A generation ago, dressing for work was easy because damn-near every man with a white-collar job wore a full suit to work.
But in the ever-changing landscape of the 21st century workplace, one thing has become increasingly clear:
The days of formal wear and stuffy suits are (mostly) behind us.
Business casual clothing has taken the lead, offering men a more comfortable and stylish approach to dressing for success.
But in the noticeably more casual post-pandemic world we live in (well, hopefully post-pandemic 🤞), figuring out what, exactly, business casual means has become surprisingly tricky.
Different industries seem to define the term differently. In the corporate world, business casual could mean losing the suit jacket and, if you’re really cutting loose, opting for a knit tie on casual Fridays.
But at tech companies it could mean anything from slim fit khaki pants and merino wool sweaters to flip flops and Hawaiian shirts.
To help you navigate the nebulous world of business casual attire, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that will show you exactly how to dress for success in the 21st century.
The Ultimate Guide to Men’s Business Casual
Everything You Need to Know About Business Casual Attire for Men
- What is Business Casual for Men?
- How to Dress Business Casual
- Distinguishing Between Business Casual & Other Attire Styles
- Where to Buy Business Casual Clothes for Men
- Business Casual FAQ
- Are jeans business casual?
- Are black jeans business casual?
- Is a polo business casual?
- Are khakis business casual?
- Are chinos business casual?
- Are shorts business casual?
- Are flannels business casual?
- Are cargo pants business casual?
- Are cardigans business casual?
- Are corduroy pants business casual?
- Are turtlenecks business casual?
- Is a jean jacket business casual?
- Are joggers business casual?
- Is a tie business casual?
- Are linen pants business casual?
- Are short sleeves business casual?
- What’s the best facial hair style for business casual?
- Can you wear your shirt untucked in a business casual office?
- Business Casual Shoes
First and Foremost:
What is Business Casual for Men?
Business casual is a dress code that falls between traditional business attire like suits, ties, dress pants and dress shoes, and casual wear like polo shirts, a button-down shirt, khakis, jeans and sneakers.
For an individual, the goal of business casual is to strike a perfect balance between professional and comfortable, allowing you to make a polished impression without sacrificing comfort or personality.
For a business, the goal of business casual workplace dress codes is to create an atmosphere where employees feel at ease and can focus on their work, rather than being weighed down by formal clothing.
The goal of Business Casual attire is to strike the right balance between professional and comfortable
But as mentioned, the specifics of business casual can vary from one workplace to another. Hell, even the Wikipedia entry for business casual describes it as “an ambiguously defined Western dress code.”
To help you get a better sense of what business asual entails, let’s look at a few key principles that tend to remain consistent across the board.
Dress Shirts are Essential
A well-fitted dress button-up shirt is the cornerstone of any business casual outfit.
Opt for long-sleeved shirts in solid colors or subtle patterns, and always make sure they’re wrinkle-free and properly tucked in.
Sharp Shirt Resources:
- The Most Stylish Men’s Dress Shirt Colors
- The Best Non-Iron & Wrinkle-Free Dress Shirts
- The Best Athletic-Fit Dress Shirts
No Need to Tie One On*
*Well, maybe after work with your friends…
Ties are no longer a necessity for business casual, but they can be a nice addition if you want to elevate your look for an important meeting or presentation.
If you do choose to wear a tie, keep it understated and complementary to your outfit.
Smart Trousers or Chinos
Ditch the jeans and choose trousers or chinos in neutral colors like navy, gray, or khaki.
These versatile pants can be easily dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.
More Great Pants Resources:
Blaze a Trail*
*With your jacket. Please don’t smoke at work.
A tailored blazer or sportcoat can instantly transform your outfit from casual to professional.
Choose a well-fitted coat in a neutral color and pair it with your dress shirt and trousers for a polished look.
Dress Shoes, Loafers, or Boots
I go into much more detail about business casual footwear below, but for now the most important thing to understand is that your choice of footwear can make or break your business casual ensemble.
Opt for clean, well-maintained dress shoes, loafers, or boots in classic colors like black or brown.
Sharp Shoe Resources:
- The Most Essential Types of Shoes for Men
- The Best Shoes to Wear with Chinos
- Stylish Dress Shoes that Feel Like Comfortable Sneakers
- The Best Oxford Cap Toe Shoes
- The Best Monk Strap Shoes for Men
Accessories can be a fun way to express your personal style while maintaining a professional appearance.
