What does business casual mean? Work dress codes can be hard to figure out, so I’m here to help as best I can!
Happy Wednesday, friends! How’s your week going? After coming off a super long and emotionally draining week last week (Nothing happened, just one of those weeks.), things are feeling much brighter this week!
I got a message yesterday from someone asking for help with their wardrobe. They’re starting a new position that requires a business casual wardrobe and they weren’t sure where to start! I know dress codes can be a bit tricky to decipher sometimes so I’ll do my best to help simplify it!
First, I’ll give you a few things to note about what business casual entails, then I’ll show you some examples and some great affordable options to try.
This post does contain affiliate links meaning purchases made through included links may result in my earning a small commission at no cost to you.
What Does Business Casual Mean?
While every office/work place is different, generally speaking business casual means more formal than jeans and a t-shirt but less formal than business suits and tailored dresses. (Also, when in doubt, err on the side of being more formal than less!)
Appropriate items for women would include things like:
- dress slacks
- conservative-length dresses and skirts (but typically not maxi-length, which are viewed as more casual)
- if denim is allowed, stick to dark washes or a more tailored wide-legged style
A few things to steer clear of:
- distressed denim (or any denim, if that is not allowed)
- graphic t-shirts
- athletic wear (sweatpants, leggings, sweatshirts, etc.)
- flip flops
One thing that might help you with ideas is to picture teachers. Most teachers dress (and are required to dress) in a business casual manner. Dresses or slacks, blouses or jackets.
You don’t see too many suits among K-12 teachers, but you do see a lot of dress slacks and easy tops, along with skirts, dresses, and cardigans. These are easy outfits for people who need to look professional but also might need to crawl around on the floor with kids occasionally.
Need to build your business casual wardrobe from the ground up? Here’s where I’d start:
- You’ll need at least 2-3 pairs of pants (not cropped/capri length). Black and some other neutrals – khaki, gray, or navy are a good place to start.
- I’d look for some straight-legged slacks (though bootcut or wide-legged work too). I have a great pair I found for cheap at Kohl’s similar to this. (If you’ve got a Kohl’s card you can use code PERKUP25 for an extra 25% off.)
- Short sleeve, long-sleeve, sleeveless (but not thin strapped) all work. No plunging necklines or exposed midriffs, this is work, remember?
- If you’re worried about tops being too low-cut or having an issue when you bend over, grab some thin camisoles to wear underneath. Lots of stores have them –JC Penny (use code 7NEWLOOK to make it under $8), Gap, etc.
- Lightweight sweaters that can be paired with a variety of pants or skirts. Sweaters will be easy to find come September – check out places like Target, Loft, and Walmart for simple basics that will go with lots.
Cardigans and jackets
- Great for cold work environments and give a professional look too.
- Look for jackets and blazers with stretch so you can move easily – ponte fabric holds its shape but also is super stretchy for movement. See my red blazer below, it’s super cute AND super comfy! I’ve also got some more options at the bottom of the post for you.
Here are some easy business casual outfits that always work:
Simple black slacks (with good stretch for movement), basic tee and blazer (here’s a great black version)- looks good and is super comfy too. I could easily lose the jacket if needed and the outfit still works.
Black slacks, simple top/blouse. Pair with some flats or heels and you’re set!
Navy pants (these are navy if the lighting is hard to tell) pair well with a variety of colors like grays, pinks, and greens. Add some shoes in a shade of brown (light or dark) and you’ll be set. This blouse is lower cut than I’d like, so a thin tank goes underneath.
This outfit might be more formal than your environment calls for but if you’re in an office setting especially this can totally work. Keep your skirt at least near knee-length or longer but don’t go for a stretchy maxi-length unless it’s OK with your workplace. Most corporate-type settings still view that as too casual.
It doesn’t have to be all solid blouses. A patterned top or tee pairs well too – think stripes, polka dots, florals, etc. A few cardigans are always good to have too. If you’re not sure if this outfit is too casual for your workplace, wait a couple of weeks to see how others, including your boss, are dressing.
Now, where can you get these things?
First, here are some ideas for places to shop that offer a wide range of sizes:
- Loft – currently have lots of tops on sale for under $20
- Ann Taylor – big sale happening through 5/28
- department stores like Dillards, JC Pennys, Macy’s, Nordstrom
- Nordstrom Rack
- TJ Maxx
And here are some good options to start building your new work wardrobe on a budget: (make sure you click through, the prices listed do NOT reflect the sale prices- there are some good deals here!)
Hope that helps get you started! If you have any questions, let me know!
Thank you. This makes me realize that I do have more business casual than I thought.