The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual (+ Outfit Ideas)

November 20, 2023

13 min read

A woman with black hair and glasses is dressed in business casual — wearing a long-sleeved, white sweater — while she scrolls on her cell phone.

You’ve probably heard the term “business casual” before. But knowing exactly what that includes can be a bit more tricky. After all, styles and trends are constantly evolving, as are workplace standards.

This ultimate guide to business casual will break down what it is and highlight tons of outfit ideas, along with what not to wear.

What Is Business Casual?

Business casual is a type of attire that’s generally traditional business clothing but in more relaxed or “casual” styles. This type of attire is considered appropriate and professional for an office environment, among other scenarios. 

With the push to return to the office, understanding this type of attire is more important than ever.

Business casual vs. smart casual

Whereas business casual is traditional business clothing in casual styles, smart casual is professional yet more informal and more relaxed than the former. Smart casual is more toned down, too. It’s almost like a professional spin on casual clothing. 

Many industries seem to prefer smart casual, such as: 

  • Design
  • IT
  • Media or communications
  • Advertising

Business casual vs. business professional

The main difference between business casual and business professional is that the latter is more professional. Business professional is that it’s more traditional and formal. 

Usually, more “conservative” industries require employees to wear business professional, such as:

  • Finance
  • Government
  • Law

When to Wear Business Casual

Business casual is a popular choice of attire in many different scenarios. Many offices require or expect employees to dress in business casual. For example, people who often have client meetings or other important, in-person meetings should probably err on the side of caution and steer clear of more casual dress. Even casual lunches in the office most likely require a nice fit. 

Similarly, industry events like conferences are another great place to wear your best looks. 

You should also plan to wear business casual during interviews, whether they’re in-person or online. If you have an interview coming up, do a practice run with Yoodli’s interview simulator. 

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If you have an interview coming up, put on your best business casual and practice interviewing with Yoodli.

Gender-Based Business Casual Examples

Many business casual examples are gender-based. To be clear, this type of attire is for people of every gender. 

However, if you’d like to explore more gendered examples, here’s some guidance about what types of outfits and pieces you might want to experiment with. 

Men’s business casual

If you’re interested in men’s business casual, you’re in luck: it’s extremely versatile and there are many options

For example, some tops that are appropriate for men’s business casual include pieces like: 

  • Knit shirts made of lightweight fabrics
  • Polos (pique fabric and cotton are popular choices)
  • Sweaters (cotton blends, cashmere, and merino wool are your best bets)
  • Button down shirts

Even T-shirts can work, as long as they have clean lines and a more tailored fit. Just make sure with men’s outfits, your top and bottoms should be in solid colors or at the most, simple patterns. 

With regard to bottoms, the best men’s business casual examples include things like:

  • Corduroy pants 
  • Chinos, which have many textures and colors to choose from
  • Khakis
  • Jeans, as long as they have a tailor fit and are dark wash
  • Dress pants (common choices are blended fabrics, cotton, and wool)

Bottoms should be in classic, neutral tones such as navy, beige, olive, or gray.

For your footwear, you might want to explore options like: 

  • Dress shoes (leather, faux leather, and leather alternatives are commonplace)
  • Brogues or oxfords 
  • Loafers (both suede and leather are popular picks)

Desert boots or chukka boots are also acceptable, depending on your overall look. 

There are also plenty of men’s accessories you could experiment with as well. In your arsenal, you could have watches (aim for those with metal or leather straps and traditional styles), a variety of leather belts, pocket squares, or scarves. 

If you’d prefer men’s accessories that lean toward the formal side, tie bars and cufflinks are also good choices. 

Women’s business casual

Just like men’s, there are tons of women’s business casual options to try. You might consider experimenting with multiple pieces and combinations to find exactly what you like. 

For women’s business casual tops, there are plenty to choose from, such as:

  • Button-down shirts (try chambray or cotton options)
  • Cardigans, which come in lots of different colors and textures
  • Blouses (popular choices include blended fabrics, silk, or cotton)
  • Turtlenecks (or mock turtlenecks)
  • Knit sweaters (cotton blends, merino wool, and cashmere are go-to’s)

Like men’s, make sure any women’s business casual tops don’t have busy patterns. Opt for more simple, subtle patterns and styles. 

With regard to women’s business casual bottoms, you could consider items like:

  • Corduroy skirts or pants
  • Chinos
  • Dress pants (shoot for cotton, blended fabrics, or wool)
  • Jeans, as long as they’re a dark wash with a tailored fit (and no holes or distressing)
  • Skirts, including styles like A-line skirts, midi skirts, or pencil skirts 

Like the tops, your bottoms should also be in neutral tones. 

Women’s footwear includes many different options, such as:

  • Booties or ankle boots
  • Flats or ballet flats (both suede and leather are popular choices)
  • Pumps
  • Loafers (including both leather and leather alternatives)
  • Brogues or oxfords

There are tons of great complimentary accessories for women’s outfits. For example, you could explore items like:

  • Earrings or statement necklaces
  • Leather belts (there are many different colors to choose from)
  • Wraps or scarves (cashmere and silk are common options)

Things like tie bars, cufflinks, and watches are great options. 

