Work & Career
What Is Business Casual for Women?
What is business casual for women, anyway? The rules for appropriately chic office wear are constantly evolving. Here’s what you need to know to accomplish the look with ease.
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On-trend denim is your new best friend
“Casual Friday is the perfect opportunity to try on-trend denim pieces,” explains Sasha Bowlby, a professional stylist and fashion expert of Sash & Bow Boutique in Lexington, Kentucky. “Darker washes of denim are more appropriate, and pair well with other core business casual pieces.” Try a versatile staple like Kut From The Kloth denim culottes, which transition easily from casual Friday to sleepy Saturday. Culottes are one of the jean styles you never knew you needed, but work in several fashion-forward settings.
Versatile monochrome dresses are always a hit
“You can always add color or print to a basic solid shirt dress,” says Bowlby of picking pieces that transition from day to night with ease, like a sophisticated shirt dress or mock wrap dress. “Pair the look with flats for a comfortable, stylish look for business casual.” When you’re heading out after work, feel free to play up the look with added heel height, metallic accessories, and bright, printed blazers. This White House Black Market shirt dress is easy to wear, a cinch to take care of, and can easily move between your business casual lunch meetings and your weekend functions.
Crisp white button-downs are essential
You can take your favorite crisp white button-down shirt and pair it with more casual staples like dark denim, on-trend flats, and a blazer for a photoshoot-worthy version of your most comfortable self. It’s the go-to centerpiece for any business casual wardrobe according to Bowlby, who believes, “Business casual for women is less traditional but still appropriate for the office.” Try pairing this Chico’s No-Iron Coolmax button-down with just about everything you own as your first step. Once you stock up on this must-have, here’s how to whiten your laundry without bleach.
No, leggings are not an option
Sure, leggings are popular and widely available—but that doesn’t mean they’re acceptable in business casual settings. In fact, Bowlby suggests, “Never wear leggings as pants. These are meant for athleisure only.” If dresses, skirts, and denim are just too constricting for you, try tucking your crisp white button-down into a pair of effortless Cabi Pivot Joggers, the much more elegant distant cousin of your favorite leggings. If you feel like splurging, order a second pair—joggers are one of our favorite Christmas gifts teens will actually wear.
“You always want your clothing to fit appropriately well,” says Jasmine Snow, style expert and founder of The Black Bib, a fashion destination for modern moms. She suggests steering clear of even the most traditionally-appropriate dresses and denim picks if they’re too tight, snug, or revealing. Instead, opt for wear-anywhere basics like this ruffle-accented tee by Amour Vert.
Flats are encouraged, sneakers are not
Casual is meant to be a step down from the usual stuffy pieces that are less than relaxed—but what is business casual for women in terms of footwear? Definitely not sneakers or sandals, which you should save for the weekend, according to Snow. “Always try to stick to closed-toe shoes in the office, casual or not. Otherwise, have fun! Prints, textures, embellishments are always good to play with if the rest of your look is going in a classic direction.” Try Aerosoles Homerun flats in a number of prints and textures—you can’t go wrong. You can keep your shoes smelling fresh with these tips and tricks.
Elevate your top layer
Snow encourages her clients to always wear a mix of “sophisticated pieces with casual,” emphasizing that too much of one or the other can tilt your ensemble completely the wrong way. Looking “pulled together, not sloppy,” is a simpler task when outermost layers are work-appropriate. Opt for elegant sweaters, layering cardigans, drape-front jackets, or blazers to top off your look instead of sweatshirts or hoodies. This wrap is a go-anywhere appropriate choice with the comfort of curling up with hot cocoa and a book.
Turtlenecks will take you places
“Classics with a twist are a huge fall trend, so that means lots of closet staples imagined in new ways,” says Snow, who is enthusiastic about classic white shirts of all kinds. Try pairing this slim-cut turtleneck in white with your favorite work-ready skirt from Monday, the dark denim you recently discovered is totally okay for casual Friday, or just about any other option. Here’s how to wear a turtleneck in every other setting, too.
Invest in a bold blazer
You’ll want to wear a bold, well-made blazer with just about everything from your shirt dress to denim, skirts, narrow black pants, and everything in between. “Blazers are by far my favorite business casual piece,” says Snow. “Try something that feels a bit more like a schoolboy blazer type of shape for a modern approach,” who suggests going for a dark shade of navy, red, or other neutral color instead of a more typical plain black. This blazer will take you through several seasons and endless outfit options. In addition to a blazer, these are the 12 other classic jackets every woman should own.
Be mindful of how much skin you show
When it comes to deep v-necks, short skirts, and other daredevil wardrobe moves, both stylists suggest playing it safe with hemlines, fit, and exposure. Instead of opting for a low-cut top to show your wild side, try an on-trend animal print accent like this like this Shanghai tee from n:philanthropy.
Skip anything labeled “short”
“If your outfit feels like something you’d wear on vacation, chances are there’s too much skin,” explains Snow, who suggests instead incorporating your favorite styles in toned-down ways that are appropriate for the office. For example, take your beloved short denim cut-offs and short jean skirts to the next fashion level in the form of a knee-grazing asymmetrical skirt, like this midi skirt from Wash Lab. “Pair it with a rolled-up sleeve or buttoned crisp white shirt for a great business casual look.”
When in doubt, go back to black
Black is always appropriate for the office, especially in slim, flattering silhouettes that you can then mix and match for variety and customize to suit the culture of your workplace, whether you add a crisp blazer or pops of bright color or animal print. A foundational piece with great layering potential is this classic cashmere Henley. Yes, it’s a splurge, but it’s super-soft and incredibly flattering, and since you can wear it every week with different pieces and accessories, it’s actually a smart investment in any business casual wardrobe. When it comes to your word wardrobe, you don’t need a ton of pieces—simply follow these tricks to get 6-week’s worth of new outfits out of 17 pieces.