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Men’s Business Casual Pants (Dress Pants for the Office)

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So you’re probably wondering, what are the best business casual pants for men? This article will hopefully make things crystal clear, so you know exactly what you are supposed to wear; be it for work, an interview, or a networking event.

What’s Considered Business Casual Attire?

Business casual attire for men is usually a collared shirt such as a dress shirt, polo shirt or button down collar shirt paired with dress pants, chinos or khakis along with dress shoes such as oxfords, derbys or loafers.

What Pants are Business Casual (aka business casual slacks)?

Put simply, you have two solid options when it comes to business casual pants/slacks; khakis/chinos and dress pants. Well, you actually also have a third option namely denim but we’ll cover that at the end of this article since not all business casual workplaces consider jeans acceptable.

Business Casual Khakis and Chinos

The term khaki and chino is routinely used interchangeably in menswear and many men are confused as to what makes a khaki pant different from a chino. The truth is, these days, a chino pant in the khaki color is referred to as a khaki. In other words, khakis are just chino pants that are in a khaki color. With that out of the way lets get into what you need to look for in chinos to make sure they look great as part of a business casual outfit.

Chinos come in two types, casual and dress chinos. The easiest way to distinguish between the two types is to look at the waist closure of the pants. Casual chinos have a single button closure while dress chinos have either a metal clasp closure or an elongated button closure. Check out the images below to tell the difference.

As such chinos with a metal clasp or an elongated button closure are the best options for business casual pants.

You might be wondering, what if I am wearing a belt, would that make a casual chino with a single button closure appropriate for business casual attire since you can’t see the button? Well, it might. You now must consider the fabric.

Casual chinos tend to have a softer, and more of a pre-washed fabric. They are sometimes labelled as ‘garment dyed’ or ‘prewashed’. Basically, the fabric is soft and has slight color variations (regions of darker and lighter color).  

Dress chinos on the other hand have a stiffer feel and more robust and even color (i.e., no fading or variation in the color).

Pros:

  • Affordable and readily available
  • Easy to maintain (machine wash)
  • Come in a variety of colors
  • Durable and long lasting
  • Fabric can have stretch which improves comfort

Cons:

  • Not as wrinkle resistant
  • Don’t drape as well as wool dress pants
  • Can come off as too casual if the correct style is not worn

Final word – Look for chinos that have a metal clasp closure or an elongated button closure along with a stiffer and more robust colored fabric. These will look the best with business casual attire such as dress shirts, ties, and blazers.

Recommendations:

Bonobos Stretch Chinos

Calvin Klein Stretch Chinos

Note: I’m frequently using the word drape to describe dress pants. What does drape really mean? Drape basically refers to the silhouette of the pants when you are wearing them. A pair of pants that drapes well will have little to no bunching or excessive wrinkles from your waist down to your legs. On the other hand pant’s that have plenty of wrinkles and unsightly creasing will have a poor drape.

Pants that drape well look better to the eye and come off as more formal. So for business casual attire, it is recommended to find pants that drape well.

Dress Pants

Traditionally, most if not all dress pants were made from wool. Heavier weight wool fabrics such as tweed and Donegal were quite popular in the colder weather. While finer wool was the fabric of choice for summer wear. In other words, be it cold or hot, the material of choice for dress pants in the past was wool.

These days due to advancements in fabrics, dress pants can come in wool, wool blends, cotton, cotton blends and even synthetic materials such as polyester. Lets discuss the pros and cons of each type:

Polyester Dress Pants

Polyester (synthetic) dress pants are quite popular these days due to their affordability and ability to resist wrinkles. Some polyester dress pants are made from fabrics that have advanced breathability which makes them easier to wear in warm weather.

Pros:

  • Cheap (affordable)
  • Wrinkle resistant
  • Easy care (machine wash), no need to dry clean
  • Breathable fabric
  • Can have stretch fabric which increases comfort

Cons:

  • Can have a shininess to the fabric which makes them look cheap
  • Durability is not always great compared to cotton or wool dress pants

Polyester or synthetic fabric dress pants are a decent option if you want affordable dress pants that are easy to wash and take care of. If you want more durability and a dress pant that looks and feels luxurious you will have to look at cotton and wool dress pants.

