A Man’s Guide to Dressing in a Business Casual Environment

Many companies began instituting a business casual dress code many years ago with the creation of “Casual Friday.” Over the last ten to fifteen years, casual Friday has turned into everyday for many businesses. If you find yourself in a business casual environment, care should be taken in the choices of work attire. An employee in this environment must remember that casual or not, their appearance makes the first impression, and each employee will, at some point, be the “face” of the company to someone. Gentlemen, business casual means much more than khaki pants and a polo golf shirt. Don’t be afraid to show some personality through your appearance, just be sure to show some restraint. For example, T-shirts, either printed or plain, have no place in a professional workplace. Also, do everyone you work with a favor and do not wear any shoe that exposes your feet. Leave the sandals for the beach and always wear socks to work.

Now that we have looked at two rules that should be considered unbreakable, let’s tackle some options that the business casual man does have.

The Suit

Believe it or not, this is an option in the business casual environment. Today’s suits are designed to be more versatile. Many styles can be worn without a tie or with a crew or mock neck shirt. A sweater can even be added during the colder months.

The main thing to remember is that it is still a suit. It should be worn only after being pressed and cleaned. Also, be sure the pants have a clean and crisp crease. You can dress the suit down, but it still has its place and appeal. The point of the dressed down suit is to look more casual and relaxed, but still look sharp and well put together. In terms of keeping the suit in good shape, try not to have it cleaned any more than four times a year. Dry cleaning too much can compromise the fabric.

The Sportcoat

Today, there are too many options available to touch on each. The important thing to remember about the sportcoat is, much like the suit, look for versatility. Many jackets can be worn in a business casual environment by day and dressed down with a nice pair of jeans by night. Also, be sure to keep it in good condition, just like the suit.

There is a difference between a sportcoat and a Blazer. Really, no man should be without a Navy Blazer in his closet. This is simply one of those items that every man can use at some point, and in this man’s opinion, it is just as necessary as a pair of jeans or khakis. Stick with wool for your Blazer because it just looks and feels better than blended fabrics. The blazer is not as casual as many sportcoats, but, like the suit, it can be dressed down and keep that well put together look.

Shirts

I cannot say this enough, but do not wear t-shirts, printed or solid to work. They simply are not appropriate in a professional environment. The three options here are polo or golf shirts, mock neck shirts, or button-up shirts. Mock neck shirts come in a variety of fabrics and look great under suits and sportcoats. Polo shirts also come in variety of colors and fabrics and are a fairly traditional option for business casual.

More and more men are wearing button-up shirts, normally worn with a tie, with an open collar. The important thing here is to be sure to keep them clean and pressed. Just because the look is less formal doesn’t mean it should be sloppy. There are several different collar choices, from button down, to spread, to pinpoint. There is really no rule here, but my suggestion is to try all styles and choose what you are most comfortable wearing.

Another note about button-up shirts is the French-cuff shirt. It has become far more acceptable to wear a tasteful French-cuff shirt with a nice set of cufflinks, without the tie. It adds a little touch of a classic look without dressing you up too much. Again, this is another one of those personal preference things. My suggestion is to give it a try. If you don’t like it, don’t wear it.

Pants

Don’t wear jeans to work. Now that we have dealt with that, what should you wear? Khaki pants are a very traditional option. Be sure the ones you wear to work are clean with a crisp crease, and that they fit properly. Wearing these everyday can make you seem, well…boring.

Change things up with charcoal, black, or olive. Even a pair of gray pants can work with the right shirt and jacket. We come to another personal preference with pleats versus flat front. Again try both and go with comfort.

Something to be mindful of is how you wear your pants. Many men (most men) in America unfortunately have a bit of a gut (including yours truly). Stop fooling yourself and stop hiking up your pants twenty times a day. If you have a gut, accept it and don’t wear the pants below your true waist line. You may think it looks better, but it doesn’t. Actually, it makes your stomach look bigger because it hangs over the waist of the pants. One option here is to add a pair of bracers. Bracers are becoming much more acceptable for men under 70 years old. In fact, I know many men that can’t stand wearing a belt now that they were willing to take the leap of faith and try a pair of bracers.

Shoes

Do not wear tennis shoes, sandals, or flip flops. This is simply poor taste. Look for a nice dress shoe, either lace up or slip on, and keep them polished. By the way, stick with the basic colors such as black, brown, or burgundy. While your taste may lean towards the indigo dress shoes, they simply are not professional.

There you have it. Business casual done right is really not that difficult, but many men would rather have a root canal than spend much time on how they dress. If you are that guy, and you just can’t get it right, your best bet is to visit your local men’s store. Make sure it s a men’s store, not one of the big anchor retailers in a mall. Any rep at a men’s store worth his salt will be able to give you great advice.

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