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You’ve probably scanned through multiple articles and videos on the topic of business casual attire for men. You’re also probably now just realizing that there is no clear cut answer or definition.
The reason for this lack of clarity in defining business casual is because it varies from workplace to workplace.
What is a Business Casual Dress Code?
Well, simply put, as workplaces have become more and more casual and since you are not required to wear a suit, employers have just adopted this safe guide of workplace attire. Basically, they want you to dress well without a suit.
“Think of business casual as dressing well without a suit.”
But that leaves a tonne of options as to what should you wear besides a suit to work? Dress pants or chinos? Dress shirts or polos?
Well, this largely depends on where you work. Just look around and see what other employees are wearing, especially those who have been working there for a longer period. Or just ask. It’s as simple as that.
With that out of the way, let’s now get into men’s business casual attire. We’ll go over shirts, pants, shoes, jackets and accessories. This guide will cover 99% of business casual workplaces.
Business Casual Shirts for Men
There are 3 types of shirts that can be considered appropriate for business casual: polos, button down collar and dress shirts. All 3 types pair incredibly well with business casual pants (discussed later).
Polo shirts come in two types; short sleeve and long sleeve. Both types are generally appropriate for business casual workplaces.
Pic- longer sleeve versions are great for the fall and winter while short sleeves polos work well in the spring and summer.
Is a Polo Shirt Business Casual?
Look for polos made of finer fabrics such as pima cotton, merino wool, cashmere and cotton/silk blends. These will look the best with the rest of your business casual attire.
Avoid polos made from athletic fabrics since these tend to be shiny and cheap looking and don’t pair well with business casual pants.
As for colors, opt for neutrals such as black, navy, dark gray, burgundy and olive. Avoid loud colors and patterns since these come across as too casual.
Button Down Collar Shirts
These are shirts with a collar that has buttons to hold it in place. They are a great option for business casual attire since they pair incredibly well with chinos, khakis and dress pants.
You can find button down collar shirts either as long sleeve or short sleeve. I strongly recommend long sleeve version since these are more formal and look great on everybody type. Short sleeve versions can look sloppy especially if the sleeve opening is too wide.
For the fall/winter months, opt for the oxford cloth button down shirts which are typically made from a heavier cotton fabric which is both durable and warm. In the summer, lighter weight options made from cotton or cotton/linen blends are great in helping you stay cool.
The best colors and patterns are white, light blue, pinstripes and ginghams. Remember, the louder the pattern the more casual the shirt. So keep it simply with solid colors and subtle patterns for the workplace.
Budget: Amazon Button Down Shirt
Value: Spier and Mackay Shirts
Dress shirts are the most formal of the shirts discussed so far. These feature a stiff collar that lays flat (change/check with business casual shirts).
Dress shirts are great for year round wear since they generally come in a medium weight fabric. The fabric of choice is cotton but recently cotton blends such as cotton/elastane have become more popular since they feature stretch which makes these shirts more comfortable.
Point, medium spread and cutaway collars are the most common and all of these are great for business casual attire.
Since dress shirts are inherently more formal, you want to stick with solid colors such as white and light blue along with subtle patterns such as gingham and stripes.
Budget: Amazon Dress Shirts
Value: Spier and Mackay Shirts
Business Casual Pants for Men
Khakis, chinos and dress pants are the most common and appropriate types of business casual pants. But not all khakis and chinos are appropriate.
Khakis are basically chinos in the khaki color. In other words, you can wear khakis just like any chinos in a neutral color. So they pair really well with collared shirts as well as polos. You can also pair them with blazers and sport coats but make sure they are more formal khakis.
Some khakis are casual while others are more dressy. Generally speaking, khakis in a faded, garment dyed or worn color tend to be on the casual side. While khakis with a sharp color with no color variation tend to look better with business casual attire. Moreover, button closures are more casual than metal clasps. So for work, look for khakis with a metal clasp closure and in a solid color.
Budget: Haggar Khaki Pant
Value: Spier and Mackay Khakis
Chinos are cotton or cotton blend pants that work really well in business casual work settings. Similar to khakis, chinos in a faded color and those with a button closure are more casual and not recommended for business casual wear.
On the hand, chinos with metal clasp closures and solid colors look better as business casual pants. You may also find that certain chinos and khakis come with creases and this is an indication that these are more formal and perfect for business casual wear.
Chinos in neutral colors such as a navy, charcoal, olive, burgundy, and khaki are the best options for work since they pair really well with other business casual pieces.
These are the most formal option when it comes to business casual pants. Unlike khakis and chinos where button closures are quite common, dress pants typically have a metal clasp closure. Moreover, you will also find creases which distinguish them as formal work pants.
The best materials for dress pants are wool, wool blends, cotton and cotton blends. Wool is going to be the most luxurious and expensive material. Cotton dress pants are a good option as well since they are more affordable and also quite durable.
Avoid polyester dress pants because they tend to not be as durable and also don’t offer much breathability which is important if you are going to wear these pants for hours every day. But they do tend to be quite affordable, so if you are on a tight budget, they’re a temporary solution.
The best colors for dress pants are black, charcoal and navy. You may also occasionally find khaki dress pants, but that is rare.
Business Casual Shoes for Men
We have a full men’s guide to business casual shoes where we cover practically every type of shoe that you can wear to business casual offices.
In summary, the best shoes for business casual wear are dress shoes such as oxfords, derbies, brogues and loafers. Dress boots made in leather and/or suede are also appropriate. As such, you have many options to choose from and all work well with business casual attire.
Also keep in mind that sneakers, athletic shoes or shoes made in exotic leathers or colors are typically not appropriate as business casual shoes.
