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What is Meant by Business Casual Dress?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many companies have instituted a business casual dress code, and invitations to business functions often suggest that guests should wear this type of clothing. The term is somewhat nebulous, however, and sometimes leads to widespread confusion. It is clearly different than business formal, which suggests a tailored suit and tie, but should not be confused with casual wear, such as jeans and t-shirts, either. A general rule of thumb is that the individual should be neatly dressed, well put together, and professional looking. People who are ever unclear on a company's dress code should ask to see the exact wording of the guidelines or talk to a supervisor about acceptable office wear.

For both men and women, clothing should have a good fit. It should not be too tight or loose, and should not reveal cleavage, stomachs, lower backs, buttocks, or bare ankles. Minor tailoring may be needed to ensure a smooth fit for business casual clothing, but is well worth it to keep the dresser looking professional. In addition, garments should be pressed and in good condition, meaning that they have no fading, holes, or dangling threads, and are also wrinkle-free.

Slacks such as khakis are usually acceptable, as are pants made from cotton, microfiber, and summer weight wool. Jeans and knits should be avoided. For women, all skirts should fall, at a minimum, to the knee, and they should not reveal the thighs when sitting. Small slits to facilitate walking comfortably in long skirts are acceptable, but should not be designed to reveal the leg. In all cases, undergarments such as slips, undershirts, brassieres, and underwear should not be visible.

Tops, such as button-down cottons and collared polo shirts, are acceptable for both genders, while women may also wear sweaters. T-shirts and apparel with logos are usually not considered appropriate for the office, unless the shirt is branded with the company name. Tank tops and cut-off shirts should be avoided, and short sleeved shirts should only be worn in warm weather or more casual office environments. A sport coat in subdued colors can be used for a slightly more dressy look.

Accessories, including discreet jewelry are permitted, and women can certainly wear scarves, hose if they are wearing shorter skirts, and understated makeup. Many men and women prefer to wear ties with business casual attire, as the tie can always be removed if it seems too formal for the situation. If a belt is worn, it should be made from leather, and shoes should also be made from leather, with a low heel for women. Patterns and prints should be subdued if they are worn at all; subtle stripes are acceptable, while vibrant tropical patterns are not.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon161762 — On Mar 21, 2011

Ummm. I would think that leather clothing in general is not office appropriate. I mean it might look great at a club, but the office?

By anon120624 — On Oct 21, 2010

Natrona: The leather policy, sad to say, may be specifically about you. If you aren't finding it elsewhere, it might be because everyone else realizes without having to be told that leather pants aren't "business casual" the way nobody has to be told that ripped jean shorts aren't business casual.

Your company introduced what is a pretty specific rule after a few years of you wearing leather clothes. That doesn't mean they didn't have a problem with it and now they do. It means it was never appropriate, and instead of singling you out or risking lawsuits/indignation/riots about capri pants, they've instituted a general dress policy that applies to everyone so nobody can claim it is unfair.

Get new clothes. Nobody may have complained to your face, but you can bet they were saying it behind your back.

By anon45547 — On Sep 17, 2009

Leather Pants: The point is not whether other companies allow leather pants to be included in business casual attire, the point is rather that the company you work for does not want any of their employees to wear leather pants and they are adding that on to the business casual dress code. I'd either go along or start looking for another position that allows you to wear what you want. Cargo Pants: Most people do not consider cargo pants acceptable business casual attire, even though the color and fabric might be appropriate - it's more about the sort of sloppy/bulky pockets on the sides that make them inappropriate.

By anon43852 — On Sep 02, 2009

About leather clothing and no complaints.

Remember that many people consider it more rude to complain about someone's clothing than to wear inappropriate clothing to begin with. I know that personally I would never point out to someone that their clothing is inappropriate. There are too many ways for that interaction to end badly.

By anon42782 — On Aug 23, 2009

Hello, my name is Natrona Wilson. I work for Upward Bound, an equal opportunity program at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana. We have a monthly staff meeting where four EOP departments meet together. At our monthly meeting last week, we were told by our four directors that they are going to start enforcing a Business Casual dress policy that will be effective in October. Two items on the requirements of this policy got many of the women at the meeting frustrated. One item is that capri pants will no longer be allowed. I believe almost every woman in that room had on capri pants. The other item that got a couple of us frustrated, myself especially, was not allowing the wearing of leather pants. I have worn all forms of leather clothing, jackets, skirts and pants for the past 19 years. I have worked in this department for the past 9 years. During this time no one has ever complained that my leather clothing is not appropriate office attire. Most all of my winter clothing consists of leather clothing. I do not wear my leather slacks or skirts tight, many of them have belt loops and I wear belts with them. I have a couple of leather suits that have skirts, slacks and jackets. I have worn them several times to work. I probably have 25 paird of leather slacks and 15 leather skirts. Many of them are lamb leather; they are not cheap leather, so they are soft. I have been looking on the internet to find out any policy on allowing leather fabrics in business casual attire in the office. I am not able to find anything that says leather is not an unacceptable fabric for business casual clothing. The only one I have seen is the one that was given to us at the meeting. I cannot find the source on it or the date. Can you please help me find out if leather clothing that is not tight fitting is acceptable in business casual attire? Thank you so much for your help in this matter. I have to have something to give to the committee by September, in the defense of leather clothing. Sincerely, Natrona Wilson, Academic Coordinator, Upward Bound

By anon42285 — On Aug 20, 2009

NO one seems to mention one way or the other if cargo pants count as business casual. They are similar to khakis but some individuals count them in the same categories as jeans. Where do cargo pants fall?

By velikaribat — On Feb 15, 2008

An unmatching pair of slacks and a sport coat would work for a business casual outfit for a man.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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