Learning how to dress business casual can bridge the gap between dressing smart, without going formal all the way. Our goal with this detailed business casual guide for men is to give you enough insight so that you know which pieces to coordinate a fully fledged ultimate business casual look.
You’ve heard that dressing to the nines can do wonders for your image, your confidence and your sense of self. You want to take the plunge, except…you don’t. Strutting a suit and adorning it with a tie and cufflinks just isn’t your thing. Sure, there must be a middle ground? Somewhere between Backstreet Boys 90’s baggy attire and Don Draper in Mad Men. Yes, I understand those two should never be used in the same sentence, and the former should never be a benchmark from which to assess your style. But let’s live with that frame of reference for this particular business casual guide.
Adopting an urgency to upgrade your wardrobe, without going all out with regards to formality can happen. It’s called business casual, and it is with good reason that many events that you are invited to, and many work places, adopt this sense of dress. It exhibits a sense of professionalism, without many an employee feeling restricted by the ‘rules’ of formal attire.
Business Casual exudes a sense of casual chic. Courtesy of www.manyofmany.com
So what exactly constitutes business casual? The phrase is thrown around with such prevalence, that we are often left utterly confused. What’s worse, the phrase is an oxymoron – a paradox by design. Let’s dive into this, so we can look more like Ryan Gosling of crazy, stupid, love (another unnecessary reference), and less like Steve Carrell in the 40 year old virgin.
There comes a point in every man’s life where we must have these uncomfortable conversations! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
The Evolution Of Business Casual
Up until relatively recently, the notion of ‘business casual’ simply didn’t exist. Days were delineated between day wear and evening wear. Men would often wear a stroller coat or morning coat during the day, and a tail coat for dinner and events. Casual attire in those days would have comprised of a tweed suit (gasp!) while going for a leisurely stroll. Not at all stuffy, right?
Come the turn of the 20th century, tuxedos and black tie attire began to fill in as a permanent substitute for white coat dressing. From there, business suits became all the rage, and were the standard for decades.
So how did we transition from formal attire everyday to the modern day business casual dress code that is so widely prevalent? As with life, The answer lies in an extreme shift of the pendulum to one side, before final settling somewhere in the middle.
As tangential as it may seem, in 1966, the Hawaii garment industry, in an attempt to bolster shirt sales, coined the phrase ‘Aloha Friday’s’. The goal was to encourage local businesses to adopt a more laissez-faire approach to clothing once a week. What started as a marketing ploy quickly morphed into a cultural phenomena, before making its way to the mainland United States. The ‘unfortunate’ side effect of Aloha Fridays was that men started rolling into work strutting their most stylistic pieces – sandals and shorts. It quickly became evident that in the absence of formal attire dress code, men simply didn’t know how to dress – the pendulum had swung to far to the other end.
The advent of business casual started with the ‘aloha’ shirt as aptly demonstrated by stud Tom Selleck.
From there, evolved the much vaunted Docker’s ‘Dad’ business casual look that us older folk often reminisce about. People wanted to bring Saturday’s casual golf game attire to the office.
Thankfully shortly after, business casual came into its own.
Business Casual Attire
So what exactly does business casual constitute? In short, business casual entails replacing the suit with separates. This can entail a sports blazer (replacing the suit jacket) with off suit color/ pattern dress pants (trousers), chinos (cotton pants) or dark denim jeans. While business casual convention (an oxymoron to begin with) was defined as strictly pants and a blazer, this definition has morphed into something more fluid, encompassing a range of options. Business casual is the slight dressing down of formal attire. It is NOT the slight dressing up of casual attire!
A blazer with casual wear does not constitute business casual! Courtesy of www.bewakoof.com
Remember, that just because an ensemble doesn’t consist of a singular type of fabric and pattern (a suit) doesn’t mean that it can’t look elegant and dapper. Separates, namely a blazer with a pair of pants / chinos / jeans can work incredibly well - especially for business casual dress codes.
Every business casual getup begins with the blazer. As with your suit jackets, it is imperative that you go with a well fitted sports jacket / blazer. Technically speaking, what is the difference between your sports jacket and blazer, and what type of blazers / jackets should every gentleman have in his wardrobe?
The first type of sports jacket, known as your ‘core’ piece, is normally a blazer. There are few key distinctions between a sports jacket and a blazer. Firstly, a blazer does not have a discernible pattern to it. While texture is often embedded into the weave of the fabric, there is no definitive pattern.
Secondly, and often the most noticeable, are that navy blazers are made with metal buttons. This helps differentiate them from a sports jacket, in addition to demonstrating that you are not wearing a suit jacket with an off color pant.
Lastly, blazers have less structure to them suits do – however, they are not an unstructured jacket.
Blazers have less structure than a suit but more structure than a sports jacket making them ideal for business casual settings!
