What is business casual?

Keeping up to date with a business casual dress code as you switch jobs is time consuming and the process is not foolproof. As a result employees end up facing uncomfortable questions when they wear a trendy sports shoe or a neon print dress. Most of these situations happen, as there is no clear definition of what the “business casual” term means and because fashion is continually changing.

To better understand the nebulous dress code which shows no sign of going away, here is what you need to know.

Dressing to Impress

A key factor influencing the need for a dress code within a company is that employees need to “promote” specific products, services to visitors and their own professional skills to managers. As a result it is universally accepted that employees need to adhere to a dress code, whether they are working in a coffee shop, a manufacturing company or a law office. Employees who meet dress code standards such as “business casual” make a good impression, and radiate an aura of efficiency in their job. Dress codes however, are mostly just gift wrapping as there are some who fail to meet the expected standard but are exemplary employees.

The Increasing Popularity of Business Casual

In banks and law offices, the default dress code veers towards business formal especially in court or when performing client facing jobs. In back offices and areas where less interaction with clients and meetings happen; business casual has become the norm even in law firms, and continues to grow more popular.

Relaxing of the Office Dress Code

The preference for business casual across various industries has helped fuel its popularity. In tech startups however, employees can wear sneakers, graphic print t-shirts and jeans of any type. Established software companies also have a relaxed dress code that permits a variety of clothing and you can often wear shorts and t-shirts to work.

Interviews in software companies are a different ball game, and as an interviewee you will be expected to wear a business casual ensemble regardless of the prevalent dress code. In such companies as you arrive in business casual attire, you will find people conducting the interviews wearing jeans and t-shirts. Employees in software companies tend to adopt business casual attire when attending official meetings with clients, and abandon their jeans and baseball caps for the day.

Appropriate Business Casual Apparel

Employers usually set up guidelines to let employees know what is considered appropriate business casual attire. Since this can differ from one company to the next, read them before your first day at office. Men have far fewer choices when it comes to business casual attire and usually have to opt between khakis and dress slacks in terms of pants and pair them with shirts with collars, button-ups, sweaters and blazers. Women often opt for knee length skirts, pants and pair these with shirts, blouses, cardigans and blazers.  Most companies do not allow sneakers as part of business casual attire and you should avoid them. Men can instead opt for loafers, boots or dress shoes. Women have more choice in terms of shoes and can wear flats, pumps and even block heel sandals.

Changing fashion trends means that business casual attire is currently evolving, and employees in some companies can even choose to wear dark wash jeans.

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