business casual attire for men

Business Casual Men’s Attire & Dress Code Explained

Business casual is a dress code men are confronted with everywhere but what does it really mean? In this Business Casual Guide for men we answer this question in detail, explain DO’s and DON’Ts and provide specific advice on what you can wear so you are dressed to the T.

Business Casual Video

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History of Business Casual

Until recent times, the Business Casual attire did not exisit. There was simply daywear and evening wear. During the day, men would wear a stroller coat or a morning coat for business. In the evening they would change into a tailcoat for dinner and events. Once retiring for bed, pyjamas would be donned as would a dressing gown, but the chance of anyone seeing them wear this besides their spouse and perhaps a valet or butler was slim to none. The most casual attire a gentleman might wear would have perhaps been a tweed suit while shooting or for a walk in the park.

Around the turn of the century, black tie made its mark and the tuxedo overtook the white tie dress code in popularity. Business suits became standard and they stayed that way for quite awhile.

Solid options for casual Friday

Business Casual for Men Changes with the Office Environment and the Job

Aloha Friday Pave The way For Business Casual

Then came the year 1966. Until then, you had casual wear and business attire. Casual wear was worn on the weekends at home, but if you worked in an office, you wore a suit and a tie. There was no debate. Then, a company that made Hawaiian shirts began to strategize how they could increase their profits and a brilliant ad agency in Hawaii came up with the idea of “Aloha Fridays”. They began petitioning local businesses to allow their employees to wear the Hawaiian shirt on Fridays. Initially penned as a way of showing local pride, it ended up quickly becoming a trend and a popular way of avoiding the rat race of corporate America. The fad began to catch on and soon it hopped off the Islands and made its way to the mainland.

Vintage Hawaii Shirt by Penney's

Vintage Hawaii Shirt by Penney’s

Dockers Ad Campaign Brings Khakis To The Office

By the early 1990’s Levis began to notice the trend on the mainland and many of its customers in upper management began complaining that their employees were too casual, wearing shorts and t-shirts to work. The sale of jeans was in decline and so they took it as a chance to market their new brand called ‘Dockers’ to the corporate community. They began to launch expensive ad campaigns for their khaki pants and it took off. Employers looked at it as a fair compromise between shorts and suits and the employees agreed. As this was occurring, television shows like Saved by the Bell and movies about wealthy country clubs began showing the Preppy, Ivy and Trad styles to those outside the Northeastern United States. Companies like Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and J.Crew jumped on the opportunity to increase the sale of their casual wear. They began marketing polo shirts, sport shirts and chinos as perfect options that worked flawlessly or better than the Levi Dockers brand. It was a revolution of sorts.

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake - Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis and brown tassel loafers

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake – Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis and brown tassel loafers

How Business Casual is defined today for men?

Business Casual In A Nutshell = No Suit But Also No Jeans

Obviously, that is just a general guideline but in order to nail the business casual look, you have to adapt to your specific company culture. Also, your age is important and the older you are, the more formal your business casual outfit should be.

1. Business Casual in Traditional White Collar Job – Law Firm, Accounting, Banks…

If business casual attire is allowed in this kind of work environment it is the most formal of all business casual dress codes and it consists of the following items:

A. Blazer or Sport Coat

The blazer is an essential part of a business casual wardrobe. Avoid gold buttons and stick with dark colors. Navy is the most classic color and your best bet. Single breasted is the standard while a double breasted navy blazer can look more powerful.  To learn more about the blazer in general, check out our blazer guide.

If you wear a sport coat, opt for something subdued with a subtle pattern and avoid loud summery colors.

Oxford Cloth Shirt - A Business Casual Staple

Oxford Cloth Shirt – A Business Casual Staple

B. Long Sleeved Dress Shirt

Wear a cotton dress shirt in light blue or pastel colors. An Oxford dress shirt is absolutely appropriate for business casual wear and can be worn in a relaxed state by keeping the top button undone or wearing a more casual knit tie with it. A simple white oxford shirt is the ideal shirt for business casual wear as it can be elevated to business attire for a last minute meeting with the addition of a tie kept in your desk drawer and a blazer thrown over top.

Business Casual Outfit with silk knit tie for fall

Business Casual Outfit with silk knit tie for fall

C. Neckwear

Neckwear is optional but it certainly elevates your outfit. Ideal ties include grenadine ties or knit ties because they perfectly underline the business casual character.

Bow ties certainly make a  statement, and when in doubt stick with the tie.

In case you decide against neckwear, make sure that your undershirt is not visible.