The Navy Blazer can be paired with a variety of pants, including grey, blue and brown! This is your ‘go-to’ jacket. When a suit is too formal but a jacket is required, your core piece should be something that you can grab from the closet, regardless of your remaining attire. Therefore, a no pattern, plain color navy blazer makes for an ideal go to piece, as it is highly versatile. The blazer is often worn in a business setting, as it is a step down from a suit, but a formal step up from a sports jacket.
A Navy Blazer, with a knitted tie and white pocket square, makes for an incredibly dapper yet casual look. Courtesy of www.hespokestyle.com
Conservative Sports Jacket
The next step towards the business casual transition is a conservative sports jacket. While gentlemen need a core jacket that is timeless in style, a contemporary dresser would like the addition of a conservative sports jacket.
The conservative jacket focuses on adding another element to your business casual look, without becoming the centerpiece. Opting for a more traditional color and pattern scheme allows the sports jacket to be worn at any time – whether it be for a wedding or office wear. The modern man’s wardrobe should contain at least one conservative jacket in the three main colors – grey, blue or brown. It is imperative that these jackets have some pattern, without being too bold or restrictive.
The contemporary pattern of the sports jacket is undoubtedly plaid / windowpane. Having a jacket with this pattern guarantees that you are up to par. A classic example of a conservative sports jacket wardrobe would include: blue windowpane check, grey plaid and brown plaid. Ensuring that your wardrobe has one of each will make pairing a jacket with any business casual outfit relatively simple.
A blue windowpane blazer with an exquisite shirt and a tie combination provides for an incredible suave and sophisticated look. Courtesy of www.lyst.com
Fashionable Sports Jacket
The final sports jacket that would complement your business casual attire is the fashionable sports jacket. Be less conservative with these jackets – Be bold, and mix in patterns, fabrics and colors. Given that the fashion jacket will (by definition) be worn less, take your liberties with going for a higher quality wool. Since this jacket won’t see the same wear and tear that your core and conservative jackets will, opting for a super 130-150 will give you more comfort and style, without sacrificing the jacket.
If you do decide to have your jacket made bespoke, some details that you can look for are: peak lapels (especially if you are slim and /or athletic – helping accentuate the V-shape), ticket pockets and even off-color button holes to help exhibit your sense of style.
A fashionable sports jacket with detailed finishing is something that every gentleman should consider adding to their wardrobe! Courtesy of www.bespokeedge.com
If you like to dress according to season, a linen jacket will have you looking the part in the summer, with a tweed blazer doing the trick during cooler seasons! With a tweed jacket, it is best to aim for neutral colors such as grey and to expand your palette as you get more comfortable.
When the weather is heating up and it feels like a day in the Dubai Desert, opt for a beige, light blue or light grey unstructured cotton or linen jacket.
Sweaters and cardigans can make for great layering pieces for a business casual outfit. In some offices, you may only wear them during the winter, as a middle layer between your shirt and jacket. However, try and avoid the chunky Christmas sweater that your grandma knit for you! In some instances, you could wear them as your outer layer, completely substituting your jacket!
If you are really looking to go sans blazer, opt for a cardigan. The cardigan, often referred to as the old man’s sweater, has mightily fought itself back into sartorial relevance. A cardigan functions like a jacket, opening down the front with buttons or toggles. The best cardigans help provide some taper around your waist, providing a slimming effect like sports jackets do.
Given their thin construction, a cardigan is best worn with a shirt and tie, for extra depth. Make your cardigan stand out even further with a knit tie - the perfect business casual look!
Looking to add some textural depth to your ensembles featuring a cardigan? Check out The Dark Knot’s range of Silk Knit Ties, which provide the perfect level of depth.
Shawl Collar sweaters provide your attire with textural depth and richness. Courtesy of www.hespokestyle.com
The next step (that was admittedly a first long step!) is the dress shirt. Opting for cotton shirts / dress down oxfords in your staples of white, blue and yes, pink, will leave you in good standing! An Oxford dress shirt is absolutely appropriate for business casual wear and can be worn in a more relaxed state by keeping the top button undone or wearing a more casual (yet striking) knit tie. As you gain more confidence, you can increase your range of shirts from solid whites, blues and pinks to incorporate a wide range of colors and patterns.
An Oxford Dress Shirt provides for an elegant business casual look. Courtesy of www.gentlemansgazette.com
While business casual indicates that suits pants can be ditched, adhering to an aesthetic that flatters you will still suit you (no pun intended!) well. It is therefore imperative that your business casual pants are worn with the same intent and sophistication as the rest of your outfit. This means wearing slim, clean fitted pants. If you are looking for a pair of dress pants, solid navy or grey will work wonders, as could olive green!
Business Casual can involve wearing dress pants that are a different color from your jacket (separates). Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Alternatively, if you work in a less traditional environment to begin with, you could opt for chinos. As is the case with your dress pants, you want to ensure that your chinos fit well. A casual look turns into a sloppy look the minute your fit has been compromised. Dressing casual does not imply dressing sloppy! Pair your chinos with a contrasting blazer for a sophisticated look.
