Business casual today is one of the most widely spread dress codes yet it’s often vaguely defined. There’s no point in following all the advice we provide in our videos if your company is extremely casual or extremely formal. You simply have to figure that out and the best way to do that is to observe what others are wearing or to ask your supervisor.
Traditional White-Collar Environments
Because you’re in this traditional environment, chances are even business casual is more formal than in other places. Now that doesn’t mean that you should wear your black cap toe oxford because that would still be too formal and while it’s good with suits for business casual, you can be a bit more daring.
Brown Derby Shoes
For one, that means wearing a derby shoe. Derbys have an open lacing system and because of that, they’re always slightly less formal than an oxford. Also, I would stay clear of black derbys, instead I would opt for brown ones because brown is one of those shades that have just a hundred or thousand different colors with little variations and so you can never have enough brown shoes.
When I say brown I also mean red shoes, either reddish brown, burgundy, or oxblood. These are all fantastic colors for business casual even in a formal environment. My favorite derby shoe of mine comes in burgundy, it’s made of a Parisian last which is still quite elegant and so I can work with a suit or for business casual very easily.
Monk Strap Shoes
Alternatively, I could wear a burgundy monk strap, either in dark chocolate brown or maybe in red. Apart from that color scheme, I would not branch out into others because it would maybe be too casual for such a traditional environment. That means no gray shoes, no olive green shoes, stick with shades of brown and you’ll be good. Whether that’s a very dark brown, a medium brown, chestnut brown, or very light tan, is up to you but just keep in mind the lighter shade of brown, the more casual the shoe.
Likewise, the more broguing you have on the shoe, the more casual it is. Apart from the color, leather texture can also have a huge impact on how it’s perceived. For example, suede shoes are always softer and more casual. So for example, a dark brown suede shoe will look about as informal or casual as a regular polished leather tan shoe. Overall, it’s very important that your shoes work well not just with the rest of your outfit but with the socks and the pants in particular because they’re right next to your shoe.
Trade, Service, & Sales Industries
If you work in the service industry, in sales, or other trade positions, chances are you still have client contact and even though it’s not required of you to be well dressed, and sometimes it may come off as aloof or not appropriate, people will still judge you and if you look frumpy in sweatpants, people will think less highly of you, they will assume that you’re less competent than if you would wear let’s say a nice dress shirt with a pair of chinos.
If you are just at the office and never have client contact, your employer will likely have specific ideas of what’s acceptable and what’s not. If that’s not your office, I suggest to just stay clear of sneakers because they are quite casual and not work-appropriate shoes.
Go For Green
In this segment, one of my favorite colors is green which is highly underrated in menswear. Just think about adding a dark green oxford full brogue wingtip shoe in suede, it’s quite dark, people wouldn’t notice it right away yet it’s very different than a traditional dark brown wingtip oxford.
Alternatively, a nice olive green with a beautiful patina on an elegant long last is really something that will provide a lot of contrast with the pants and slacks you’re wearing therefore, it’ll stand out in a way but it’s still subtle enough that it could be mistaken for a dark brown shoe at first glance.
Dress Shoe Trends
In recent years, dress shoe uppers with white rubber or sneaker soles have become extremely popular. Now personally, I don’t wear those because I either want to go casual and wear boat shoes or some sneakers or I wear leather dress shoes with a leather sole.
That being said, if you really dig the white rubber soles on a shoe, simply go for it, it’s something that you can wear, you can pull it off, it’s definitely more of a statement and I’ve even seen like red soles, yellow soles, or blue soles, so assume that people will judge you, they will make assumptions about you, and if you’re okay with that and you can wear it confidently, go for it. Of course, if you’re into classic men’s clothing and a traditionalist, this is not an option for you and in that case, stay with nicely polished leather shoes.
What about regular rubber soles? While they are acceptable and no one will ever call you out for it, personally, I much rather prefer leather soles. The sound they make, the way they roll on my foot, the way they feel, all of these are attributes I appreciate about the leather sole and I would not switch to a rubber sole.
So what do you do if it rains heavily you might wonder? Well, I have leather boots with rubber soles because they’re usually a little more casual and if it’s raining a lot, having a lace-up boot that is above my ankle always comes in handy to protect my feet from getting wet and cold.
Apart from the shoes mentioned, you can also experiment with spectators in this segment which again are quite loud and traditionally, you have black and white ones which I think is not such a good combination because it is black, quite formal, white makes it informal.
Instead, a brown and maybe off-white spectator or a navy with a gray spectator are really great. You could think about saddle shoes or just more unusual shoes. In general, though, I always suggest you stay clear of square-toed shoes, rubber soles or any kind of metalwork or reflective letters such as silver or gold because they’re not really part of a gentleman’s wardrobe.
Frankly, the sky’s the limit and it can be anything from flip-flops over vans to very extraordinary Gucci loafers. Most startups won’t even have a dress code and so it’s all about what you’re comfortable with and about their culture and how you fit in.
Now, just because you can wear anything doesn’t mean everything has the same level of benefits for you. That being said, a nice pair of leather shoes or boots will always make you look more dapper and more grown-up than wearing some colorful sneakers or tennis shoes. In terms of colors or leather textures, really anything under the sun goes here. Even flip-flops or alpargatas are acceptable but frankly, I would simply not wear that but I guess I’m not telling you anything new here.
General Guidelines To Stay Stylish In Your Workplace
Don’t Invest In Shoes That Fuse Modern & Traditional Style
Why you might wonder? Well, matching together formal and informal elements will mean it’s a very trendy shoe and it may be great at the moment but it’s just a fashion and a fad and it will disappear in just a few years of time. So even if you have the highest quality leather shoe with a blue sole, chances are you will be tired of it in a year from now.
Instead, buy classically styled shoes and try to find something that works with your style. For example, you can go with medium brown penny loafers or you could go with cordovan tassel loafers. Alternatively, if you want even more casual, you can have suede green tassel loafers which are very casual yet still classically rooted.
Because it’s business casual, broguing or hole perforations or decorations are always welcome and an element you should incorporate if you want to tone things down and make them easier to look at and less formal.
Know When To Step Up Your Shoe Game
For example, think of important meetings with the board, maybe with their most important client, or the CEO who is known to be a clothes horse. In those situations, you definitely want to take it up a notch and put your best foot forward. During work-related events, conferences or symposia where you represent your company or maybe during a media interview, it really pays to have nice leather dress shoes in a darker color because they won’t stand out and people won’t just focus on your shoes but rather on what you say and the point you want to bring across. Likewise, if you’re interviewing for a position, it always pays to put on the proper interview attire.
In summary, the dress-code business casual is not easy to master when it comes to shoes because it can mean different things at different times at different companies, however, using the three-tier approach of formal environment, less formal environment, and casual environment, it can really help you to nail it and put your best foot forward.
Last but not least, if you’re unsure whether if something is appropriate or not, chances are it is inappropriate. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have thought about it in the first place and if even that doesn’t help, always keep in mind being slightly overdressed is always favorable to being slightly underdressed.