Guide to Business Casual for Women
You've just landed your first "real" job. You're excited but puzzled by the dress code. You've never had to dress "business casual" before and you aren't quite sure what it means. "Business" and "casual" seem like opposite sides of the coin, how can you put together an outfit that's both?
Understanding what business casual means will help you as you pick out your outfit for your first day on the job. Knowing what to wear and how to meet the dress code will also help you fit in on the job and look like you belong, from day one.
What is Business Casual for Women?
A business casual wardrobe mixes formal business attire with casual clothing. Examples of business casual dress for women include pairing a navy or black blazer with printed shoes or a colorful shirt.
When you're following a business casual dress code, it's safer to "dress down" a formal wardrobe instead of dress up a casual one. Ultimately, it's your responsibility to know your company and use your judgment to determine what's appropriate. If you're not sure what to wear on the first day, you can ask at human resources or try to copy what you saw others wearing when you went in for your interview.
Before You Buy: Business Casual Tips
Whether you love or loathe shopping for clothing, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for business casual office wear.
1. Dress for the Job
Remember to dress specifically for your job. As a teacher, you're likely to wear something very different from what a journalist or creative director might wear. Teachers might spend more time on their feet and prefer comfortable flats or loafers, for example. A journalist might travel around throughout their workday and need to dress in layers.
2. Maintain a Good Balance
Nailing the business casual dress code is all about getting the balance between formal and relaxed just right. You don't want to look too dressed up, but you also want to make sure what you're wearing is office-appropriate.
You don't have to completely sacrifice your sense of style to dress business casual. As a general rule of thumb, it's better to be initially overdressed your first week rather than underdressed. You only have one shot at making a great first impression, and wearing clothing that is too casual may give others the idea that you're not serious about the job.
3. Consider the Unwritten Rule of Thirds
When outfit planning, consider the rule of thirds. Think of business casual outfits as made up of three main pieces. Your outfit is made up of two base parts, like pants and a button-up shirt. A third item is the "finishing" touch. You could add a blazer, necklace, cardigan or a scarf to top it off.
4. Get the Correct Fit
A business casual outfit that looks great on the hanger might won't look great on you if the fit isn't right. Clothes that don't fit well also tend not to be comfortable. Your movement can be restricted when your pants too tight or you might have difficulty in a shirt that swallows you whole. If you have difficulty getting clothing to fit well off the rack, a visit to a tailor can be a life-changing experience.
5. Build a Capsule Wardrobe
If you're building a business casual wardrobe from scratch, consider creating a capsule wardrobe. Capsule wardrobes feature a few, quality pieces that you can mix and match. Making the most out of a minimal wardrobe lets you get the most for your money and maximize wear. Here's how to start your capsule wardrobe:
- Start with a piece you love. If you focus on building around something like a bag or shoes you adore, all of your capsule pieces will work with your favorite item. You'll get more wear out of it.
- Go with neutrals. Pick one neutral color, such as black, navy, gray or beige, for staples like suit separates, a dress, shoes or a bag. Then, pick another neutral such as white, cream or beige for items like dress shirts and blouses, a blazer or pants.
- Choose accent colors. Pick two or three accent colors to bring some life to your outfits. Items like cardigans, blouses and shoes can be in your accent colors.
- Throw in some simple accessories. Lastly, accessorize your outfit with some simple jewelry such as a short pendant necklace, stud earrings or small hoops.
Although a capsule wardrobe might seem restrictive, it does give you some freedom. You can change your accent colors each season, and add a statement piece or two as you wish.
How to Dress Business Casual
Ready to jump in and pick out some clothes for work? Let's go step-by-step, from head to toe, picking garments that might be perfect for your business casual office.
Optimal Outerwear: Blazers and Coats
Blazers are a staple of ladies' business casual attire throughout the year. When it's colder, a heavier coat is also a critical part of your work wardrobe. Here's what to look for when choosing a blazer, jacket or coat to wear to the office.
- Style and fit. For an office environment, choose a blazer that nips in at the waist. You could experiment with different lengths, like a cropped blazer or a hip-length style. Button the blazer or coat when you try it on to make sure it closes without pulling or gaping. For winter or fall coats, trench and wool coats are both popular options. A mid-thigh length or longer will be the most versatile.
