Putting the “Business” Back in Business Casual

Published Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:23 PM

Business casual swept the work world during the heady Internet boom days. But the Recession's back-to-basics emphasis has some offices putting the "business" back into business casual

When a suit is overkill and jeans are taboo, how does one walk the line? A good rule of thumb: if you wish to be taken seriously, you have to dress seriously.

Uniforms Aren't Just for Ball Players

For men, business dressing today might mean a "uniform" of khakis and a blue or black sport coat.  In warm weather, pair the sport coat with collared polo shirts, in colder weather and for more formal occasions, pair with oxford button downs. If your work trends more casual, mix in bright colors or funky patterns; if the office look is more polished, stick to subtle stripes and mix in the occasional tie. Tired of khakis? Pick a few grey or black pants in lightweight wools or an understated herringbone.

Women's fashion provides more options and thus greater room for fun (and error). For women envying the ease of a man's uniform of sport coat and trousers, opt for creating your own standard look. Consider investing in a few pairs of black or grey trousers in a flattering cut and then mixing in a rotation of blouses topped with dressy cardigans or blazers. Take inspiration from high-end fashion designer Carolina Herrera  who only ever wears a signature white blouse paired with neutral bottoms in black or taupe. Herrera makes the look her own with fabulous accessories, think chunky necklaces, or heels and belts in unusual materials such as alligator or leopard print.

Or consider the ease of dresses. It's far simpler to shrug on a dress than to coordinate separates. Find a great wrap dress that fits and flatters and buy it in as many colors or prints as you can afford. Again, team the dresses with simple accessories and a pair of knee high boots or flats and you've created another version of a uniform.

Keep in mind that grooming matters so take care to be in wrinkle-free, polished and put-together. Business casual never means shortchanging grooming so just say no to chipped nail polish or razor stubble.

Remember, at work, the key is to look polished and professional but to be comfortable enough to roll up your sleeves and get to work. At the end of the day, your work needs to speak louder than your look.

For more tips on navigating the new business casual, we've collected some resources for your review:

by Carly Fadako

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