Most people who follow the traditional college route will probably end up with a 9 to 5 office job. The thing about offices is that they tend to require employees to wear business casual attire, and most of the time, they don’t really explain what that means. This is why I’ve got a guide to business casual dress codes to help you figure it out.

For guys

Young man in a blazer with a neutral shirt and dress pants.

Business casual dress codes will usually differ a little between men and women, so I’ll go over what’s appropriate for everyone.

Business casual shirts for guys

Oxford shirts and simple long sleeve button-down shirts will be appropriate for any business casual workplace. If you want, you can pair it with a cardigan or blazer, but that isn’t necessary most of the time.

In the summer, when it starts getting warmer, you may get away with some short-sleeved button-up shirts or polo shirts to beat the heat. That really depends on how strict the dress code is, though.

Neutral sweaters and long sleeve shirts can be acceptable for business casual dress codes, but you will probably want to dress them up before heading into the office.

It’s also a good idea to have some undershirts in your closet just in case your shirt is a little thin. It won’t typically be a problem for thicker materials or non-white shirts, but you’ll probably want a few anyway. Luckily those are pretty cheap and can be gotten just about anywhere.

Business casual pants for guys

You can’t go wrong with dress pants, suit pants, slacks, chinos, or khakis. While that may sound like a lot of options, the general looks are pretty much the same. Slim-fitting, wide-legged pants with dark or neutral colors.

While your everyday work wear won’t be too varied, you’ll at least be able to dress it up or down depending on what else you pair it with.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to wear a nice pair of jeans; just make sure they aren’t too distressed and that they don’t have any holes.

One thing to remember when picking out a pair of business casual pants is what belts you’ll be wearing with them. Belts aren’t mandatory, but if you need one, you want to make sure it looks just as professional as the rest of you. Luckily, any belt that isn’t made of fabric will work well with a business casual look.

Business casual shoes for guys

Most of the shoes you will want to wear are on the formal side — loafers and wingtips are perfect. As dress codes become a little more comfortable, though, you can get away with doc martens and even dress sneakers.

Some boots may be appropriate for your business casual office but make sure they are clean and aren’t visibly worn out.

While style is important, make sure the shoes you wear are comfortable. You’ll be spending hours wearing them, and even if you spend most of your day sitting, it’s still important to have comfortable shoes.

If you have difficulty finding comfortable shoes, you can try to compromise by getting a half-size up in some less comfortable ones and getting a good pair of insoles.

For girls

Young woman wears high-heels shoes, braun asymmetric skirt and a creme blouse.

Now it’s time for the ladies’ attire. Business casual dress codes will tend to give women more flexibility in fashion. What women wear can be very similar to men’s business casual, but they have other options too.

Business casual dresses for girls

Your dress is probably fine as long as your shoulders are covered and it hits the knees. Maybe a bit unfairly, women tend to have a wider variety of what they can wear, even in a business casual setting. However, the lack of pockets is still criminal.

If you have a dress you’d like to wear that shows a little too much skin, you can always wear a cardigan or blazer to cover up. As long as you’re okay with wearing it for the rest of the day and not being able to take it off, you’ll be good to go.

Just make sure the neckline doesn’t go down too deeply. If you’re unsure whether your neckline is too deep, it’s better to assume it is or accessorize with a scarf.

Business casual shirts for girls

Blouses and button-downs are the easiest shirts for a business casual dress code. The rules for button-downs are the same as for men, but things get a little more flexible when it comes to blouses.

The rules for blouses are similar to what we went over for dresses above, minus the reaching below-the-knee part. As long as your shoulders are covered, and the neckline doesn’t reach too low, most shirts you can find in a department store will be business casual appropriate.

The nice thing about blouses is that they have more freedom regarding patterns and designs. Floral and paisley designs are pretty popular, but there are also some other patterns that are perfectly appropriate. 

If you’re unsure what kind of blouse to wear on your first day of work, you can’t go wrong with a simple button-down. 

Business casual pants for girls

As long as you find a nice pair of pants that aren’t made of thin material or full of holes, they will probably work as business casual.

Sometimes jeans are acceptable as long as the rest of your outfit looks nice, but it really depends on the workplace.

The easiest business casual pants are a dark or neutral color made of thick fabric, and they also should reach around your ankles or slightly longer, depending on your shoes. While some patterns like pinstripes are fine, you probably don’t want to show up to work one day in leopard print pants.

You’ll want to stick to simplistic patterns as much as possible.

Business casual shoes for girls

Finding comfortable shoes that are also business casual can be a little tricky. Many workplaces may have stipulations about what kind of shoes you’re allowed to wear.

Luckily we’re seeing fewer workplaces requiring women to wear heels, but depending on how old-fashioned management is, you may be required to wear heels. For the ladies who want to wear their heels, as long as they aren’t too high or strappy, they’ll probably be perfectly appropriate for work.

Another option is finding a good pair of flats, which should suffice in most offices and other business casual environments. In general, shoes with a “polished” or neutral look will be perfect.

What to avoid

Now that I’ve covered the things you should wear, let’s go over some of the things you shouldn’t

Unless you have the OK from management or HR, the rule of thumb is to avoid the following:

  • Leggings
  •  Sweats
  •  Open-toed shoes
  •  Clothing that exposes your shoulders
  •  Shorts
  •  Skirts/ dresses that don’t fall below the knee
  •  Athletic shoes/ sneakers
  •  T-shirts
  •  Almost anything with large print text
  •  Crop tops
  •  Anything with stains

In general

Depending on the occasion and where you work, there will probably be some wiggle room. In a relaxed environment, you can probably get away with something that looks nice. Depending on the management, you may even be able to wear jeans. (Just make sure you clear it before you show up in them).

If you’re still having trouble wrapping your head around what is and isn’t appropriate business casual clothing, just ask yourself whether someone would wear it on a normal day in The Office. If the answer is yes, you’re probably good to go. 

When you need to start dressing business casual for the first time, it can be confusing and overwhelming. I promise with a little practice, you’ll get the hang of it, and it’ll be the kind of thing where you know it when you see it. 

For more in-depth fashion advice, check out our guy’s guide to dressing yourself!

Do you have any tips for business casual dress codes?

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