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What is casual dress for work?

office outfit women

Casual and work? An impossible combination? – Not in my books and you are about to find out why. What is casual dress for work? What different “casual” dress codes are there? If you are not sure about what casual dress for work is, here is your overview of appropriate, but casual dress codes including the best tips about what to wear in a more “casual” environment.

Bad news first: VERY casual clothes are NEVER OK for the corporate office

If you love your very comfy outfits and fancy wearing them to work as well, you might want to re-think your wardrobe choices. Work is work and play is play – VERY casual clothes in my opinion are never OK for a corporate office. You are best advised to keep your favorite comfy casual clothes for your private use only.

Remember, by dressing appropriately for work you communicate professionalism and you gain respect and trust from your peers, customers and superiors at your office.

Over the years, I have seen some TERRIBLE examples of casual clothes at the office and here is my TOP 10 LIST of what a woman should NEVER to wear at the office:

  1. Biker shorts
  2. See-through tops
  3. tank tops with thin straps
  4. Tracksuit pants
  5. tights with patterns such as bows or lips
  6. Short mini skirts and dresses
  7. Very fancy party dresses (think gold or silver-plaited dresses)
  8. Flip Flops
  9. Corsages
  10. ripped jeans
  11. Very low-cut tops
  12. Tops with rude slogans
  13. hats of all sorts
  14. Anything too shiny or glittery

By all means, wear any of these items in your free time, if you love them and feel comfortable in them. But, please do yourself a favor and stay clear off them at the office. They will just make you appear sloppy or unprofessional, which I am sure you are not :).

What about casual Friday?

Yes, there are casual Fridays at most offices and yes it is OK to wear more casual clothes on those days, but I still would not recommend wearing any of the items listed above. For casual Friday, wear a pair of jeans or even cargo pants, a nice t-shirt or polo shirt or a more casual dress. You can lose the blazer and heels on casual Friday and replace these items with a sportier jacket and more casual shoes such as a nice pair of sneakers. But you should still always wear well-cut, neat and pressed clothes that are high-quality. If you wear sneakers, they should be clean and stylish sneakers and not your sweaty running shoes.

I have personally found that I feel less confident and professional when I wear casual outfits at the office, even on casual Friday. Business-appropriate clothes communicate a certain professionalism and respect and I tend to avoid wearing outfits that are too casual as I want to maintain a certain appearance at work at all times.

Combine business and casual and you got yourself the perfect dress code for the office!

You know I am all about comfort, as I am convinced that an easy dress-style for the office can make a working mother´s day so much more comfortable. Clothes should adapt to your lifestyle and not the other way round, hence as a working mother you need stylish clothes that will carry you from that early – morning meeting through to the playground in the early evening.

 

You need something that is good for business, but also good for playtime.

Enter the business casual dress style: it is a combination of more formal business clothing with some more casual pieces – sounds like the perfect balance for working mothers, doesn´t it?

What is business casual for women?

This dress style is your practical and comfortable every-day style for the office. Business Casual is slightly less formal than business professional, which means that you are slightly more flexible when it comes to the cuts and styles.

What to wear in business casual

Business Casual includes classic business pieces such as pant suits, button-down shirts, dresses and skirts. However, these can be combined with slightly more casual items such as classic high-quality jeans or khakis, high-quality t-shirts or cardigans.

Shoes might include heels, mules or boots. Make sure that you always pair more “casual” pieces with formal pieces, for example jeans with classic business pumps, a button-down shirt and a blazer.

Smart Casual – the trendier alternative

Apart from Business casual, there is another “casual” dress style – smart casual. I will add some information here about this dress style, as business casual and smart casual are very similar.

In comparison to business casual, smart casual includes less of the classic business style items and cuts and more trendy, yet smart pieces.

What to wear in smart casual

You can wear dresses, trousers, shirts, t-shirts, sweaters, heels, boots and flats with this dress style. Smart Casual business attire will include all the classic business items, the difference is in the cut and style. Smart Casual moves away from classic business attire to a more individual and distinct style. This dress style might be common in creative professions or start-ups.

With both of these dress styles, don´t get confused by the word “casual” – they are under no circumstances casual as in “casual wear”.

My top 3 favorite Business casual combos:

When it comes to business outfit, it is very handy to have some outfits ready to make your choices easier in the morning. Here are my favorite business casual combos, that both look smart and are very comfortable.

Jeans and a blazer: a classic business casual combo and my #1 go to outfit almost every day of the week :).Smyth Ponte blazer

When it comes to jeans, make sure you wear a dark blue or black wash, as these will be more appropriate for the office. Jeans should not have any tears or rips either. I highly recommend the trendy skinny cut – it looks you can wear a skinny cut – they will be extremely fitted and will look good on any figure. Alternative styles could be a straight cut or a boot cut.

You are best advised to wear a classic business blazer with your jeans, as the jeans are already the more “casual” item. I love the Smyth Ponte blazer by Boden. It is a high-quality blazer made from stretchy and soft ponte fabric and  turns a casual outfit into a stylish one with ease. This blazer currently comes in several absolutely stunning colors: black, lomond blue, navy and berry sorbet.