D. Trousers

Jeans should not be worn but the jacket and shirt are ideal

Jeans should not be worn but the jacket and shirt are ideal

Dress Pants

A pair of solid navy, grey or even charcoal dress pants pleated or flat front are the perfect choice for business casual wear. With a dress shirt neatly tucked into it, and a blazer or sports jacket you are good to go.

Small Houndstooth pattern ideal for Business Casual

Small Houndstooth pattern ideal for Business Casual

Chinos / Khakis

Chinos are appropriate in many casual work environments, but should ideally be paired with a contrasting blazer to elevate their casual heritage.

Corduroy Pants

Cords can also be worn in lieu of chinos during the colder months of the year. The same rules apply to corduroys as they do to chinos.

Business Casual Mens by hogtownrake - Cardigan Madder inspired tie that extends beyond the waistband with suspenders, and vintage watch

Business Casual Mens by hogtownrake – Cardigan Madder inspired tie that extends beyond the waistband with suspenders, and vintage watch

E. Sweaters

A sweater vest, cardigan or turtle neck works well during the colder days in addition to your sport coat or blazer. Simply worn over a collared shirt it is only appropriate for Casual Friday. In general a knitted vest will always make a formal garment more casual.

F. Accessories

Accessories are a great way to distinguish yourself from the pack. Choosing a knit tie or pocket square for your blazer pocket will make you look very dapper. Depending on your environment, a boutonniere or a collar pin may work as well, but when in doubt, skip it.

You could also consider a more casual wrist watch with a more formal outfit or pairing a dress watch with a more casual outfit to add a touch of elegance.

Cuff links are also a good way to enhance your outfit, just like tie bars.

Wrist bands are a bit too casual and when in doubt you should skip them.

Full Brogue Oxford with a beautiful chestnut brown patina

Full Brogue Oxford with a beautiful chestnut brown patina

G. Shoes & Boots

This is where it gets really fun. Rather than sticking with the classic oxford and derby, you can get creative with unique colors like oxblood or wearing more casual dress shoes and boots like monk straps, loafers or chukka boots, Chelsea boots or balmoral boots.

In terms of color, brown shoes are a great companion for Business Casual, and so are burgundy and Oxblood. Click here to learn how to wear and combine them.

a-leather-bag-is-always-preferable-to-a-backpack

a-leather-bag-is-always-preferable-to-a-backpack

H. Bags

Sometimes you see grown men wearing backpacks with their business casual outfits. That’s a faux pas and it makes you look like a little school boy. Instead, go with a leather bag in brown or black that works for you. Whether it’s classic, functional or sleek, clean and modern you can find hundreds of leather bags in various price ranges.

2. Business Casual in the Service Industry

If you work in the service industry, in sales, trade positions or a job where you interact with the public, you should adapt the business casual standard we mention in 1. above.

If you are just at the office and you don’t have customer contact, your employer will most likely have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to business casual.

Hogtownrake in combination of light sport coat with charcoal pants and brown wool knit tie, blue shirt and cream pocket square

Hogtownrake in combination of light sport coat with charcoal pants and brown wool knit tie, blue shirt and cream pocket square

A. Jackets

It’s likely that wearing a jacket is optional. So if you don’t want to go with just a dress shirt and a blazer would be too much, consider wearing a vest or a cardigan instead.

B. Shirts

The button-down collar shirt is another classic shirt that is acceptable for business casual wear. Alternatively, a long-sleeved polo shirt is acceptable too, if others wear it in the office as well. You don’t want to be the only one wearing polos though.

In this scenario, business casual does not mean wearing t-shirts, casual sweaters without a collared shirt underneath, hoodies, pullovers or any other style of shirt.

Checked Shirt Fabric - Ideal for Business Casual

Checked Shirt Fabric – Ideal for Business Casual

C. Neckwear

Neckties and bow ties are completely optional, yet they look great with vests, jackets and cardigans.

D. Pants

While dress pants are ok, chinos, khakis and corduroys are your number one choice. Dark colors such as navy and grey stain less easily although lighter colors are preferable for the warmer months of the year. Don’t wear denim as that might be considered too informal.

Pants such as denim jeans, athletic wear, sweatpants, draw-string pants, shorts and cargo pants should not be worn, nor should any pant with a camouflage print or large visible logo.

Navy pants, burgundy vest and tweed jacket - business casual in the fall

Navy pants, burgundy vest and tweed jacket – business casual in the fall

E. Sweaters & Accessories

If you decide not to wear a jacket, sweaters and knit vests or cardigans become your best friends. Not only will they keep you warm, but they also look stylish all while adding that casual note to your outfit. Accessorize your outfit as you please but try not to set too many accents, otherwise people don’t know where to look.