Consider adding things like pocket squares, a leather belt, or a good watch to elevate your look.
But remember: with accessories, understatement is key, especially in a business casual setting.
Adding a pocket square or a lapel pin to your blazer can make you look more polished and put together; adding both can make you look like a pick-up arist trying to peacock.
How to Dress Business Casual
Five Go-To Business Casual Outfits
Now that you understand the basic principles of business casual office wear, it’s time to put them into practice.
Here are some specific examples of business casual outfits and get ups that will work well in just about any business casual setting.
The Classic Business Casual Look
- White or light blue dress shirt
- Navy or charcoal gray trousers
- Brown leather dress shoes
- Brown leather belt
- Optional: Navy blazer and pocket square
This timeless outfit is perfect for everyday wear in the office.
The crisp dress shirt and tailored trousers provide a professional base, while the brown leather shoes and belt add a touch of warmth and sophistication.
If you want to elevate this look for an important meeting, simply add a navy blazer and coordinating pocket square.
The Contemporary Business Casual
- Patterned dress shirt (e.g., gingham, stripes)
- Khaki chinos
- Leather oxfords, loafers or desert boots
- Leather belt in a color that matches your shoes
- Optional: Unstructured sports coat
For a more contemporary take on business casual, experiment with patterned dress shirts and versatile chinos.
This outfit is perfect for those who want to showcase their personality while still looking professional.
Pair your patterned shirt with khaki chinos for a balanced and stylish look. Complete the outfit with leather loafers or desert boots and a matching belt.
For added flair, consider throwing on an unstructured sports coat to tie the look together.
The Casual Friday Ensemble
- Polo shirt or a casual button-down shirt
- Dark denim jeans or casual trousers
- Casual leather shoes or clean white sneakers
- Optional: Lightweight sweater or cardigan
When Friday rolls around, it’s time to embrace a more relaxed approach to business casual.
Swap your dress shirt for a polo or casual button-down shirt and trade your dress pants for dark denim jeans or casual trousers.
Finish the look with casual leather shoes or clean white sneakers for a laid-back yet polished appearance.
If the office is chilly, layer a lightweight sweater or cardigan over your shirt for added warmth and style.
The Layered Business Casual
- Solid or subtly patterned dress shirt
- Slim-fit trousers in a neutral color
- V-neck sweater or cardigan in a complementary color
- Leather dress shoes or boots
- Optional: Tie and pocket square
Layering is an excellent way to add depth and interest to your business casual wardrobe. Start with a solid or subtly patterned dress shirt and pair it with slim-fit trousers in a neutral color.
Layer a V-neck sweater or cardigan over your shirt for added warmth and sophistication. Complete the look with leather dress shoes or boots, and consider adding a tie and pocket square for a more polished appearance.
Summer Business Casual
- Short-sleeved dress shirt or linen shirt
- Light-colored chinos or tailored shorts
- Suede loafers or clean canvas sneakers
- Optional: Lightweight blazer in a complementary color
When temperatures rise, it’s important to stay cool and comfortable while maintaining a professional appearance.
Opt for a short-sleeved dress shirt or linen shirt in a light color, and pair it with light-colored chinos or tailored shorts.
Complete the look with suede loafers or clean canvas sneakers for a summery take on business casual.
If you need to dress up your outfit for a meeting, simply add a lightweight blazer in a complementary color.
Distinguishing Between Business Casual & Other Attire Styles
One of the things that makes navigating the world of business casual so damn tricky is the fact that there are all sorts of other dress codes that call for similar, but not quite the same clothes.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common (and confusing) types of attire to help you better understand the nuances of all the different styles.
Business Casual vs Business Professional
Business casual and business professional are two dress codes that often cause confusion, particularly in the workplace.
While both are designed to present a polished appearance, they differ in terms of formality and the specific clothing items they entail.
- Dress shirts, but no need for ties
- Trousers or chinos, but not jeans
- Blazers or sports coats, but not mandatory
- Dress shoes, smart casual shoes (e.g. loafers), or boots
As mentioned above, business casual sits right in the sweet spot between comfort and professionalism.
It’s less formal than traditional business attire, with a focus on well-fitted dress shirts, smart trousers or chinos, and optional blazers or sports coats.
Ties are not a requirement, and footwear can range from a smart casual shoe, like a good loafer, to more formal footwear like dress shoes or dress boots.
You can also have a little more fun with the color palette.