- Color. Neutral colors tend to be ideal for outerwear. Pick a blazer or coat in black, charcoal, brown or navy. To add some visual interest, you can try a pinstripe or herringbone pattern. If you have room in your wardrobe for more than one blazer or coat, feel free to pick the second one in a jewel-tone or vibrant pattern.
- Outwear don'ts. Skip the hoodies and jean jackets, as they tend to be too casual. You might also want to leave anything that's too eye-catching or interesting home, such as a shiny blazer or a neon winter jacket.
Sophisticated Skirts and Dresses
While skirts and dresses might feel like they lean more toward the "business" side of business casual, you can find numerous ways to dress them up or down. No matter the season, dresses help you get dressed quickly and look pulled-together without a lot of effort.
- Style and fit. Pencil and A-line skirts and dresses are classic fits for a reason. For a bit of variety, consider pleated skirts or wrap dresses. If you're going to wear a sleeveless dress, pair it with a cardigan or blazer, in case your job has a rule against bare arms. Also, make sure you get the length right. Knee-length or longer is usually your safest bet when picking out skirts and dresses for work.
- Color. Like most other office essentials, stick with solid color dresses and skirt, so that you can easily match them with other pieces. Small patterns, such as pinstripe, dots or a small floral print might be acceptable. While you'll get the most out of neutral hues, don't be afraid to add a colorful skirt or dress to your wardrobe, too.
- Skirts and dresses don'ts. Steer clear of short dresses and skirts for work. The mirror test can help you see if your skirt is an appropriate length. Put a chair in front of a full-length mirror and sit down to see how high your skirt or dress travels up. It's also a good idea to ask yourself where else you might wear a dress or skirt. Pieces that you'd also wear it to a party or on a date won't work for work.
The Perfect Pants
Not a fan of skirts? No problem. Dress pants are perfectly acceptable in business casual workplaces. In some cases, pants might be more appropriate for a business casual setting. Some women also find them more comfortable than skirts.
- Style and fit. Choose pants with a mid-rise or high-rise for the office. When it comes to fit and length, you have lots of options. Ankle-length pants are ideal for spring, summer and fall while full-length pants will keep you warm in the winter. As far as fit goes, choose the one you like best, whether it's flare or skinny, wide- or straight-leg. Another thing to consider is stretch. Look for pants with at least some small amount of stretch to ensure natural movement and maximum comfort.
- Color. To maximize wear, stick with neutrals like black, navy, gray or tan. You can incorporate some color into your wardrobe with deep shades like burgundy or forest green.
- Pants don'ts. Low-rise pants might be too casual for work not too mention not very comfortable. You won't want to be tugging at your waistband all day. Keep your pants professional and leave the leggings and yoga pants at home. It's also important that your pants be in excellent condition. Frayed hems can also make a pair of trousers look sloppy and unprofessional, so make sure your pants are crisp and clean.
How to Make Jeans Work
There's some debate over whether or not jeans fall into the category of business casual. More and more companies seem to be allowing employees to wear jeans. It's still a good idea to check with your employer before wearing denim to the office. If they're allowed, jeans could become your new best friend at work.
- Style and fit. To make your jeans office-friendly, make sure they have structure and fit well. They can be full-length or cropped. A trouser jean with a slight bootcut or high-waisted sailor style could work well when paired with a blouse and blazer.
- Color. Stick with jeans in a dark wash or solid black. Darker jeans look more professional and also blend in more with other neutral pieces of your outfit. In some cases, colored denim like burgundy or olive green might be appropriate, but it would be best to research your workplace first.
- Jeans don'ts. Distressed, ripped or acid-washed jeans don't belong in the business casual workplace. You might also want to save your boyfriend-fit or super relaxed jeans for after work hours.
Blouses can help bring an otherwise drab outfit to life. It's not a bad idea to have some dress shirts and blouses to wear with anything, but as seasons change and styles come and go, you can always refresh your look with a bold, beautiful blouse under your blazer with your pants or skirt.
- Style and fit. Choose the style of your blouse based on the season. For example, short sleeves, cap sleeves and even sometimes a wide-strapped tank top are all appropriate options for summer and spring. During the warmer months, look for lightweight materials to help you keep cool, like silk or cotton. For fall and winter, three-quarter sleeves or long sleeves are good options. When it comes to neckline, collared shirts, boat necks, square necks or turtlenecks are all office-appropriate.
