Business casual. It’s probably the most common office dress code. It can also be a bit tricky to navigate. What’s too casual? Can you be too dressed up?
According to the all-knowing oracle Google, business casual can be defined thusly:
“relating to or denoting a style of clothing that is less formal than traditional business wear, but is still intended to give a professional and businesslike impression.”
Clear as mud yeah? I’ve been working in offices for about 10 years now and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on dressing the part. The following is a list of what I think are essentials for dressing business casual. Having some or all of these pieces will allow you to maxmise your work wardrobe and incorporate some of your off duty pieces to allow you to keep your outfits fresh and your style your own.
My biggest tip is to wear skirts and dresses most of the time. Hear me out on this. When you buy trousers for the office you are only going to wear them at the office. I resent having to buy something I’m only going to wear at work. Skirts, however, can be worn with your more casual looks as well. They can be worn in winter with black tights (or nylons if that’s your thing – I’m looking at you Ms. Middleton) and in the summer with bare legs. I feel that skirts just give you a bit more mileage. That said, I do have a pair of trousers or two because some days I just can’t be bothered to put on a pair of tights.
Business casual essential #1: black skirt
My first essential is a black skirt. This will be the true workhorse of your work wardrobe. I feel that pencil skirts work best with my figure but pick the shape that you like best – a-line, skater, flared, etc. Mine is the Stretch Ponte Tube Skirt from Everlane, sadly no longer available, but I’ve tracked down some similar ones for you here, here and here. I wear this skirt at least 3 times a week. I’ve washed it more times than I can count and it’s held up beautifully. If skirts really aren’t your thing then go for a good pair of black trousers in a high quality fabric like wool and you’ll be all set.
Essential #2: tee shirts
My second essential is tee shirts in solid colours. My favourites are from Kuwalla but there are lots of places to find good tees. A tee shirt in black, white, grey or a simple stripe can be worn tucked into skirts, under blazers, with trousers and with jeans on a casual day. They can also be worn under sweaters for an extra bit of warmth.
Essential #3: sweater
A nice sweater in a light knit, like merino, can also go a long way in a work wardrobe. I have two washable merino sweaters, one red and one blue, from the Gap and I wear then multiple times a week. A slim sweater is great on its own, tucked into high-waisted pants or a skirt, under a blazer or even under a cardigan.
Essential #4: blazer
A good blazer in a solid colour or plaid is another essential. Blazers can be worn over dresses, with skirts, with pants and always add a bit of extra professionalism to an outfit. A good blazer can be quite pricey but I’d suggest checking out vintage options on eBay, in consignment stores or thrift shops. You can often get an excellent quality wool or silk blend blazer for a steal!
Essential #5: shoes
Lastly, a good pair of black or nude shoes. Heels are nice if you can wear them but flats are fine too. I have a pair of black velvet Sam Edleman loafers that go with everything.
And that’s it! My top work wear essentials. Once you have these basics you’ll be able to create lots of different work appropriate outfits.