your clients feel comfortable. Even if your office is informal, if you visit clients who are more formal or conservative, it’s a good idea to dress to match their environment. You’ll make a better impression, because you are showing them respect when you dress up.

5. Ditch the jeans. Few companies allow jeans with business casual. If you work in an extremely casual environment, such as in software development, and your clients dress the same way, or you don’t meet with clients, jeans may be alright. Again, take your clues from your boss or manager, and from the people you meet with.

Putting together a polished, professional business wardrobe takes time and thought.

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Business Casual Explained

Ask ten different people and everyone would have a different interpretation on what it is, and what can be worn. This has lead to dress down confusion and frequently inappropriate office attire. The key word is “business”. Business casual is not casual dress, but a more casual way of business dressing versus business formal. Problems arise when business casual in the workplace gets too casual. It is not weekend casual, sporting event casual, gym wear such as jogging suits, night club attire, or beach wear. Business Casual means dressing in a professional more relaxed way, yet still looking neat and pulled together.

Whether business casual is designated to Friday or everyday, clarity should be provided in a business casual dress policy. The policy should provide specific guidelines to the employees. Employees who call on clients should be asked to keep a change of clothing in case they have to go outside the office to see a client.

Guidelines:

Clothing should be pressed, clean, and not show signs of wear.
No offensive clothing that has words or pictures that could offend others.
No clothing that reveals too much cleavage, your back, chest, stomach or your underwear.
Clothing shouldn’t be too tight or too baggy.
If jeans are allowed they should be dress jeans in a dark denim.
Avoid trendy.

Guidelines For Women:

Casual pressed pants, tailored pants or dressy capris. Avoid shorts and leggings.
Skirts. Avoid too short, floor length and high slits.
Tops: Collared shirts, conservative sweaters, cardigans and sweater sets.
Casual dresses. Avoid party dresses, floor length dresses, and sundresses.
Hosiery is not essential in the summer for business casual.
Shoes: Can be opened toed or a dressy sandal for the summer. Avoid thongs, flip flops or beach like sandals. In the winter a closed toe shoe or conservative boot.
Jewelry: Avoid extremes.

Guidelines For Men:

A sports jacket
Collared Shirt, polo shirts, knit shirts with collars
Ties are not necessary
Dress sweaters such as a turtleneck or crewneck
Tailored pants, Khakis
Socks
Shoes can be more casual such as a loafer. Avoid sandals, flip flops, athletic shoes and hiking boots.

One last word of advice, think business before casual.

Pat Elke, Founding President of Advancing With Style is a leading authority and executive advisor in the areas of professional image, business and social etiquette, workplace civility, international business etiquette, and cultural awareness.

Since 1982 she has worked with over 600 corporations and delivered more than 1500 seminars worldwide. Clients range from Fortune 500 companies to government agencies, and from political leaders to financial CEO’s.

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Great Tips on Business Dress and Business Casual For Men

Adhering to a business casual dress code often poses a challenge for many men. You want to be comfortable and relaxed, yet still maintain a professional look. On the contrary, when maintaining a business dress etiquette, where do you draw the line on incorporating sportswear? Whether you’re a young professional just starting to build your wardrobe, or are well seasoned in the business world and want to add new inspiration to your men’s apparel, you’re in luck. Discover the differences between business dress and business casual for men and how to incorporate the appropriate style for your situation.

What to wear: Every work environment is different. What may be considered appropriate for business casual in some work spaces, may be too casual for others. Your best bet? Check out what your co-workers and leaders are wearing. You don’t have to copy their style, but it will give you an idea of how to dress business casual.

Suits and suit separates: A fine suit is the prime differentiating factor between business dress and business casual. The standard business dress code always requires a tie. A suit made from fine materials, well-fitting dress shirt, and silk tie are go-to items for business dress. However, make sure your suit, shirts and ties are clean and pressed each time you wear them. Wearing fine clothes that sport stains, rips or tears can be worse than not adhering to a business dress code at all. And in most cases, you can remove your jacket once you’re in the office or a meeting.
Dress trousers and khakis: Dress trousers are always suitable for any business casual dress code. Depending on your work environment, khakis will most likely be considered appropriate business casual apparel. Pair either with a sportshirt or turtleneck, sportcoat and leather shoes for a professional yet comfortable look.
Dress shirts: Dress shirts balance the look of your outfit and visually complement your accessories. For a business casual dress code, try pairing a pinpoint dress shirt with tweed trousers, penny loafers, a leather belt and cashmere scarf, and you’ll look instantly dashing. When adhering to a business dress code, a point collar is the most versatile for business or dress. Button-down collars look best with a sportcoat and khaki pants; they are not typically worn with a suit. Also, look for dress shirts that come in wrinkle-free and stain resistant materials. They’ll keep you looking fresh even during your busy travel schedule.
Shoes: Shoes are a versatile category. Many dress shoes that can be worn with a suit, can also be paired with your business casual attire. Tuxedo shoes, or black patent leather dress shoes, are too dressy for the office and should be reserved for black tie affairs. Historically, sneakers have been too casual, although designers are coming out with more sophisticated styles that may be appropriate for your work setting. Choose a pair of shoes that offer clean, crisp lines and are made from genuine leather. Be sure to treat them with a leather protector and clean them regularly, as a shoddy pair of shoes can instantly spoil an entire outfit.
Briefcase/laptop bag: A distressed leather mail carrier style bag, messenger bag and laptop case in subdued shades is acceptable for a business casual work environment. For business dress, however, a briefcase is best. Look for a classic case in a versatile shade such as cognac, burgundy or black.

What not to wear: Be forewarned in case you were debating wearing any of the following to work:

Obnoxious t-shirts: Wearing a soft tee shirt made from finely woven cotton underneath a V neck sweater is perfectly fine for business casual apparel. However, wearing your Spring Break tee from 1999 is not. Prominently displayed logos can look tacky as well. Save the raucous bachelor shirts for weekend use only.
Jerseys of any kind: Absolutely not. No. Not ever. A basketball, football, baseball, or any other kind of sports jersey is never appropriate for the office. The same goes with baseball caps, giant finger gloves, track jackets, or any other sports apparel you’re tempted to wear on a day when you’re not feeling so fresh. Others will notice your lack of effort and inappropriate attire immediately.
Sandals: While flip-flops have a charming, beach-hippie sort of appeal, you should avoid wearing them in a business casual work environment. No matter the designer or materials, they are simply too casual for the office

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