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What is Business Casual?

“So what does business casual attire mean?”

That’s a very common question I hear from interns, soon-to-be college graduates and young professionals. So we’ll be talking about this topic in the next series of blog posts to help provides some answers.

As many young professionals maneuver various challenges of a new workplace, figuring out what to wear each day shouldn’t be one of them. But for many, it is. What does business casual look like in your office?

The best resources you have to answer that question is your supervisor, human resources and your policy manual. It’s important to ask about the rules in the beginning of your employment instead of learning the hard way. There’s nothing wrong with approaching your boss or human resources to ask about acceptable attire in the workplace as well as work functions outside the office.

Sure, there are some professions that require a strict business attire, a traditional business suit, slacks and blouse paired with minimal accessories, but for the growing business population, “business casual” is the new dress code. That term seems like a contradiction in and of itself. And it’s typically the word “casual” that trips people up here. With business casual attire in the workplace, you now have the opportunity to let your personal brand stand out, for better or for worse. So be careful in your clothing choices.

As a rule of thumb, it is always better to overdress than to under dress until you know the company culture. I suggest having some items in your tote or car so that you can make a quick adjustment should you find yourself uncomfortably overdressed. You can swap your heels for a comfortable pair of flats, packed in your tote. Take off your blazer and carry it with you to take a layer off or pair with a fun (but not distracting) pair of medium sized earrings that you can also stash in your tote. After a few swaps, you can dress your look down and feel more comfortable. However, if you show up in those leggings and t-shirt, it’s hard to recover.

The Dress Code

Policy Example: The objective of a company policy to address dress code is to establish appropriate guidelines that allows employees to work comfortably in the workplace and know what is expected. An organization expects employees to project a professional image for our clients, colleagues, potential employees and community / visitors. Appropriate casual business attire for employees including the following:


· Slacks, Capris or nice/colored jeans

· Blouse / Blazer

· Culottes, skirts, appropriate dresses

· Loafers, heels, flats or nice sandals

· Sweaters, Scarfs, etc.


· Sport coats or blazers

· Slacks or Dockers, Dark denim or colored jeans without holes

· Polo shirts with collars, Oxford button-down shirts

· Sweaters and cardigans

· Loafers and huaraches

Unacceptable Attire may include clothing that reveals too much cleavage, back, chest, feet, legs, stomach or under garments is not appropriate for a place of business, even in a business casual setting. What’s too casual or inappropriate?

· Plain or pocket T-shirts; T-shirts with inappropriate logos

· Worn denim jeans with holes or cuts

· Spandex or Lycra such as biker shorts, yoga pants or athletic wear

· Cutoff jeans or shorts of any kind

· Tank tops, tube tops, halter tops with spaghetti straps (nothing with straps)

· Underwear as outerwear

· Beach wear, midriff length tops

· Provocative attire (low cut, backless, showing underwear, see-through, etc.)

· Skirts or dresses more than 2 inches above the knee

· Off-the-shoulder tops, etc.

A few other things to avoid would be really high heels or platforms, lace up army boots, loud jewelry that clanks (like stacked bracelets) and heavy perfume for the office.

Employers care about what their employees are wearing… trust me! Their employees and interns represent who they are as a company and a brand as well. Many offices enforce their dress code and, if questionable attire is worn, a supervisor might pull the employee or intern aside for a private discussion about the inappropriateness of the attire. The employee or intern may be excused from work to go home and change clothes depending on the circumstance, often without pay or internship credit. Just remember to ask a supervisor for guidance on attire based on an upcoming meeting or event for clarity.

Just remember that a positive first impression is when you are remembered for the right reasons, instead of the wrong ones.

Be sure to check out the Top 5 Business Casual Staples you need in your closet right now.

Well, that’s all I have for now.

Special thanks to Chloe Hubbard for your research and assistance with this blog.

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