Bright colors like neon green may be pushing it a bit too far, but with business casual you can get away with wearing different colors that are a little less conventional, like purple, pink and various pastel shades.
- Full business suits
- Conservative, solid color suits (e.g., navy blue, charcoal, or black)
- Dress shirts with ties
- Dress shoes (e.g., Oxfords, brogues, or derbies)
- Minimal, tasteful accessories (e.g., cufflinks, tie bars, or pocket squares)
A business professional wardrobe, on the other hand, is more formal, and typically requires traditional suits, dress shirts, and ties.
You can get away with wearing a three-piece suit, but a standard two-button is the safer and more traditional choice.
Suits should come in a dark color and be well-fitted and in conservative colors, while a long-sleeved shirt should be paired with complementary ties.
And speaking of the shirt, the white dress shirt is standard, but you can also get away with other traditional colors like light blue or gray. Louder patterns aren’t appropriate, so leave your floral shirts in the closet.
Oh, and with business professional, make sure you wear a button-up shirt, not a button-down. Button-down shirts are the kind that have small, visible collar buttons keeping the collar pinned in place. They’re considered more casual, and not appropriate for business professional settings.
Footwear should be polished and professional, with classic dress shoes like Oxfords, brogues, or derbies being the standard choices. Accessories should be minimal and tasteful.
A Good Example
If you want to understand the overall look of business professional office attire, check out the show Suits.
Harvey Specter wears Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren suits, and his colleagues all sport similarly formal looks that perfectly embody the clean-cut appearance expected of a business professional work environment.
(Although it’s worth noting that you don’t need to represent Goldman Sachs to afford a business professional suit. There are plenty of great, affordable suit brands that make well constructed options for a lot less money.)
Smart Casual vs Business Casual
The smart casual dress code is another one that can cause confusion, as it shares some similarities with business casual.
But, while the distinctions might be subtle, there are a few key differences that set them apart.
- Collared shirts or high-quality, fashionable t-shirts
- Jeans, trousers or chino pants
- Stylish jackets or blazers
- Sneakers, loafers, or dress shoes
Smart casual is a versatile dress code that allows for more creativity and personal expression than business casual.
While collared shirts are still common, more casual shirts are also acceptable, up to and including high-quality, fashionable t-shirts.
With a smart casual look, jeans can be worn, as long as they’re well-fitted and in good condition.
Jackets or blazers can be used to elevate the look, and footwear can range from clean sneakers to loafers or black or brown dress shoes.
Semi Formal vs Business Casual
Semi-formal attire is often required for events like weddings, cocktail parties, or other special occasions. While it shares some elements with business casual, it is a distinctly more formal dress code.
- Dark suits (e.g., navy, charcoal, or black)
- Dress shirts with or without ties
- Dress shoes (e.g., Oxfords, brogues, or derbies)
- Optional accessories (e.g., pocket squares, cufflinks, or tie bars)
Semi-formal attire typically requires a dark, well-fitted suit, paired with a dress shirt and dress shoes.
Ties are optional, but can add a touch of sophistication to your ensemble. Accessories like pocket squares, cufflinks, or tie bars can be used to further elevate your look.
Check out our full guide to semi-formal attire for (much) more detail about the ins and outs of this particular look.
Where to Buy Business Casual Clothes for Men
Now that we’ve covered all the basics of business casual for men, we can get to my favorite part: shopping.
Below are a few of my favorite places to shop for new clothes that will satisfy just about any business casual dress code.
Of course, one of the down sides of business casual is that a lot of mall stores like Banana Republic and J.Crew tend to carry similar items in similar styles.
But what I like about each of the outlets below is that they all carry a pretty wide range of styles, sizes, colors and fabrics.
That means you should be able to put together a different look than your cubicle mate or best friend at the office, while still fitting well within the business casual paramaters outlined above.
Business Casual FAQ
Even if you’ve read all of the guidelines above (thanks for making it this far, by the way), you probably still have questions that pertain to your own personal style or business environment.
To try and fill in some of the gaps, below are some of the most frequently asked questions about specific pieces of business casual style, which will help you get an even more complete picture.
Are jeans business casual?
Jeans are generally not considered business casual, as they lean more towards casual attire. However, some workplaces with a more relaxed dress code might accept dark, well-fitted jeans as part of a business casual outfit, so it’s essential to gauge the specific expectations of your workplace.
Are black jeans business casual?
Well, sort of. Black jeans can be considered business casual in some workplaces, particularly if they’re well-fitted, in good condition, and paired with appropriate items like a dress shirt, blazer, and dress shoes.