Gender-neutral options

You don’t have to be a man to wear men’s dress or a woman to wear women’s clothing. However, if you’re looking for more androgynous, gender-neutral options, there are some great examples to consider. 

For example, some gender-neutral tops include options like:

  • Button-down shirts
  • Cardigans
  • Blouses
  • Knit shirts
  • Polos
  • Turtlenecks (or mock turtlenecks)
  • Knit sweaters
  • Heavier sweaters

Remember, neutral colors and simple or subtle patterns are best. That goes for bottoms, too. In terms of bottoms, consider gender-neutral examples like:

  • Corduroys
  • Chinos
  • Dress pants
  • Dark-wash jeans with a tailored fit
  • Khakis
  • Skirts (experiment with different styles) 

For footwear, most options are naturally gender-neutral examples, such as:

  • Dress shoes
  • Desert boots or chukka boots
  • Pumps or loafers
  • Brogues or oxfords
  • Flats 
  • Ankle boots or booties

Accessories like belts, watches, wraps, scarves, necklaces, earrings, and cufflinks are all gender-neutral examples. 

Common Business Casual Examples

For more specific common business casual examples, sometimes it helps to consider particular types and styles based on the kind of clothing. Things like shoes, dresses, and full outfits can help give you some idea of what you might like.

Plus, having a few examples of what this type of attire can look like is essential for anyone working in retail

Business casual shoes

There are plenty of business casual shoes you can mix and match with your outfits. Close-toed shoes are usually a good bet, too. 

Some specific examples of business casual shoes include:

  • Penny loafers
  • Chelsea boots
  • Oxfords
  • Borgues
  • Ballet flats
  • Loafers
  • Ankle boots
  • Moccasins
  • Chukka boots
  • Derby shoes
  • Wingtips
  • Boots
  • Flats
  • Booties
  • Pumps 

Remember, flip-flops are definitely not business casual shoes.

Business casual dresses

In terms of business casual dresses, the versatility of styles is something many people appreciate. 

For example, some of the best options for business casual dresses include things like:

  • A-line dresses
  • Sheath dresses
  • Wrap dresses
  • Shift dresses
  • Knit dresses

The most important thing to keep in mind about dresses is that all of these styles offer different looks that can be dressed up or down with accessories. Opt for neutral tones and simple patterns. 

Business casual outfits

Because this type of attire is so versatile, there are tons of potential business casual outfits to try and experiment with. 

For example, some of the most common business casual outfits include looks like:

  • A polo shirt paired with chinos and leather (or faux leather) loafers
  • A knit sweater paired with a skirt (here, you can experiment with skirt lengths and styles) and pumps
  • A cardigan over a plain T-shirt and dark wash jeans with a tailored fit and derby shoes
  • A button-down shirt with khakis and penny loafers
  • A sweater with dress pants and oxfords
  • A clean T-shirt with a tailored fit and dark wash jeans (without rips or holes) and ankle boots
  • A blouse with dress pants and flats
  • A turtleneck (or mock turtleneck) with chinos and loafers

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Don’t be afraid to try multiple outfits. It might take a minute to find your favorite styles. 

Plus-size options

You should feel comfortable wearing this type of attire no matter what size your body is. There isn’t a fit that someone can’t wear because of their body type. But there are also some specific plus-size business casual options that might be helpful to consider. 

For example, experiment with tops and bottoms like:

  • Sweaters (steer clear of the more boxy or ultra-tight options)
  • T-shirts with tailored fits
  • Skirts, which come in a variety of styles and lengths to experiment with
  • Dark wash jeans with a tailored fit (bootcut or straight are both great options)
  • Blouses (try different styles, such as peplums, wrap tops, or button-downs)
  • Cardigans
  • Dress pants with tailored fits
  • Chinos

With plus-size business casual, just remember that you should feel self-confident and comfortable with the outfits. It might take a bit of experimenting to find exactly what you like. 

Types of Business Casual

There are also many different types of business casual attire. For example, options can vary based on the season or time of year. 

Spring business casual

With spring business casual, the idea is to dress for the longer days and warmer weather. You’ll also have a little more freedom incorporating different patterns into your outfits. Aspects like brighter colors and lighter fabrics are essential for spring business casual. 

Some specific examples of spring business casual clothing include looks like:

  • A sweater with dress pants and and ankle boots for cooler spring days
  • A blouse with a floral pattern paired with a skirt and flats
  • A turtleneck with chinos and loafers, for a cooler day
  • A button-down shirt with linen pants and chelsea boots
  • A T-shirt with a tailored fit paired with dark wash jeans and ballet flats
  • A knit sweater with an A-line skirt and booties

You can also dress these outfits up with accessories like statement necklaces, a leather watch, or earrings.

Summer business casual

As the temperatures continue to rise, summer business casual options should prioritize breathable fabrics and comfortable footwear. Like spring, you can also emphasize brighter colors, bold or playful patterns, and prints. 