- Color. Choose with blouse and shirt colors that complement your skin tone, eyes and hair color. Don't be afraid to branch out and try some pastels like baby blue, pale yellow or blush, jewel tones, bright and bold colors or a print. You could look for florals, leaf prints and other mixed prints specifically for warmer months. Plaid, paisley, geometric designs or polka dots are good print picks for all seasons.
- Shirts and blouses don'ts. Stay away from blouses with low necklines or shirts made from a see-through fabric. As a general rule, keep your blouse's neckline within four inches of your collarbone. Although your office might allow sleeveless tops, leave the spaghetti straps for after work. You also want to avoid anything that's too eye-catching, such as neon colors and clashing patterns.
Whether you're looking to throw on a cardigan over a blouse or wear a sweater alone with pants or a skirt, sweaters help to add variety to your wardrobe. They also help you stay warm in a chilly office. Just like blouses, there are many options when it comes to sweaters, so here are some things to keep in mind if you're sweater shopping for the office.
- Style and fit. For both pullover sweaters and cardigans, lean toward fine-gauge knits that fit you well. Chunky knits or relaxed fits might be too casual for work. For cardigans gives you a lot of choices, from cropped fits to longer, boyfriend lengths. Some have buttons and others don't. If you're going with a pullover sweater, thin V-neck or crewneck long sleeve sweaters are classics.
- Color. Colors like black or other neutral hues will help you get the most wear from your sweaters and cardigans. Try to choose colors that coordinate with the other pieces in your wardrobe. Although ugly patterned sweaters or boldly colored sweaters might be great for the weekend, they're usually not a good fit for work.
- Sweater don'ts. When shopping for sweaters, look out for loose threads or a fading dye, and don't bother with bulky fits. For V-neck sweaters, make sure the V isn't too deep. You should also beware of any shrinking or stretching that may happen to the sweater and alter its appearance. To prolong their life and help them keep their shape, don't put your sweaters in the dryer.
Tips for Shoes and Other Accessories
An outfit isn't complete without some shoes and accessories. While you may have the perfect outfit picked out, choosing the wrong pair of shoes and going overboard with accessories could diminish your hard work. To appear put together from head to toe, keep these tips in mind when accessorizing:
- Flats, wedges, heels and boots are all excellent options for work.
- Depending on your workplace, sandals might be appropriate. Check with human resources or your supervisor before wearing them.
- For flats, try round-toe or pointed-toe ballerina flats, loafers, driving mocassins or oxfords.
- For heels, try pumps, slingbacks, T-straps, wedges, kitten or block styles.
- Keep the shoes simple and free of too many straps or embellishments.
- Don't wear heels higher than four inches.
- Neutral colors like black or brown coordinate with most outfits, but you can use shoes to incorporate color or a pop of print into your outfit.
- Totes are a great option to carry everything you need for the office.
- Choose a bag with a structured shape.
- A laptop bag, satchel or clutch can also be used as an additional accessory that helps bring your outfit to life.
- Skip the bucket bag and fabric totes and go for leather or a leather-like material.
- Plan your outfit around your bag to make sure it matches.
- You can't go wrong with neutral colors for your totes, but you can incorporate pops of brighter color in with smaller accessories, like a clutch.
- Dress up your outfit with a nice pair of simple studs or small hoops.
- Necklaces such as a long metal necklace, a short pendant necklace and a statement necklace to help dress up more casual pieces.
- You can't go wrong with gold, silver and pearls.
- Neutral colors and materials will match with most outfits, but you can use items like a statement necklace to incorporate bold colors.
- Avoid overaccessorizing. Before you leave home, try taking off one accessory.
Looking for Business Casual Attire for Women? Shop My Sister's Closet Boutique
Don't let the broad definition of business casual intimidate you. Head into your first day at the office with confidence and style by choosing work-appropriate clothing that's both fashionable and functional. Now that you have a better grasp on what business casual is and know what pieces you to probably pick up, are you ready to start shopping and build your work wardrobe? My Sister's Closet Boutique has you covered. With various sizes and styles of dresses, skirts, shirts, sweaters and bottoms, start shopping today to create a closet full of only the best business casual outfits.