Recommendations:

Van Heusen Dress Pants

Haggar Dress Pants

Cotton/cotton blend Dress Pants

Cotton dress pants are different from chinos and khakis in the sense that they look like traditional wool dress pants but are made from cotton or a cotton blend fabric. The fabric of cotton dress pants is usually finer and has a better drape than chinos and khakis.

Pros:

  • You get the ‘look’ of wool dress pants but with the durability of cotton
  • Machine washable so no need to dry clean
  • Can have wrinkle resistant fabric
  • Usually have stretch for comfort
  • Can be worn in all seasons except the harshest of winters

Cons:

  • Not as luxurious as wool dress pants
  • Drape better than chinos/khakis but not as well as wool dress pants
  • Sometimes hard to find a retailer selling cotton dress pants

Personally, I prefer cotton dress pants for business casual attire because they are step above chinos and khakis in formality. They also drape about as well as wool dress pants but are easier to take care of, more affordable and durable. 

Recommendations:

Spier and Mackay Cotton Dress Pants

Bonobos Cotton Dress Pants

Wool Dress Pants

Wool dress pants are the most classic and luxurious of all the dress pants we have so far discussed. They can come in heavier fabrics such as tweed which are great for the winter. You can also find lighter weight wool fabrics that feel amazing in the spring and fall.

Pros:

  • Incredibly soft and luxurious
  • Wool dress pants have the best drape and have natural wrinkle resistance
  • Breathable and comfortable
  • Depending on fabric, can be worn year round

Cons:

  • Expensive to purchase (good quality wool dress pants are typically over $100)
  • Can be expensive to maintain (dry clean only)
  • Thinner and finer wool pants can be easily damaged and ripped

Wool dress pants are a great option if you want luxury and comfort. This luxury however, also comes with a higher price tag and more difficulty in care and maintenance.

Recommendations:

Spier and Mackay Wool Dress Pants

Bonobos Washable Wool Dress Pants

Bonobos Wool Stretch Dress Pants

Business Casual Pant Colors

Regardless of which dress pant or chino you go for, you want to stick with classic colors that will provide you with the most versatility.

Go with navy, medium to darker shades of gray, khaki (again a distinct beige color), medium to dark brown, burgundy, olive, dark green, and other neutrals. These colors will make matching your business casual pants to your other business casual pieces such as your dress shirt and shoes a whole lot easier.

Avoid bright colors such as white, pink, yellow, red, lighter shades of green since these are too casual to be considered appropriate for business casual attire.

Wondering what shoes you should wear with business casual outfits? Check out ‘The Best Business Casual Shoes for Men (Complete Guide)’

Denim?

With workplaces becoming more and more casual these days, denim has seeped its way into modern interpretations of business casual attire. But, and this is a big but, there still are many workplaces that still consider themselves business casual but do not allow jeans. So it is best to check with your workplace or networking event as to whether jeans are appropriate.

Personally, I would avoid wearing jeans in a business casual setting unless I see at least a couple of colleagues wearing them. And if it’s a networking event, I would just play it safe and go with a pair of dress pants or dress chinos.

But if you are adamant on wearing jeans to your 9 to 5 and have checked with the relevant people as to whether it is acceptable, you still need to make sure you are wearing the right type of jeans. So what to look for and what to avoid?

Look for:

Dark wash jeans either in dark blue or black that have no fading or distressing which includes rips, tears, excessive whickering et cetera.

A straight to slim fit with a slight taper near the leg opening. They should basically have the same fit as your dress pants and chinos. Check out ‘How men’s jeans should fit’.

Avoid:

You want to avoid a skin-tight fit since that looks unprofessional. You also don’t want to be wearing a baggy fitting jean since that will just look too casual and sloppy.

Make sure the back pockets don’t have too much design or brand stitching. The amount of design and stitching on the back pockets of typical Levi’s jeans is pretty much the most design that can be considered acceptable. Personally however, I would avoid any brand stitching or design on the back pockets and would instead go with a clean back pocket.

Most dark wash blue jeans come with contrast stitching which is typically a gold color. Although jeans such as these are common in business casual settings, I would look for options that have little to no contrast stitching (i.e., the stitching is in the same color as the dark denim so you can’t tell the color difference between the fabric and the stitching). I find these jeans to be more appropriate for business casual wear since they are dressier than other jeans with contrast stitching.

Conclusion

I hope you found this guide on business casual pants for men helpful. We covered chinos, khakis, dress pants and even jeans that you can wear to the office. Let me know what style of pants you like to wear to the office.