Dress Code Guide: What Does Business Casual Mean?

people dressed in casual dress sitting at tableRido / Shutterstock

Of all the dress styles you might find on an event invitation, the "casual business" could be the most confusing.

At first glance, it looks like an oxymoron. Is not "relaxed" the opposite of "business"? While this may be true, casual sport has become one of the most common dress codes for many events. It is worth avoiding frustration and learning what it means.

In our set of dress codes, we will help you demystify dress codes of all kinds, from casual to white tie, but we start with the most difficult: the casual in business. Let's make clothing a little easier!

Business Opportunities: A Definition

Let's say you have a crystal ball that can see the future. This shows that you will meet by chance the CEO of a company for which you would like to work at the grocery store of tomorrow. What would you wear?

You do not want to seem to be trying too hard (it's a chance meeting at the grocery store), but you want to make a good impression.

That's the essence of casual business: you want to look professional, but not like you're trying too hard to do it. This makes it even more confusing that there are no specific guidelines for street wear, as with other dress codes, such as the white tie.

For the most part, casual business means creating an outfit from items that you could wear at work: avoid sweatshirts or t-shirts. However, you will not want to wear a full suit. Instead, look for top quality clothes like pants, sweaters and buttons.

Casual business people can also rely on casual activities or on business, so you must choose based on the event. For example, dark jeans can be a good choice for a casual work evening, but not for a job interview.

When to dress up casual

after work of businessmen toasting at restaurantCandyBox Images / Shutterstock

Sometimes an event will indicate "casual dress". But there will be other times when you have to call yourself.

Good times to dress up casual include:

Networking Events
Company celebrations
Interviews for casual jobs

For example, if you are interviewing for a business in a traditional sector, such as a law firm, you will want to dress professionally. But for less formal industries, such as retail and food services, casual work is generally good for an interview.

Creating a casual look depends on what you have in your wardrobe and the nature of the event. Depending on what you choose, you can also show personality to your outfit, but be careful not to wear anything that veers too far from the range of professional acceptability.

Business Casual Ideas for Women

As a woman, try to build your outfit with items like these:

Skirts and dresses with modest hems and necklines
Sweaters and cardigans
Button-down shirts

Look for solid colors or simple patterns. You can show more personality with your accessories, such as shoes and jewelry, but avoid anything that is too bold and fashionable. Keep your makeup classic and simple, if you wear it.

Business Casual Ideas for Men

Men can create a casual look with these pieces:

Dress Shirts

For men, casual dress usually means you do not need a tie. But be sure to wear appropriate shoes, such as loafers or street shoes, and always wear a belt. Keep the facial hair well cared for.

In the end, a casual outfit is a business of choice. For men and women, long sleeves are a safer choice than short sleeves. However, a short-sleeved polo shirt can be used as a "casual business". The pants are a more professional choice than jeans, but dark jeans can sometimes be appropriate.

If in doubt, always opt for a more professional choice. Imagine having a crystal ball and imagine the possibilities. Who is the most important person you can meet at this event and what kind of impression will your outfit have?

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