Business Casual Sweaters for Men
The best options for business casual sweaters are v-necks and crew necks. If you wear ties frequently then v-neck sweaters will work better because they are designed to be worn with a collared shirt and tie.
If you don’t wear ties that much, then crew neck sweaters also work well.
Half zip and quarter zip sweaters are also business casual appropriate. You can wear them with or without a tie on top of a collar shirt paired with business casual pants.
The best sweaters for business casual are made from finer fabrics such as cotton, cotton/silk blends and merino wool. These tend to be on the thinner side which allows them to pair really well over top collared shirts.
The best colors are black, navy, charcoal, beige, burgundy, olive and other neutrals. Avoid loud colors/patterns and chunky sweaters since these are too casual for business casual attire.
Sweaters are a wonderful addition to your business casual wardrobe. They work incredibly well with collared shirts, ties, blazer/sport coats and business casual pants.
Cardigans can also be worn in business casual attire but they have to be the right type of cardigan. We go into a lot more detail on business casual cardigans here.
Business Casual Jackets
When it gets cold, you can’t just wear your dress shirts and sweaters without an insulating jacket. So what types of jackets work well with business casual attire?
If you live in a location where it gets below 0 then consider investing in a top coat or peacoat. These coats are made from wool and wool blends and they offer great insulation form the cold. Moreover, these are classic menswear staples that pair incredibly well with business casual attire.
If you wear suits, blazers and sport coats quite often, then opt for a topcoat since it is designed to go on top of these items. A topcoat also looks great on it’s own over a dress shirt, tie and dress pants.
The most versatile colors for topcoats are black, charcoal and navy. Camel is also a popular option, but I would invest in a camel top coat after I already have either a navy, charcoal or black.
In order to keep you warm, you top coat should be made from a medium to heavy weight wool or wool blend fabric. Avoid top coats made from polyester or synthetics since these fabrics lack durability and they also don’t offer much warmth.
Peacoats are more casual than topcoats. Therefore, if you don’t wear suits, blazers or sport coats, then the pea coat is a great option. You can still wear it over collared shirts, ties and dress pants for a really sophisticated business casual outfit.
The classic color for a peacoat is navy. So I would highly recommend getting your first peacoat in this color. Afterwards, you can experiment with other colors such as burgundy, olive or other neutrals. Similar to top coats, you want to purchase a pea coat made from a wool or wool blend fabric since it will last a long time and keep you warm.
Top coats and peacoats can be be expensive but if you invest in a quality made coat, it should serve you for many years if not decades.
Field jackets are your in between. They are not as insulating as a heavy wool topcoat or peacoat yet still offers greater warmth than simply a sweater. As such, field jackets work incredibly well in the spring and fall months as transitional jackets.
Field jackets are a classic menswear staple and they can be dressed up or down easily. For business casual looks, pair field jackets on top of collared shirts, sweaters and ties along with chinos, khakis and dress pants for a rugged yet appropriate office look.
If you like to dress on the more formal end of business casual, then a blazer or sport coat can do wonders. Basically, blazers and sport coats fall right under suits when it comes to formality with blazers being slightly more formal.
Basically, blazers tend to be made from a medium to light weight material so they work really well in the spring and summer months. While sport coats tend to be made from medium to heavier weight fabrics making them a great option for fall and winter.
Most blazers are made from a medium to light weight wool or cotton while sport coats tend to be made from heavier weight and thicker wool fabrics such as tweed.
The classic colors for blazers are navy and variations of gray. While sport coats usually come in darker colors like olive, brown and dark gray.
Wear blazers and sport coats over top of your collared shirts paired with khakis/chinos and dress pants for an elevated business casual look.
Note: designers and brands routinely use blazers and sport coats interchangeably so you might find jackets that completely switch the definitions and characteristics mentioned here.
For accessories the only two things you should consider are ties and watches.
You don’t need a wardrobe full of ties but investing in 10-15 versatile ties is a good idea especially if you need to wear them to work. Start off with solid ties in navy, gray, burgundy, light blue and olive.
Once you have these foundational ties, then consider subtle and classic patterns such as stripes. Again, go for stripes ties in versatile colors such as blue, gray and burgundy.
Avoid ties in loud patterns or those with animations. These come across as too casual for business casual attire.
The best materials for ties are silk, cotton, wool and cashmere. Silk ties tend to be thinner and lighter weight so they work well year round.
Cotton, wool and cashmere ties tend to have a medium weight fabric and these work really well in the cooler seasons since their fabrics offer depth and dimension.
Avoid ties made from synthetic materials such as polyester since they appear shiny and cheap looking.
As far as watches go, you really just need 1 or 2 dress watches. You have countless styles and brands to choose from. I would recommend Seiko 5 watches since they blend affordability, versatility and durability.
I hope you enjoyed this business casual for men guide. There are just so many topics and subtopics to discuss when it comes to business casual attire and each topic deserves an article/guide of its own. The purpose of this guide was to give an easy to understand and concise yet a thorough guideline to business casual attire for men.
Can You Wear Jeans for Business Casual?
We have a full article ‘Are Jeans Business Casual?’ which discusses this issue in more detail.
In summary, depends on your workplace and type of jeans. In some more casual business casual workplaces, yes you can wear jeans, but make sure they are either black or dark wash jeans with no distressing or rips.
Is a Polo Business Casual?
Depends on the polo. Athletic polo shirts and polos made from rough textured fabrics are not appropriate for business casual attire.
While polos made from finer materials such as pima cotton and merino wool in neutral colors work well for business casual.
Check out ‘Business Casual Polo Shirts for Men’.