F. Shoes & Boots

Skip sneakers and tennis shoes but you can choose from a wide range of classic shoes in various materials such as leather, suede and fabric.

G. Bags

Leather bags are best but if you want a canvas-leather or all canvas bag may work as well. You can be more daring with your color choice and go with green, yellow, blue or red if you want.

Chinos are acceptable making this a great business casual outfit

In young start-ups this would be an appropriate business casual outfit

3. Business Casual in Young Startups

Startups are generally much more casual than traditional jobs. They will likely also not have a company dress code but the hierarchies are typically low and often people can wear whatever they want, especially in a tech related environment.

A. Jackets

In most places a jacket is probably too overdressed. Is your startup that place? You’ll figure it out pretty soon. At the same time, startups often have a very accepting culture so if you enjoy dressing up, wearing a jacket the way you like it is a good thing.

B. Shirts, Sweaters & Neckwear

While most startups would consider a t-shirt to be just fine, a nice trim cut polo shirt looks much smarter. Sweaters are perfectly acceptable and neckwear is definitely not the norm but again, if you like it, go for it.

Bold sport coats are too much for business casual

Bold sport coats are too much for traditional business casual but in start-ups they are fine

C. Pants & Shorts

While it’s totally fine to wear denim at most startups, and you can even find people wearing cargo shorts, you are probably better off wearing lightweight summer slacks such as seersucker because no matter what you do in life, people will at least subconsciously judge you based on what you look like. Being perceived as being well put together, will never hurt you but being a slop can.

Consider wearing a sport coat with jeans for a smart casual look.

Appropriate business casual attire for young men

Appropriate business casual attire for young men in a start-up

D. Shoes & Boots

A nice pair of boots or shoes will always make you look more dapper than wearing sneakers. Instead of just going with brown, you can be more playful and wear stone, red, green or blue suede loafers, driving mocs or spectators. Of course, sneakers or stylish canvas shoes can be acceptable too, and even though some coworker may wear tennis shoes, you will look better without them.

E. Bags

A portfolio or a leather / canvas bag are your best bet. In terms of colors, anything goes, even though a bright pink bag with pokemons on it may not reflect positively on you. If you are into tech, bags with built in chargers, cables and camera compartments will satify your needs but please, skip the backpack.

A great business casual outfit with outerwear and accessories

A great business casual outfit with outerwear and accessories

Business Casual Outerwear

When your job means being on the move, it’s a great idea to ensure your outerwear matches your indoor attire because that active jacket you wear skiing or hiking does not go well with your sport coat.

Quilted Jackets

Lightweight, warm and classic the quilted jacket is slightly longer than your blazer and makes you look instantly well put together. At the same time, it is easy to care for, wrinkles easily and can be machine washed.

Trench Coat

During the fall and spring season a trench coat will look very dapper. To learn all about this garment, check out our trench coat guide. For a more youthful look, with a trench coat that is shorter than your knees.

Peacoat with double sided scarf, Jodhpur boots and Chinos - Business Casual

Peacoat with double sided scarf, Jodhpur boots and Chinos – Business Casual

Peacoat

For the cold winters, a pea coat is the perfect business casual companion because it is less formal than a full fledged overcoat yet still warm, stylish and functional due to its many pockets. To learn more about peacoats click here

Scarves & Gloves

A gorgeous paisley scarf or a nice pair of gloves will add the finishing touches to your business casual look.

This is too casual for business casual unless you work in a young tech company

This is too casual for business casual unless you work in a young startup or tech environment

DO’s – When In Doubt, Dress Up

If you are unsure of whether business casual is allowed in your workplace or not, it is best to err on the side of caution and to be overdressed rather than underdressed. Wear a suit and tie the first day. Then you can see how people dress around you and adapt. If you are still unsure about what is appropriate, ask your coworker or superior.

Jeans should be avoided unless approved by management

Jeans should be avoided in traditional and service environment unless approved by management

DON’Ts – When It’s Not Appropriate

Even for the most casual workplaces, there are times where business casual simply isn’t appropriate. Here are a few of the times you will want to wear a more conservative outfit such as a business suit.

  1. When you have an important meeting with clients or customers outside your normal range of duties.
  2. When you have a meeting with a manager or executive in the organization.
  3. When you will be attending a board or committee meeting.
  4. During work related events, conferences, and symposiums.
  5. When representing your company in the media or speaking at an event.
  6. When interviewing for a position or negotiating a raise with your employer.
  7. When you work for a firm with a policy that does not permit the regular wearing of business casual attire.
  8. Don’t wear business casual to a  job interview – to learn more about what to wear to an interview, check out this guide
Wonderful business casual outfit for fall with brown suede double monks and green turtleneck

Wonderful business casual outfit for fall with brown suede double monks and green turtleneck

What about Casual Friday? It depends

Some companies do not support business casual attire but they will allow it on Fridays, others even allow very casual clothing on Fridays. Talk to your coworkers and your boss to find out how your company handles Friday dress codes.