For example, some specific summer business casual pieces could include fits like:

  • A light-weight button-down shirt (think linen, chambray, or cotton) with khaki chino pants and loafers
  • A linen, light-weight sweater with dress pants and pumps
  • A vibrant blouse paired with a floral skirt and flats
  • A turtleneck with cropped pants and ankle boots
  • A polo shirt with khakis and dress shoes
  • A fitted T-shirt with dark wash jeans and ballet flats
  • A cardigan or knit sweater paired with tailored pants and booties

Fall business casual

Once the weather starts to get a bit cooler, you can experiment with some fall business casual options. In particular, you might opt for some more neutral or earthy tones and richer textures. 

Some fall business casual outfit ideas could include looks such as:

  • A knit sweater (think cashmere or merino wool) with dress pants and leather loafers
  • A turtleneck with tailored jeans and chelsea boots
  • A cardigan layered over a blouse paired with a neutral skirt and ankle boots
  • A turtleneck with an A-line skirt and neutral flats
  • A warm-toned button-down shirt with chinos in earthy tones and a pair of dress shoes
  • A polo (opt for piqué fabric or heavier cotton) with corduroy pants and loafers
  • A knit sweater dress in a neutral color paired with a statement necklace and booties
  • A blazer over a blouse with dress pants and flats

Winter business casual

For winter business casual, you’ll likely want to prioritize warmth. Layered looks, rich textures, and cozy knits are great options.

Some of the best choices for winter business casual looks include outfits like:

  • A cozy knit wrap dress with boots
  • A warm wool sweater with dress pants and loafers
  • A polo shirt layered under a cardigan with dark wash jeans and penny loafers
  • A sweater dress with tights and neutral-toned flats 
  • A button-down shirt with a sweater vest and chinos, paired with dress shoes
  • A turtleneck with tailored, dark wash jeans and boots
  • A blouse with a knit cardigan and a skirt, paired with flats
  • A turtleneck with an A-line skirt and neutral-toned booties

With winter looks, make sure to take advantage of layers and accessories with gloves, hats, and scarves to keep warm.

Smart business casual

Because smart business casual is a subtype, there’s a bit more freedom in the types of outfits you could try. 

For example, some smart business casual fits you might experiment with include looks like:

  • A polo shirt with a structured fabric paired with chino pants and leather loafers
  • A sports jacket or blazer over a polo shirt and dress pants with dress shoes
  • A knit weather with a midi skirt and flats or penny loafers
  • A sheath dress underneath a blazer or tailored jacket with booties
  • A button-down shirt with tailored chinos and dress shoes
  • A cashmere sweater with dress pants and leather loafers
  • A chiffon blouse with tailored pants and chelsea boots
  • A merino wool cardigan with tailored, dark wash jeans and booties

Smart business casual is pretty versatile, so be sure to try many types of clothing and styles to see what works best. 

What Not to Wear

Of course, there are some important clothing items that are not considered business casual, and it’s useful to know what exists outside of that type of attire so you can avoid it. 

For example, some clothing, styles, and accessories that aren’t considered business casual include things like: 

  • Clothes that have logos, graphics, or text that could be considered inappropriate (such as curse words, vulgar speech, non-inclusive language, or lewd images)
  • Tops that show lots of cleavage (although some more body-positive workplaces won’t discriminate based on this factor)
  • Backless tops or crop tops (but some workplaces are more lenient in this area)
  • Shorts
  • Very tight, form-fitting clothing, or clothing that’s considered “too short” (although again, some workplaces have a more liberal attitude toward this type of clothing)
  • Wrinkled or stained clothes
  • Tennis shoes or athletic shoes, especially old, dirty, or well-worn ones
  • Clothes that are too loose or “oversized” clothing
  • Clothing that has holes in it, such as skinny jeans with holes cut out near the knees
  • Flip-flops

Business Casual Trends

As of late, there are a few noteworthy trends that have cropped up. Loosely keeping track of the various trends in outfits can help you diversify your wardrobe as well as your looks. 

For example, prioritizing comfortability is more common, even with this type of attire. People opt for cozy knit sweaters and soft fabrics over starchy tops. Breathable, lightweight options like Tencel, cotton, and linen are great picks. Relaxed silhouettes are another aspect of this comfortable trend, specifically wide-leg pants, oversized blazers, and loose-fitting pants. 

Whereas this type of attire used to be limited to neutral colors, bolder patterns and more vibrant hues are more trendy today. Today, geometric patterns, stripes, and floral prints are especially popular. 

In the past, sneakers and tennis shoes were frowned upon. However, elevated sneakers are more popular than ever, and increasingly appropriate as part of an outfit. If you’d like to experiment with sneakers choose shoes with minimalist, simplistic designs and neutral tones.

Of course, thrifting and sustainable clothing is another “trend” that’s gained traction. Instead of supporting fast fashion to build a wardrobe, people have turned to secondhand clothing in the form of family hand-me-downs or thrift store finds. 

The Key Takeaway 

Finding some business casual outfits that make you happy and are also comfortable and stylish shouldn’t be as difficult when you have an idea of what you like. 

Having some versatile pieces you can mix and match — such as blouses and button-downs with corduroy or dress pants — are all you need.



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