But make sure you understand the specific expectations of your workplace before incorporating jeans into your business casual attire.
Is a polo business casual?
Yep, a polo shirt can be considered business casual. It offers a slightly more relaxed and comfortable alternative to a dress shirt while still maintaining a professional appearance. Pair it with chinos, trousers, or dark jeans (if allowed) and appropriate footwear for a polished business casual look.
Are khakis business casual?
Yes, khakis are considered business casual. They provide a versatile and comfortable alternative to dress pants, while still maintaining a professional appearance. Pair them with a dress shirt or polo, a blazer or sports coat (if desired), and appropriate footwear to complete your business casual ensemble.
Are chinos business casual?
Yes, chinos are considered business casual. They strike a balance between comfort and professionalism, making them a popular choice for this dress code. Pair chinos with a dress shirt or polo, a blazer or sports coat (if desired), and appropriate footwear to create a polished business casual outfit.
Are shorts business casual?
Generally, shorts are not considered business casual, as they are too informal for most workplace settings. However, there may be exceptions in certain industries or during hot summer months, depending on the specific dress code expectations of your workplace. It’s essential to understand your workplace’s guidelines before wearing shorts.
Are flannels business casual?
Flannels are typically not considered business casual due to their casual, rugged appearance. However, some workplaces with a more relaxed dress code may accept flannel shirts, especially if they are well-fitted and paired with more professional items like chinos or trousers. Always consider your workplace’s specific dress code expectations.
Are cargo pants business casual?
Cargo pants are generally not considered business casual due to their casual and utilitarian design. Business casual attire typically calls for more refined and tailored pants, such as chinos or dress trousers. It’s crucial to adhere to your workplace’s specific dress code expectations when selecting your attire.
Are cardigans business casual?
In a word? Yes. (In two words? Hell yes.) Cardigans offer a comfortable and stylish layering option that can elevate your outfit while maintaining a professional appearance. Pair a well-fitted cardigan with a dress shirt or polo, chinos or trousers, and appropriate footwear for a polished business casual look.
Are corduroy pants business casual?
Yes, corduroy pants can be considered business casual. They provide a textured and stylish alternative to chinos or dress trousers while still maintaining a professional appearance. Pair corduroy pants with a dress shirt or polo, a blazer or sports coat (if desired), and appropriate footwear for a refined business casual outfit.
Are turtlenecks business casual?
Yes, turtlenecks can be considered business casual. They offer a sophisticated and polished option, especially during colder months. Pair a well-fitted turtleneck with dress trousers or chinos, a blazer or sports coat (if desired), and appropriate footwear for a stylish and professional business casual look.
Is a jean jacket business casual?
A jean jacket is typically not considered business casual, as it leans more towards casual attire. The more appropriate move is to opt for a blazer, sportcoat, or well-fitted cardigan, all of which give you an extra layer of warmth while maintaining a more professional appearance.
Are joggers business casual?
Definitely not. Joggers give off way too much of an athleisure vibe to be considered business casual. Business casual attire typically calls for more refined and tailored pants, such as chinos or dress trousers. It’s essential to adhere to your workplace’s specific dress code expectations when selecting your attire.
Is a tie business casual?
A tie is not a requirement for business casual attire, but it can be a stylish addition, and give you a more polished appearance. Pairing a tie with a dress shirt, chinos or dress trousers, and a blazer or sports coat can elevate your business casual look without being overly formal.
Are linen pants business casual?
Yes, linen pants can be considered business casual, particularly during warmer months or in hot climates. Their lightweight and breathable nature makes them a comfortable and stylish option. Pair linen pants with a dress shirt or polo, a blazer or sports coat (if desired), and appropriate footwear for a polished business casual look.
Are short sleeves business casual?
Short-sleeve dress shirts or polos can be considered business casual, especially in warmer climates or during summer months. They offer a more relaxed and comfortable alternative to long-sleeve dress shirts while maintaining a professional appearance. Pair them with chinos or dress trousers and appropriate footwear for a polished business casual look.
What’s the best facial hair style for business casual?
As a general rule of thumb, the best facial hair style for business casual is one that’s well-groomed and tidy, reflecting professionalism and attention to detail.
A clean-shaven look, some neatly-trimmed stubble, or a well-maintained mustache are all acceptable options that will help you make a good impression on colleagues and coworkers.
