So, what is business casual?

Wouldn’t it be great if every occasion we were expected to attend had a detailed description of the dress code for the event? Whether work related or social, these occasions cause even the most fashion conscious among us to wonder ‘What should I wear?’ And when the invitation says simply “Casual”, what in the world does that mean?!

At times like this we can be thankful for Business Casual. But what is business casual, you say? Everything has changed over the past few years and most of us don’t know what that phrase means anymore. When determining whether an outfit is professional, business casual, or personal-life casual, the answer can be found in the details.

First, let’s review. Business Casual came into being in the early 1990’s when the rise of dot-com companies and the influence of Silicon Valley caused employers to offer the incentive of casual dress in the office in an effort to retain employees. Casual Fridays and Casual Dress Codes soon followed. Employees became confused, believing that blue jeans are an acceptable casual business garment.

Let’s examine blue jeans. Most often they are made of denim, which is a very casual fabric, in indigo blue, which is a more casual color than black or gray. They are usually topstitched and have a number of pockets, contributing to the casual feel of the garment.
The fit is more revealing of the figure than dress pants or even khaki pants. The details of the garment – fabric, top-stitching, pockets, etc. are all casual in nature. Thus, wearing blue jeans does not convey a businesslike atmosphere – unless we work on a ranch. Jeans can be dressed up with a blazer over a polo shirt or a smooth textured blouse – but they are still jeans.

So what should we wear as business casual? For women it can mean coordinating separates in more textured fabrics, such as faux suede, tweed or khaki. It can mean bolder or more casual patterns and colors. It can mean more interesting accessories and top-stitching on shoes and bags. Sweater sets are another great way to maintain a dressed up appearance while still working or socializing comfortably.

For men business casual can mean wearing a colored or striped shirt without the tie, either with or without a blazer. It can be a more textured fabric in the slacks with a polo shirt or sweater. Wearing a blazer over this outfit creates a more dressed-up appearance. Removing the blazer creates a more casual effect. Brown and tan come across as more casual than black and gray.

So, don’t be misled by well-meaning invitations that say “Casual Dress”. Convey through your clothing your respect for your host and also command the respect you deserve. Go for a more relaxed outfit, but as always, dress to impress.

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