In case there is a more casual dress code for Fridays, but you notice that senior management doesn’t dress that way, you should take them as the lead. It’s more advantageous for you to dress for the job you want, rather than the job you have.

Conclusion

Business Casual for men is not easy to master because it means different things at different events. Using the three step structure we provide in this guide, you at least determine what ballpark your office or company is in and adjust your outfits accordingly.

If you would wear it to watch television or to a casual barbecue, don’t wear it to work. If you’re unsure whether it’s appropriate, chances are it’s not and you should always dress up a notch because it is always best to be slightly overdressed than slightly underdressed.

This guide was written by Sven Raphael Schneider & J.A. Shapira

Summary
Article Name
Business Casual Attire for Men
Description
An indepth guide on modern business casual attire and what it really means.
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Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette
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19 replies
  1. Tootone says:

    Another great article! A few nits to pick: Many of the sport coats look at least a couple of inches too short. If you wear trousers with braces, remove the belt loops. Also, a shawl collar cardigan sweater may substitute for a sport coat in certain environments. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Joe says:

      It’s an old wives tale about removing the belt loops when wearing braces. Yes, it can look cleaner but options are good. I can wear my bespoke trousers with or without braces, as desired. I personally always have buttons and loops put on any new trousers I have made. When you’re spending upwards of $1K each, you want as much versatility as you can get.

      Reply
  2. Joe says:

    Love it. Dressing down is always a difficult game of guesses and decisions. Far more room for errors! I can nail a three-piece in full bloom, but pulling it down to a more casual level is much more difficult. Good tips here.

    Reply
  3. Alexander_F says:

    People working in the academia and similar jobs have traditionally always dressed that way or a similar one, but with dress codes more and more casualizing in other businesses, there has also appeared a confusion of what is appropriate. I am happy to see that there is a guide going this deeply into the details to explain what business casual really is.

    Reply
  4. Mike Sackmary says:

    Hi Raphael, I enjoyed the article. If you’ll allow me I want to point out some fun facts related to the photo of you dressed in the double-breasted jacket and the yellow pocket square. Dude – if you dress like that here in Austin, TX three things will happen. 1) You will sweat to death in the heat – but you will look sharp while so doing. 2) Everyone will thing you are a tourist. 3) I will have to send you to Antonio Centeno for remedial training on how to dress for ungodly hot weather. HAHAHA. Seriously this is a great article.

    Reply
  5. David says:

    This is another article showing “fashion-forward” styles – short jackets, skinny low-rise pants, no socks, and so on – as appropriate.

    Looks like it’s time for this older hand to find another article source.

    Reply
    • Alexander_F says:

      Most of us that are not in their twenties anymore may be a bit skeptical about nowaday’s fashion, but still, using such pictures is a good way to reach the younger generation in need for instruction about the matter.

      Reply
      • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

        You got the point. We show long jackets and shorter ones. In a young start-up a short jacket is appropriate, and a traditional law firm, probably not.
        We want to help men dress better, and that often means to lead the way, no matter where they are in their sartorial journeys.

        If one’s sole purpose is to leave negative comments, then this is not the place.

        Reply
  6. Mark says:

    It would be nice to read your take on business and business casual in warmer climates such as the south and southwest. So many layers are fun but impractical and doomed for staining with taco sauce. I love those looks, but as another respondent noted, I wouldn’t last a minute in the heat. Unfortunately Bermuda shorts and blazers never caught on here on the continent and those unfortunate low-rise jeans and no socks look alarmingly uncomfortable. How have the Italians and Spanish solved this problem?

    Reply
    • Alexander_F says:

      Spontanously I would say that linen pants with loafers, a piqué shirt and a fresco sport coat might be the anwer, but then, I live in France.

      Reply
  7. Bill says:

    Great discussion and video Sven. You are always “On the Money” with your analysis and advice. Really appreciate the discussions. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  8. Jim Grandone says:

    I was having lunch with a banker client of mine and we were discussing appropriate work dress. I asked him what the policy at the bank was for casual Fridays. His response was classic.
    “Light starch.”

    Reply

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  1. […] Business Casual Men's Attire & Dress Code Explained — Gentleman's Gazette says: October 20, 2016 at 10:06 PM […]

  2. […] Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake – Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis and brown tassel loafers […]

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