“Just wear business casual, mate.” Hmm. Okay, now what is that again?
Okay, we know what it doesn’t mean – formalwear.
But what specifically is allowed or accepted with this often-used men’s dress code?
The answer is – it depends (on quite a few factors).
There are a lot of outfit choices between a suit and sweatpants.
At menPsyche, we are all about finding your individual approach to life – and this thinking extends to your image and wardrobe.
So here is all you need to know about the Business Casual Attire for Men to get it right.
Table of Contents
- What Exactly is Men’s Business Casual Attire?
- Your WORKPLACE Matters
- Tips for Your FIRST/NEW Job
- MUST-HAVE Business Casual Pieces
- Business Casual CAPSULE WARDROBE for Men
- Find Your Business Casual SIGNATURE STYLE
- TRENDS in Men’s Business Casual Attire
- OUTFIT INSPIRATION – Business Casual Looks for Men
- Our Tips for the SEASON, CLIMATE & CULTURE
- WORK FROM HOME Business Casual
- Business Casual TRAVEL Outfits
- Office GROOMING Guide
- SHOPPING Guide
- General Wardrobe Tips
What Exactly is Men’s Business Casual Attire?
The problem with a term like ‘business casual’ is that it can be defined differently according to your concept of what constitutes a ‘casual’ outfit.
It’s a murky line between casualwear and formal workwear.
It’s not necessarily an easy look to pull off.
In some ways, a formal suit is easy – you know the elements required, so you select the colour, fit and accessories. It can be a somewhat easier direction for men, with less decision-making involved.
Business casual attire requires some thought to pull the look together to avoid looking like ‘that’ uncle at Christmas.
At its simplest, business casual means a top (usually a shirt) with pants and formal or semi-formal shoes (or similar – see below).
Throw away the jacket and tie for this look (not your Blazers though – they will come in handy).
As you will see in this article, there are nuances and choices within this basic premise.
The goal is for you to look and feel good and meet the expectations of the business casual dress code.
Your Workplace Matters
Business casual for an office is not necessarily the same as an outdoor job or creative studio.
The success of your business casual look will greatly depend on getting the right choice for your industry and position at that company.
Professions and Appropriateness
Consider your industry expectations when putting together your business casual looks.
An architect is not a lawyer and not a graphic designer – if you know what I mean.
You may need to get some intel on what’s trending and acceptable within the company, but also check out what’s happening in the industry in general.
I remember seeing an example where a traditional sales job (full formalwear/business suit) was replaced by the head of the company with chinos, a polo t-shirt and white trainers.
Check with colleagues and friends in similar professions to see how they handle their business casual wardrobe choices.
Your Role in the Company
The next consideration when deciding on the appropriate business outfit could be your role within that company.
The ‘rules’ may be different, depending on who you are and what you do.
For example, the owner or head of a company may interpret ‘business casual’ differently and will often have more latitude in their interpretation (it’s their company, right?).
The expectation, however, for other staff may not be so generous.
💡 A good tip is to look at other positions in your company and take the lead. (If individual ‘twists’ are acceptable in your company, then perhaps you can become a fashion leader!).
Otherwise, it might be best to follow the group and centre your wardrobe and style around your role and what colleagues and clients expect.
Tips for Your FIRST/NEW Job
New jobs are intimidating enough without wondering if you look the part.
Performance and workload might be front of mind when starting a new job, however, your capabilities and professionalism may be judged well before you open the laptop.
I don’t think I need to say it, but I will – looks and first impressions matter (a whole lot!) It’s just the nature of the world.
If you are beginning a new job and have been directed by HR or your manager to wear ‘business casual’, try to research and put together a men’s business casual wardrobe (or at least a couple of go-to outfits) before you get lost in the work.
💡 If you really are unsure, attend work in a more formal look for the first day. After that, you can see what others are wearing and what is acceptable.
If all else fails, take the lead from the most stylish guy in the office (or copy the boss!)