Chinos are the perfect way to spruce up your business casual look! Courtesy of www.johnlewis.com
Finally, depending on your work environment, you can go with a pair of dark denim. The fit of these jeans should either be slim or straight. Try and stay away from bootcut and relaxed jeans, as these are too casual for the workplace. Try and ensure that your jeans are slim and dark so as to create a more sophisticated look.
Dark Denim is a great alternative for your business casual trousers or chinos! Courtesy of www.hespokestyle.com
When dressing up your denim, it is not expected of you to show up in a tie. However, some ties can really enhance your business casual ensemble. When choosing a tie, opt for something that adds flair but one that does not overwhelm. In accordance with this more casual side of ‘business casual’ a knit tie works perfectly. Use knit ties to dress up your casual outfit by layering with sweaters and blazers over your best denim.
Business Casual Socks & Shoes
Conventionally, socks are considered an extension of your pants, leading to men world over wearing your boring black and navy socks. While there is certainly a place for these, why not embrace something more colorful with your business casual look? There aren’t really any hard and fast rules for pairing your socks to the rest of your ensemble, especially within a business casual setting.
Just look for something that resembles a color in the rest of your ensemble (shirt, tie, blazer, pocket square). Stripes, argyle checkered and dots are just some ideas for fashion socks to look into. This aspect of your aesthetic is a great and easy way to help personalize your sense of style.
Nothing wrong with mixing up the color of your socks when dressing casual but dapper!
Nothing speaks to business casual dress sensibility like brogues. As opposed to your oxford cap-toes that are ideally suite for more formal occasions, brogues work best with less formal settings. The Brown Wingtip, also known as the brogue, originated in the marsh conditions of Scotland. These shoes were initially designed with holes to drain out the water. These traditional perforations and serrations (broguing) of the shoes are what set them apart and give them a differentiating characteristic.
Moving down the formality scale, loafers are an ideal choice for smart business casual and relaxed formal settings, where you will be wearing off suit color pants, chinos or dark denim! Their refined elegance and ease of wear provide the ultimate (yet paradoxical) combination of casual and chic!
Lastly, for the more fashion forward gentleman, there is the monk strap shoe. These are an extremely stylish and fashion forward choice that can be worn with equal aplomb in both formal and less formal settings. Much like with a loafer, there are several types of monk strap shoes, so let your creativity soar!
Double Monk Strap shoes are an ideal complement for this business casual getup. Courtesy of Men's Instagram Style Influencer @LevitateStyle
Few things can spice up your business casual attire like your set of accessories.
While ties would appear to be a misnomer with business casual attire, choosing a tie made from an alternative fabric or weave, such as knitted ties, will help provide the perfect balance. A Knitted Tie, as its name implies is a tie that has been knitted rather than woven. Knitted Ties are characterized by an open weave, a narrow blade (typically around 2 to 2.5 inches) and square ends (versus triangular, pointed ends that you see with your more traditional ties). It is these unique, differentiating characteristics that make a knit tie ideal for business casual wear.
Few items add textural depth like a knitted tie. Courtesy of The Dark Knot
Knitted Ties can come with a crunchy texture and finish, or with a smoother finishing. Crunchier knit ties provide more textural depth and variation, whereas softer knit ties, while providing textural variation and a different aesthetic, don’t provide as much depth.
Please feel free to view The Dark Knot's range of Knit Ties!
Looking to accentuate that business casual ensemble? Cue the pocket square. Pocket Squares are an ideal way to bring together your outfit, without going overboard. While silk pocket squares are best reserved for more formal occasions, they can be worn with a business casual setting.
Alternatively, a linen pocket square can provide your outfit with even more textural variation! The washed look of a linen pocket square adds just enough ruggedness to your blazer to make it seem more ‘casual’.
To view The Dark Knot's range of exquisite Silk & Linen Pocket Squares, please click here.
The Dark Knot's Ellington Paisley Silk Pocket Square finishes off this beautifully executed business casual ensemble!
Alright, so there you have it. We understand that that was a lot of information to digest, so we are going to recap it with a few do’s and don’t that will have you well on your way to dressing business casual.
- Do Wear a Tailored Blazer made of high quality wool.
- Don’t Wear A classic suit where jacket and pants are made from the same fabric
- Do Wear A Cotton, long sleeve buttoned down oxford.
- Don’t wear a polo shirt. You’re not trying out for the lacrosse or golf team here buddy.
- Do wear off jacket color dress pants, chinos or dark denims of high quality
- Don’t wear shorts, casual jeans or your latest ‘athleisure’ trending man pants.
- Do, when starting out, strut neutral and monochromatic colors
- Don’t wear brighter colors until later when you’ve figured out your wardrobe
- Do wear a cardigan or shawl cardigan where you can strut a knitted tie, to add textural depth and variation.
- Don’t wear cable knit, grandma made sweaters under your blazer!
- Do wear dressier shoes
- Don’t wear sneakers, sandals, flip flops or any other type of overtly casual footwear!
And that’s a wrap for our Ultimate Business Casual Guide! I hope that you have found this article informative and enjoyable to read!