Work & Career
What Is Business Casual for Women?
What does “business casual” mean anyway? There are a few new rules for this elusive term in today’s offices. Here’s what you need to know.
First, break out the separates
So, what is business casual for women? “Women used to wear these ‘shells,’ a basic, short-sleeve solid top. This became a uniform for women who worked in male-dominated offices. It was an outfit designed to help us fit in, rather than stand out,” stylist Alison Deyette says. “Now, we’re not as conservative as we used to be. We want to stand out. Because when you stand out, people take notice of you.” Here’s how to get the right kind of attention at work, no matter what you’re wearing.
Don’t be afraid to go bold and bright
Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, says a pop of color is an easy way to brighten up a simple black, gray, or navy suit. “Bright colors bring a bit of light to these more muted tones,” she says. But don’t go crazy. “Red is a power color and so is purple. Would I advise a client, colleague, or friend to show up wearing a bright purple suit to an interview? No. But it’s certainly fine to wear a purple blouse or something that pops and is colorful, even in more conservative cultures like financial services.” Speaking of interviews, say these words to ace yours.
But if you’re new on the job, take cues from your coworkers first
Company culture is just as important to consider as any other detail when it comes to answering the question, what is” business casual for women?” “A job seeker once told me her CEO at a boutique agency wore cool jeans and designer flip-flops. She could get away with it because she owned the company,” Salemi says. “The more you get to know your colleagues and vice versa, you can showcase a bit more of your personality and personal style with what you wear.” Here are the things you should definitely never wear to work.
Keep jewelry to a minimum
Our experts agree on this one—don’t overdo it. “There’s nothing more annoying than someone with bangles who you can hear coming down the hallway,” Deyette says. So consider lighter pieces instead, like a thin necklace or single cuff bracelet. “Your jewelry and accessories shouldn’t be distracting,” Salemi says. Try these little fashion upgrades instead.
Cover your shoulders
“Don’t go strapless or with a cold shoulder in a business casual office,” Deyette says. “In most cases, if you need a strapless bra, you’re better off saving that top for the weekend.”
And just say no to anything sheer
“Sheer seems to be a trend, but it doesn’t belong in the workplace,” Deyette says. Enough said.
Choose dark and tailored denim
Deyette says trouser-style jeans are the way to go. “The straight-leg style is more conservative and easy to pair with a jacket or blazer,” she says. “And stick to darker washes, the darker the better.” Here’s how to find the best jeans for your body type.
If you’re going in for an interview, err on the formal side
“I always advise job seekers to dress up for an interview, even when it’s in a business casual setting. I’ve never seen a candidate not get a job because they looked too formal, but I’ve certainly seen the reverse when I worked in corporate recruiting,” Salemi says. Here’s more advice on what not to wear to a job interview.
Don’t show your toes in the winter
Hopefully, this goes without saying: “If you’re not a fashion director, don’t show your toes in the winter,” Deyette says. “And even when it comes to summer, if you’re going to do an open-toed heel, don’t wear a strappy heel. Also, let’s tone down on the platform; they’re a huge trend right now, but they don’t belong in the office.” Instead, try these dressing rules that will help you land that promotion.
You’re allowed to ditch your hosiery in the summer with a knee-length hemline
“If the length of your dress or skirt hits the knee or just past the knee during the summer, you can go bare and skip pantyhose,” Deyette says. “Black opaque tights are great in the winter. And if you’re still concerned about skin exposure between seasons, try a knee-high boot.”
Don’t lose sight of your own aesthetic
Even though you are trying to find a good answer to “what is business casual for women?” it can be easy to let go of your own sense of style when you get dressed for work. But don’t let that happen. Studies show we perform better when we’re dressed for success, so decide what that means for you. Find ways to incorporate the pieces you love most into your work wardrobe. “Even when I’m working from home, I like to get a bit more formal,” Salemi says. “It keeps me focused. I’m always more productive when I’m dressed up. I just take things more seriously—including myself—when I wear an A-game outfit that I’m comfortable and confident in.” Still need help with what to wear to work? Use this guide to dressing for the office.