Must-Have Business Casual Pieces
Although this can vary wildly depending on your workplace, there are a few must-have business casual basics men can work with to meet the dress code.
Let’s start with PANTS.
The foundation pieces of business casual attire for men are the pants. Tops can change, shoes can change but pants can’t change that much (okay, colour, material and cut aside).
Work Slacks / Trousers
Men’s trousers can come in many variations, including materials. A word of caution here – be mindful that relaxed, unstructured cuts or materials may look less ‘business-like” than thicker, structured designs.
Formal Dress Pants
Although not strictly business casual, if the pants are paired with less formal pieces (knitwear or a blazer and t-shirt) the look can transform from formal to business casual.
Chinos / Khaki’s
As the workplace becomes less formal, these pants are a staple of the business casual look for guys.
The right colour can make a difference (think darker colours or neutrals like grey, beige, cream, olive green etc).
TOPS are the next item in your business casual arsenal.
This item was the mainstay of business casual for men. The colour, style and pattern remain a choice depending on your workplace, body type and personal style.
Just remove the formal jacket and the tie, and voila! A business casual look fit for any guy.
But, things have changed these days. Along with pants, shoes and accessories, the business shirt has evolved.
A tip for selecting shirts – more sedate, muted, and neutral styles work well in most business situations.
Long sleeve knits
Knits are a sophisticated option, especially for business travel (layering) and cooler climates. Don’t forget to check out this blog on fall outfit pieces for men. There, you’ll find plenty of inspiration to keep your style game on point during the cooler seasons.
Take care to choose quality if you can afford it, as the item will keep its shape and sit better on the body.
We do not mean logo tops or sporting or exercise gear.
A well-fitted polo t-shirt can look stylish and trendy in a business casual outfit.
A good quality round or V-neck t-shirt can be styled for business casual in some circumstances.
T-shirts are an excellent option for warmer climate outfits or can be used as layering pieces under a blazer or knit.
Finally, the SHOES
Formal /Dress Shoes
We are talking Oxfords, Monkstraps, Derby etc. All these styles can still be worn with business casual pants. Brown shoes can often be more stylish and versatile than black.
The famous loafer can still be formal in some instances. Select styles in different materials or colours to lessen the formality.
(They are a good choice for airports, too – no laces!)
This category is where business casual can head a little toward the future and trends.
Work pants with trainers, boots or hybrid formal/casual shoes are now acceptable in some workplaces and look great in a man’s modern business wardrobe.
Discover the 5 Essential Shoes Every Man Needs in 2023.
Men’s accessories are not generally defined as ‘business casual.’ Most accessories can be paired with a business casual look.
You may also like – 5 Accessories to Own as a Minimalist Guy
Whatever you wear will still need to match the overall ‘feel’ of the outfit, however, which is professional, business-like and in line with the standards of your company or business.
As always, accessories are a chance to elevate style and display individuality.
Your choice of belts, watches, eyewear or jewellery can be one way to develop a Signature Style.
Business Casual Attire for Men with Capsule Wardrobe
Capsule Wardrobes and Signature Styles are helpful fashion concepts for any guy to learn.
They can simplify your life, often reduce your clothing expenses and overall assist you in making your individual mark on the world.
A capsule wardrobe is a selection of pieces (e.g. 4 pants, 4 shirts, 2 two pairs of shoes, 2 jackets etc.) that coordinate together to make many outfit combinations.
The key to developing a successful capsule wardrobe is to ensure the items are neutral or versatile enough to pair with all the other items in your wardrobe.
It doesn’t mean you can’t include colours and patterns, it’s just the items must match anything else you buy to make the capsule wardrobe work.
The benefit of this wardrobe is from just a few key wardrobe pieces, you potentially have weeks of different looks every day.
A secondary benefit of a business casual wardrobe is that you can usually also wear most items away from the office in your off-time.