The key is to ensure your facial hair looks intentional and well-cared-for, complementing your overall appearance.
The biggest mistake men make when it comes to facial hair is letting it get unruly, so it’s a good idea to shave or perform some general beard maintenance at least once a week.
Can you wear your shirt untucked in a business casual office?
This one’s a hard “maybe.” Whether or not you can wear your shirt untucked in a business casual office largely depends on the specific dress code expectations of your workplace.
Generally, a well-fitted, untucked shirt can be acceptable in more relaxed business casual settings. But it’s always a good idea to gauge the formality level of your office and follow its guidelines.
Business Casual Shoes
Around here we like to say that shoes are the secret weapon of style, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a closer look at the implications that a business casual dress code has on your choice of footwear.
What are business casual shoes?
A business casual shoe is any type of shoe that strikes the balance we talked about, right in the sweet spot between formal and casual. Essentially, a business casual shoe is one that helps you maintain a professional appearance, but isn’t fancy enough for a black tie event.
When choosing business casual shoes, there are a number of different things to consider in order to make the best choice.
For instance, it’s probably a good idea to think about the formality of your workplace, the colors and materials of your clothing, and the overall aesthetic you want to achieve.
In terms of shoe colors, stick to neutral colors like black, dark brown, navy, or dark grey, and make sure your shoes are clean and well-maintained.
Below are some of the most popular business-casual shoes, all of which can work well in most business casual settings.
Loafers are slip-on shoes without laces, and often feature a low heel and a moccasin-style top.
They can be made of leather, suede, or other materials and come in a variety of sub-styles, including tassel loafers, horsebit, penny loafers and more.
Also known as bluchers, these lace-up shoes have open lacing, which means the quarters (sides of the shoe) are sewn on top of the vamp (front part of the shoe). They are less formal than oxford shoes but still look polished.
Classic lace-up shoes with closed lacing, meaning the quarters are sewn under the vamp.
Although oxfords can be more formal, less embellished designs in brown or suede can work as business casual shoes.
Cap-toe oxfords also make a great choice for business casual, because the capped toe box gives the otherwise quite-dressy shoe a slightly more rugged, workman-like vibe.
Shoes featuring decorative perforations (broguing) on the leather. They can be oxford or derby style, and the level of formality depends on the amount and intricacy of the broguing.
Monk Strap Shoes
As their name implies, monk straps are enclosed with a leather strap that’s sealed by a buckle, instead of traditional laces.
Single or double monk straps can work well for business casual attire.
Leather or suede boots that cover the ankle can be appropriate for business casual settings, especially Chukka or desert boots with a minimal design.
And if you really want to make a good impression, choose boots that have a svelte toe shape similar to what you’d find on a pair of dress shoes.
The sharper toe shape will make the boots look a little more sophisticated, which makes them more appropriate for pairing with dress slacks or a crisp dress shirt with long sleeves.
Business Casual Shoes FAQ
The styles mentioned above should give you a basis for understanding what counts as a business casual shoe, but here are a few more specific questions that can help fill in any remaining gaps.
Are sneakers business casual?
Sneakers are generally not considered business casual. With that said, some workplaces may accept clean, minimalistic, and well-maintained sneakers in neutral colors. Again, it’s always smart to assess your workplace’s dress code and culture before wearing sneakers in a business casual setting.
Are sandals business casual?
Sandals are typically not considered business casual. They expose too much of the foot, which means they lack the formality usually required for a professional setting. But closed-toe or dressier sandals may be acceptable in more relaxed workplaces.
Are boots business casual?
As mentioned above, boots can definitely be business casual, especially ankle-length boots like Chukka or desert boots made from leather or suede that have a minimalist design and a sharp toe shape.
Are loafers business casual?
Definitely. Loafers are a popular choice for business casual footwear because they’re both comfortable and stylish, which falls right in the sweet spot. Your best bet is to opt for leather or suede loafers with minimal embellishments.
Are tennis shoes business casual?
Tennis shoes and other athletic shoes like runners or basketball shoes are not considered business casual because they lack the formality usually expected in the workplace. That said, some laid back offices (think a West Coast tech start up) might allow them, but it’s not standard.
Are Chelsea boots business casual?
Some Chelsea boots can be business casual, but only if they’re sleekly designed, fairly minimalist and well polished. A muddy pair of lug-soled Blundstones probably wouldn’t cut it, but a sleek pair of Amberjacks definitely would.
More Resources ↓
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- How to Buy Your First Suit
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