Trying to decipher what is business casual for women can be a little difficult in today’s work environment. A business casual dress code can vary depending on the company you work for, the work you do on a day-to-day basis, and the city you’re based in. As you know a business casual dress code is different depending on which cities, states, and parts of the world you’re in. Because dressing appropriately can often make or break a career, it’s wise to follow a few simple rules when it comes to business casual for women.
WHAT IS BUSINESS CASUAL FOR WOMEN?
The easiest way to think of business casual is a hybrid of business professional and casual wear. Business casual is not wearing a full-on suit, but a strapless sundress with flip-flops is not appropriate. It’s more about mixing elements of more formal business attire, like a blazer, suit skirt, or pants in neutral colors with more casual pieces like a patterned shell top or leopard print flats.
For the majority of companies, business casual is a daily requirement. So understanding how to put together stylish work outfits is essential if you don’t work from home.
It’s wise to have the majority of your main business clothing in neutral colors: black, gray, navy, brown, beige, and white. Starting with essential pieces in neutral colors and then adding pops of color not only allow you to bring some life and personality to your office outfits but you will also get a lot of use from your essential pieces. You could wear a pair of gray trousers two to three times a week and swap the top and accessories. If you get a pair of bright printed pants, you would only get away with wearing them once in a while as they would be very memorable.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN BUSINESS CASUAL ATTIRE
One of the most challenging aspects of dressing for work is finding the right business casual pieces. Shopping for business casual clothing is half of the challenge, then you have to put those items together in stylish and comfortable outfits for work.
In the following sections, I’ll share a few shopping tips when you’re looking to add business casual pants, tops and sweaters.
WOMEN’S BUSINESS CASUAL PANTS
Pants are an obvious choice and the first option for most women in the workplace. Make sure that they fit you well, are wrinkle-free, and without frayed hems or ripped seams. I like wool, cotton (including corduroy), linen and gabardine, and you can also add in polyester, which is easy to care for. There is also a nice selection of colored denim available these days, make sure the color is pure with no fading, and it’s good to have a bit of stretch in them to make them more comfortable for sitting for long periods.
Basic neutrals work best, as you can pair them with a lot of colored tops, but you can opt for colored pants in a dark muted color like burgundy or forest green. You can also try pinstripes or a small plaid. Mid- or high-rise both work, and the hems can be cuffed or uncuffed. I like wide-legged trousers, but you can also go with a straight leg, boot cut, or ankle-length.
You can also change up the style of your business casual pants during the seasons. During the fall and winter look for thicker fabrics in dark colors and patterns more synonymous with the season.
In the spring and summer look for lighter pants in fabric and color. You also have a lot more options during this time of year. Depending on your style you could even wear wide-leg cropped pants in white or blush.
BUSINESS CASUAL BLOUSES AND TOPS
To add a pop of color or pattern to an outfit, think blouses and tops. There are a lot of choices out there in pretty colors that will complement your skin tone, eyes, and hair color. Pastels, jewel tones, plaids, muted florals, and prints (paisley, geometric, polka dot, ikat) are all acceptable.
In colder months, stick with long or ¾ sleeves; for spring and summer, short or cap sleeves work well, and you can even wear a wide-strapped tank. In the warmer months look for light blouses with cap sleeves, sleeveless, and shell tops in silk, light cotton, or other light fabrics.
Keep your neckline somewhat modest with a collared, boat neck, square neck, or turtleneck. If you go with a scoop or V-neck, make sure that cleavage is not on display. Keep your shirt tucked in or, if worn out, make sure it covers your waistband by several inches. And it should go without saying that you must wear a bra, and a tank or camisole if your blouse is at all sheer.
SHOPPING FOR BUSINESS BLOUSES AND TOPS
Shirts and tops are a category where you have almost unlimited options. It’s easy to get carried away because of the variety and affordable options. You’ll invest more money in pants and blazers as those are the work essentials that you’ll wear over and over through the years. But with tops, you don’t need to invest so much in them as you’ll most likely want to add a few new business casual blouses every year.
In summer and spring look for shirts in bright colors and fun prints. Like polka dots, florals, lace, windowpane, stripes, leaf prints, and mixed prints. If you light colors on the lighter side, opt for blush, pale yellow, pink, baby blue, light gray, or cream. If you love brights, look for tops in pink, green, yellow, orange, red, and bright blue.
I know it can get cold in the office so even if you wear a sleeveless silk top you might want to layer with a blazer. In the business casual outfit below I paired a green silk polka dot top with a striped blazer. The two colors look great together and added neck detail on the shirt adds to the dimension and looks great against the straight-cut blazer. This is the variety and fun you can have with business casual
BUSINESS CASUAL SWEATERS
You can also wear sweaters in a variety of ways, either as a top or over a shirt if you want to layer, with pants or a skirt, or over a dress. The fit of the sweater is essential here, so try to stay away from anything too baggy or ill-fitted. Fine-gauge knits work best; bulky sweaters not so much.
Your basic cardigan is a staple in business casual attire, and it can be a simple waist-length cardigan or a longer boyfriend one. Your sweater can have buttons, no buttons, or have a draped front collar. With longer cardigans, you can even use a skinny belt to add some definition and a different look to an outfit.
My favorite types of sweaters to wear to the office is thin, v-neck, long sleeve sweaters, like the pink one I’m wearing below. I love business casual sweaters because you can layer a button-down shirt underneath and pop out the collar over the sweater like in the outfit example below. The bright pink sweater is a high contrast between the striped collard shirt and black bottoms.
Another business casual sweater that I believe is essential is the simple long black cardigan. You can see in the outfit below I paired it with the pink v-neck sweater, this is an excellent option for fall and the colder months. You can layer a long black cardigan over a variety of outfits, and it’s also very comfortable.
More business casual attire (Blazer’s, skirts, dresses and shoes) in tomorrow’s post.
Source: What is Business Casual for Women? [Your Definitive Guide] (stylishlyme.com)