As you can see it pairs well with a skinny jean and a stylish shirt – an instant business casual outfit!

Combine the jeans and blazer with a button down shirt or a smart t-shirt and you will have a fabulous business casual outfit.

A dress with a cardigan or blazer:

In terms of dresses, you can wear a classic shirt dress or a shift dress. In business casual, it should be slightly less fitted and formal than a classic professional business dress. Depending on the style of the dress, you can combine it with either a cardigan or a blazer. If the dress is more on the casual side (such as a wrap dress), then you are best advised to wear it with a blazer. A shirt dress can probably be worn on its own and a shift dress would best look with a cardigan or blazer.

Dress with cardigan

My top tip for maximum comfort and style is a wrap dress combined with a jacket or blazer. Wrap dresses are just AWESOME for business casual styles. They are available in many colors and patterns, the cut flatters every figure, they are super-comfortable and you usually don´t have to iron them!! Perfect for all you busy working mothers out there!

Fun top with a simple pair of pants

This combo will take you a long way: invest in a simple pair of pants in a dark color (black, dark gray or blue). Combine these with a fun top in bright colors according to your color type (find out all about your color type here) and the season. And voila, you have a perfect business outfit. With the top you can go for button- down shirts (formal) or more fun tips with funky details such as ruffles or bows or interesting cuts – this turns it into a business or smart casual outfit and you are all set. Nice patterns such as floral or polka dot provide balance to your style.

I have recently fallen in love with the Boden workwear range. Boden are a UK-based online retailer, that offer high-quality pieces for both work and play. My first choice when it comes to office wear is a pair of wonderfully comfortable and stylish pair of pants –  Richmond trousers. They are made from premium power-stretch fabric, which means they maintain their shape throughout the day. The cut is fitted and straight and Richmond trousers  are also machine washable-  an absolute must have for any type of clothing in my opinion.

 

blouse with black trousers

7 types of clothes for any business casual wardrobe:

These are the items that you should absolutely should own for a comfortable business casual wardrobe:

  • Black jeans: straight cut or skinny
  • Jersey blazers
  • Dark Blue jeans: straight or skinny
  • blouses with buttons at the front
  • simple white tops
  • jersey dress
  • Shoes: ankle boots, sling-backs, simple stylish sneakers, cream colored or black heels

Casual + business = a great style combo

Casual wear and business are perfect partners as long as you stick to some simply rules for business casual or smart casual dress styles:

1. Always combine a more casual item ( such as jeans) with a more formal item ( such as a button- down shirt)

2. Avoid wearing anything from my TOP 10 List of things you should never wear at the office

3. Choose any of the above 3 business casual combos as your go to outfit

4. Make sure you combine your outfit with formal or smart casual types of shoes (heels, ankle boots, stylish sneakers, sling- backs)

5. Know your color type and buy colors unexpurgated color range: this will make it really easy to put together your outfit every morning and will help you save money in the long run. Find an easy guide to defining your color type here.

I hope this has helped you to understand ‘what is casual for work’ and will help you to put together your very personal comfortable and stylish business wardrobe. I am all for comfort at the office and if you are a working mother it will make your day so much easier, if your outfit looks great in the boardroom but is also comfortable enough for the playground.

I would love to hear from you what types of clothing you LOVE to wear for the office. Please do let me know in the comments below and if I can ever give you a hand with anything, please let me know as well.

 

Drea

Image copyright: feel image / Matern

4 Comments

  1. I believe professionalism speak even on how you dressed, people can easily give you some level of respect from the way your outfit is, but looking at it from another point of view, knowing fully well that every culture including dressing is a social construct, how that dressing becomes a sole determinant for showing a level of responsibility or irresponsibility, and not the character, how would a persons dress sense be the judge for social acceptability.

    • Hello Daniel, there is a saying that goes “dress to impress,” so as you pointed out in your comment, clothes make a difference in how others perceive a person. In the working world, this is even more true. Clothing can convey power, respect, professionalism, or lack thereof. However, I agree with you that it is not the sole determinator of how a person is perceived. On the other hand, the factor should not be neglected as behavior studies have shown that the way you look and present yourself has a huge influence on how others perceive you during a presentation. In this specific article, though, I talked about casual business dress codes for women. As you will see in the examples given, there are many different ways to dress casually yet professionally. This way, you can be comfortable and look professional at the same time. An absolute win-win, in my opinion!

  2. Hi Drea, 

    This is such a great article on casual dressing for work for women. You have actually got it right to the ‘T’. I love your suggestions regarding trousers and pleated skirts and I think those look really elegant on women. 

    Thank u for your research and I look forward to more great stuff from you. 

    In my office, my employees would learn something if they read your post. A lot of people seem to need dressing sense nowadays.

    Regards,

    Aparna

    • Hi Aparna, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. I am happy that you got some tips out of my article for your team. If you are into simplicity when it comes to business fashion, I recommend my post about how a simple work wardrobe for women can boost your decision making here. Enjoy! All the best, Drea

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