Men’s casual fashion is slowly taking over in the workplace (we’re blaming you and those damn Adidas sandals, Zuckerberg), but that doesn’t mean you should look like every other cubicle-bound drone at the office. It’s time to talk how to dress business casual.
Not business-y, but never too casual, the notion of a refined yet comfortable office dress code is dangerously ambiguous, without some concrete perimeters. We’ve witnessed the horror: men in ill-fitting shirts, baggy trousers and indistinguishable blazers, failing at office style and subconsciously slipping down the corporate ladder. It’s not too late.
Read on for business casual style tips and the key pieces worth investing in.
In This Story…
Focus On Fit
The golden rule, in every tailored sense of men’s style, is purchase clothing that fits you properly. Nothing destroys an outfit – whatever the dress code and no matter how expensive the clothes are – like an ill-fitting jacket, shirt or trouser. The first secret to looking smart is sizing correctly. Shoulders, waist and arm length.
Build Business Casual Basics
Once you’ve nailed the fit, you can start building up your wardrobe. Begin with pieces that are easy to mix and match, so you can get the biggest bang for your buck, interchanging jackets with pants and shirts with ties for a different look each day.
After you’ve built a solid closet full of staples, you can start getting more creative with texture, colour and pattern. Now, read on for pieces you’ll be needing to dress business casual.
The Business Casual Essentials
If you build your selection of essentials carefully, you’ll be able to achieve maximum levels of versatility with minimum levels of effort (which is crucial in the mornings and you haven’t even had your coffee yet).
Kicking things off with fit, the jacket should sit square and snug on the shoulders (no peaking) and be cut slim through the sides and finish just below your butt. Sleeves finish a few centimetres above the thumb join to the shirt cuff can be seen, just. See a tailor to sort all this out for you.
Covering winter, summer and every temperature in between, there are three jackets you should consider. The first is a classic navy blazer, in a single breast design with peak or notch lapels. In light wool, navy is less stuffy than black and is dark enough to flatter your physique, instantly smartening up any look.
For cooler mornings, wear a grey tweed blazer. It’s ideal from injecting texture (menswear’s answer to adding interest to a block colour with a gaudy print) and will work well with other feel-good fabrics in your outfit such as cashmere cardigan, silk knit tie and a chambray shirt.
When the heat is on, a beige pure cotton or linen-blend blazer will help keep you cool in the office. And its warm, earthy tones will brighten up the office, swimming in a sea of navy jackets, making you a business casual standout, for a good reason.
Invest in some separates with a classic wool blazer. You’ll love it.
Ill-fitting shirts are common because we aren’t all models and in proportion from neck to waist. Again, get the fit right in the shoulders first, Then, move across: the space between the collar and the neck should fit two fingers comfortably, and the shirt cuff should meet at the thumb joint.
Elevate your style with darker hues when it comes time to go business casual.
If your shoulders are broad, look for a slim-fit design or consider getting darts; two simple straight seams put in the back of the shirt to cinch in the billowy fabric. This guide to dress shirt weaves will help you decide which fabric is best for your climate and dress code. In general, Oxford shirts are a tried and tested button-down option, and come in a variety of colours and patterns.
Solids are obviously the easiest to match, so focus at first on standards like white, light blue and pale pink, move into brighter colours and patterns such as stripes, checks or gingham versions. Always keep in mind that you should be more business than casual, so only wear a shirt if the collar can stand up without a tie.
Due to a decrease in suit jackets in the office in recent years, trousers are more important than ever. So, start investing now.
Invest in some high quality tailored trousers / pants.
Trouser separates, again in a multipurpose colour, are the next step up, venturing into grey or beige, especially in winter in a rich flannel or corduroy. Menswear’s current obsession with cropped trousers should really be minimised (invest in one or two max). If you’re after timeless stick to regular length, as trends come and go.
Finally, jeans are appropriate – workplace permitting. Go for something more on the formal end of the denim spectrum: mid-to-dark wash and absolutely no rips or heavy fading. Office jeans should also be slim, never skinny.
The dress shoe classics are safest when it comes to your footwear. Loafers, Oxfords, Derbies, brogues and monk straps will all look dapper at the office, and will complement each piece mentioned above, allowing you to form a complete look when all brought together.
Casual Fridays may allow for a minimal, clean-cut sneaker to be worn to work, but again, as with the jean-rule, check with your boss first.
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For quality, leather is always better, sticking to black, brown, oxblood and tan when choosing a colour. In summer, experiment with colour and even suede. This guide – how to wear coloured dress shoes – will help.
The Optional Business Casual Extras
If you really want an outfit that says “I’m headed straight to the top, better start clearing out that corner office, ASAP,” you’re ready to throw these optional business casual extras into the mix:
The polo shirt is taking on the button-down shirt for effortless business style. Coming in cotton piqué or the retro knit variety, the collar can be worn buttoned to the neck, for a clean finish.
Otherwise, leave the top three buttons open and sprawled naturally, teaming a summer double-breasted jacket and light coloured chinos (and loafers) to play off the going-to-work-could-be-holiday mood.
The luxe, breathable polo formerly known as Jetsetter. New name, same elevated claim to fame.
If you’re the type to wear bolder colours, then the sweater is a great clothing item to give an otherwise boring work wardrobe a little pop. Avoid sweaters with crazy patterns, as well as anything with a thick-gauge (such as cable knit).
The right knitwear needs to slip under a jacket when needed, but be weighty enough to hold its own solo. The best come in block colours, a slim fit and sit at beltline length, with a subtle ribbed hem and cuff. Cardigans are a great blazer replacement and fair better with a tie, always leaving the bottom two buttons undone.
Final Word: Accessorise
Taking these essential office items, play around with colour and print combinations and adding in or taking out traditional suit appendages for a relaxed look, that’s supercharged.
Lastly, when it comes to accessories, we say less is more. Add a leather folio to your wristwatch-ed hand, and do away with the tie, sticking to the idea of ‘casual’. By knowing the rules, you can now bend them a little, and not look like a fool. That’s how the Italians do it!
Check out the outfits below for more inspiration.