Smart Casual & Business Casual: Making & Breaking the Rules

The business casual dress code is popular for a reason. It’s given us a good deal more freedom in how we dress for work, diverging from the classic business suit.

But just because we’ve got more freedom doesn’t mean it’s easier. If anything it’s now more difficult to know how to dress well. Dressing for work used to be easy— we could usually underdress just a little, but not overdress. There was very little grey area between looking smart and looking too relaxed.

Year by the year, we’ve arrived at a set of dress rules formed more by general consensus than by management. Overall, this is no bad thing. We should enjoy being able to express ourselves more in the workplace. But these etiquettes can be difficult to follow and easy to break.

How Casual Is Business Casual?

Business Casual is a somewhat informal mode of dressing, based on a smart foundation, and it’s becoming more and more commonplace with every passing year. Since the boom of Silicon Valley in the 1980s, these codes have softened considerably due to longer working hours, the blurring of the edges between our work and personal lives, and changes to the nature of modern business environments. However, there are still lines which we ought not to cross cross.

After all, dress Codes are about good manners. We can show people that we value and respect them by dressing smartly in their presence. When it comes to business casual, we shouldn’t take the word casual too literally. Business comes first after all, and we should still dress as well as we can within a given dress code.

To us, jeans, polo shirts, T-shirts, sportswear, and trainers are a definite no-no when it comes to the workplace. And pairing Crocs with chinos could still be a career-ending move! 

Mirroring Your Environment

Before getting kitted out for business casual clothing, ask yourself some straightforward questions about the requirements of your job. If you are in a client facing role or in management, we’d recommend exercising a little more caution in what you wear. You’ll want to convey a certain level of seniority in keeping with your position and your business sector. A creative agency environment usually allows more leeway, whereas investment banking will have more binary rules.

Once you have grasped the basics, you can begin to expand your horizons to cover a range of settings or engagements you are likely to attend at work. There’s a big difference between chairing a client meeting at 9am and attending a relaxed lunch engagement at 1pm, and being prepared for each of these is worth your while. 

Creating The Business Casual Look

If you’re new to the business casual dress code and unsure where to start, it’s usually best to begin with a few basic, solid, and reliable choices. Consider investing in at least two pairs of smart chinos or flat fronted trousers with a more subdued, classic colour. 

When advising and fitting clients in this regard, we usually recommend one darker pair of blue, back or grey, and a lighter pair of beige, stone, or green. Just like a well cut, classic business suit for a newcomer to tailoring, these more simple choices really help instill confidence in how we look. We can fit in with our style, but we can stand out with quality and cut.  

You can match your trousers with a number of fitted shirts in plain textured fabrics, or even small classic patterns with a more relaxed collar style. A good tailor or stylist will help you pay special attention to your overall look, and to the textures and quality of cloth. You don’t want these items to become tired or shabby looking after just a few wears. 

Expressing Yourself

Shirts are a fantastic way of expressing your personality, and when a tie is no longer required, they really allow some flair to be added. 

Tailored shirts are the order of the day here. Indeed, having a shirt tailored just for you is a perfect entry into the world of bespoke tailoring. When chosen with care, a beautifully cut shirt will draw glances of admiration, even if the on-lookers don’t know exactly what they’re seeing. The quality will simply shine through.  

When it comes to cloth texture and colour for business casual shirts, we’d usually recommend keeping patterns subtle, and avoiding recklessly bright colours which could ruin your look. The collar ought to be kept small and should be softer than those found on a regular business shirt. Avoid cufflinks as they’re much too formal, rather using regular cuffs.

If you do want to add some personal expression, concentrate on the smaller design details—pocket trims, atypical buttons or coloured buttonholes for example

If in doubt, a smart button down in a textured white or mid blue will always be a smart and versatile investment. 

The Jacket

Jackets and blazers are an easy way of adding some style and smarts to your business casual outfit, especially when attending important events and appointments. A quality jacket will last for years, and can be versatile enough to cover a number of functions, from business lunches to boardroom meetings. Check out our Jackets & Separates Style Guide to learn more.

If you are at the beginning of your tailoring journey and you’re not yet one hundred percent sure whom you should settle on, consider asking them to recommend some shirts and chinos instead. They most likely make these themselves, or know instantly where to recommend them. If you’ve already bought some items of clothing elsewhere and are considering a jacket, make sure you take these to your tailor so they understand the direction and style you’re considering. 

Shoes Maketh Man

For business casual dress codes, shoes (and belts) should be more relaxed in style. The likes of Chukka boots in leather are even suede are great choices here, though do try to keep the colours darker and coordinated with your outfit. Try to avoid more formal brogues like Oxfords or patent leather lace-ups. 

More important than your choice of shoes however, is the condition you keep them in. Keep them well polished (if they’re leather), and in good general shape. If you’re looking to invest in a long lasting pair, head to the likes of Cheaney’sLoake, or Grenson, and consider spending around £250 or more for a pair of shoes which will lift your look and last for years.  

Dress For The Job You Want

Remember that even with a business casual dress code, you’re still dressing for business. Thus, it’s important to aim to be taken seriously by your colleagues and peers. We’ve met hundreds of clients over years who have noted a significant uptick in how they’re treated and respected at work simply by paying more attention to the way they dress and portray themselves. 

There’s nothing wrong with adding a little personality or style to your business casual wear—there’s everything right with it in fact. But dress codes ought never to be dismissed or overlooked, and the impact of a well dressed man in the workplace should never be underestimated.

If you’ve got your eye on that pay rise or that promotion, dressing the right way for it is only going to help you. 

Remember, buying the right clothing is all about making you look and feel better. Having your clothes tailor made for you is all about enjoying the experience and getting the very best you can get—clothing which will last for thousands of wears and carry a timeless style for years. Book an appointment with Marc Oliver Bespoke Tailoring. And welcome to Savile Row. 

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