Find Your Business Casual Signature Style
Where a capsule wardrobe has many different potential outfits, a Signature Style is one look or a unique angle that becomes your ‘signature.’
Signature Style does not have to be the one look every day (ahem, Mr Zuckerberg). Your signature might be –
- One colour all over (monochromatic). (Read more on how to subtly match your outfits)
- Unique design or colour shoes
- Cut (fitted), Style (ie. Classic) or material (ie. All natural fibres)
- A consistent, signature accessory
- Same colour shirt or tie
- Unique belt
- A hat
A single outfit signature style (think Steve Jobs) may be tricky to wear in a business setting (unless you own the business).
Wearing the same thing every day can simplify your decision-making, but may not suit your requirements at work or be appropriate with clients.
Check out this article for further guidance on understanding Signature Style.
Trends in Men’s Business Casual Attire
This look has been around for a while. The look is trendy and modern but is not a choice for every workplace (it might be hard to rock this in the snow, for instance!).
More and more workplaces are accepting jeans in a business environment. This choice of attire might need to be checked with the boss first (rather than assuming it’s okay and wearing them anyway).
Dark wash jeans and a blazer are a classic look, and with smart accessories is a sophisticated, professional outfit in the right setting.
Traditionally, trainers (sneakers or runners) would not be seen with a business outfit – but times have changed.
Trainers now come in colours that closely match your pant colour. They also come in hybrid styles that look more like an everyday shoe than a sports trainer.
This look is dictated by the industry and rules in individual workplaces. More conservative workplaces generally do not permit trainers in the office.
The world kinda stopped in 2020/2021. Wardrobes morphed as a result. Rules were relaxed, and exceptions were made.
All this upheaval changed perceptions and priorities. And it was reflected in people’s wardrobes.
While things became even more casual, there has been a slow return to appropriateness in the workplace (it’s also why some bosses stopped ‘work from home’ – it was all becoming too casual).
So before you turn up on Monday morning in your trendiest attire, check first with management what is allowed in the ‘new normal.’
Also Read- Is Men’s Classic Formalwear Formally Over?
Outfit Tips for Seasons, Climate and Culture
Guys often don’t have the range of fashion choices women do at the best of times. They are restricted to tops and pants usually – that’s it.
Depending on which part of the world you live in, your climate and culture may dictate the appropriateness of many aspects of all your fashion choices, not just your business casual attire.
Seasons, too, will impact your wardrobe. Spending on expensive winter business casual items when you only have two months of the year that are cold doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (or cents).
While we are mainly talking about Western-style business casual looks here, there are parts of the world where a men’s business casual look will be a cultural dress.
Climate, season, and culture are all factors when designing your business casual looks into a sleek and wearable wardrobe.
Work From Home (WFH) Business Casual
What to wear when you work from home is a contentious issue.
Some people feel you only need to dress the top half for Zoom calls.
Others feel you need to wear the same as you would in the workplace or office to get into the right mindset and approach your work professionally (while keeping the kids and pets out of the spare room).
You can create a dedicated WFH business casual wardrobe, especially if you don’t need to meet people in person or online (i.e. some freelancers or consultants). Aim for something slightly elevated from your joggers but less formal than a blazer look.
Some potential combinations of WFH attire:
- Stretch chino and a long sleeve knit
- Jeans and shirt
- Slacks and a plain polo T-shirt
- Neutral-coloured unstructured blazer
Keep these separate from your at-home weekend wear so they appear well-maintained (and also so people don’t see you wearing the same thing in a social setting).
When your work day at home is done, you can swap the whole outfit for your off-work look.
Business Casual Travel Outfits
A frequent need of many guys is to find the right travel outfit for business where you need to look professional, meet potential new clients and attend social events.
If you don’t want to turn up after a long-haul flight looking like Keith Richards, here are some simple fashion and style tips to consider:
- Stay cool by wearing LAYERS
- Find the right shoe (look for a pair that will be a ‘workhorse’ for the airport, onboard, business meetings and social events)
- Invest in ‘smart’ fabrics (stretch and non-iron)
- Select a Stylish Outerwear piece (Blazers, long jackets etc.)
- Travel with lightweight accessories (scarf, watch, work satchel) that double up for off-duty style
For additional information, check out our dedicated blog on Men’s Travel Outfit Ideas and Inspiration. It’s perfect for those long haul flights where you still want to maintain your cool look.
Office Grooming Guide
The entire domain of men’s grooming has somewhat relaxed in the office over the years to become ‘business casual’ (even with formal wear).
Once upon a time, only clean-shaven faces were seen in the office (that is definitely not the case today).
Beards and facial hair are a huge part of the style scene for many modern guys.
As we have mentioned above multiple times, your Industry and Position in the company may dictate how far you can take your business casual look.
As a general rule, whatever hairstyle or facial hair you sport, it should always be well-styled and neatly groomed for a professional setting. More Idris Elba than John Wick.
Hairstyles should be appropriate for your workplace and any clients or business stakeholders you meet.
When it’s your own business, go all out – rock a mullet or man bun. But when you work for someone, it’s their reputation on the line, and you represent them while at work.
If you want low maintenance and ease plus style – check out our Guide to the Best Short Haircuts for Men. Here, we include some neat and office-appropriate looks that can be matched to your business casual looks, as well as for formal events if needed.
Check out more Grooming Tips:
Men’s Shopping Guide
To save time and money and ensure you look the part, here are some shopping tips to help you build the right business casual looks for your workplace
- Design a Capsule Wardrobe BEFORE going shopping to ensure maximum versatility and value for money
- If you find the perfect item (i.e. a good-fitting shirt), consider buying multiple pieces in different colours
- Less is often More – consider buying quality pieces rather than quantity
- Try to buy fewer trend pieces. Classics may cost more, however, they will last longer in your wardrobe, and you will always look stylish and up-to-date in classic choices.
- Create a Pinterest account and start to collect images of clothing items and outfits and follow fashion pages, celebrities or accounts that match your aesthetic.
General Wardrobe Tips
- Get your items tailored to fit. Customising your clothes can be the single best thing you can do to look great in any attire
- Keep clothes in good condition
- Dry clean or follow garment care instructions
- When shirt or t-shirt collars start to go south or faded and worn patches appear on pants, it is time to move them out of the business casual wardrobe.
- Buy less items but better quality (if you can). If your budget restricts more quality material, try and mimic the better brands’ cut or colour
- Try to develop a Signauter Syle or Capsule Wardrobe to make your money go further and create a unique style for yourself.
Can I wear a tie with Business Casual outfits?
It’s not common, but yes, you can! The idea behind the ‘casual’ element of this look was to relax the dress code requirements. So, no need to dress in formalwear from head to toe. A tie could be introduced in several ways – with a t-shirt and chino look or with a shirt under knitwear. Try knit ties, new patterns and colours, rather than the traditional formal styles.
Is a Suit without a Tie considered Business Casual?
Removing the tie from a suit lessens the formality. In most instances, this will be a business casual look for men.
If your workplace is conservative, this look may work well. If you are in a more modern or trendy workplace, a suit without a tie may still be too formal and no longer ‘casual.’ A suit with a T-shirt underneath may look more casual than a shirt. Try to observe your colleagues to learn whether this look will work in your situation.
Can I wear Jeans with Business Casual?
It depends on your workplace, industry, company and role within that company.
Jeans are much more common in the workplace than a decade ago.
Pairing jeans with a blazer, knit or shirt and the right shoes can make the perfect business casual look.
Jennifer is the co-founder of menPsyche. She holds an Applied Science degree in Public Health & Health Promotion and authored the ‘Personal Disaster’ book series.
Jennifer has a vast range of experience across many domains, including extensive international exposure.