What Business Casual Really Means

Smart Casual? Business Informal? Office Appropriate?
 Smart Casual? Business Informal? Office Appropriate?

Great job, you got the internship. And it’s probably because you asked all the right questions, including “what’s office culture like, and what’s the dress code?”

So when you’re told “business casual” or “smart casual,” you might be left wondering what that really means. Dressed up jeans? Open collar? Flats and sandals are ok? There’s a fine line between office casual and business casual, and it has a lot to do with the office culture. Is it a Silicon Valley tech startup, one of the big accounting firms, a hipster ad agency?

The only thing you may know for sure is that it will take some feeling out. You’ll get a sense for what’s appropriate and what isn’t with time. But until then, play your first week safe by opting for the more conservative and business formal side, before you relax into it.

Start here.

The Blazer


Your closet should have a basic blazer as a staple -- and if you’re really good, a couple. The blazer turns any casual outfit into office-appropriate. Make sure it’s tailored and fitted around the shoulders, and the length works for you. Pair it with sleek trousers or an A-line skirt.


Black Pants


The most versatile piece in anyone’s wardrobe is the black pant. Not just because it goes with everything, but because it makes any casual top look office-ready. Find a variety of black pants in different styles and pair them with tops with more personality, prints or colors.


Neutral Cardigan


A neutral cardigan allows you to take the tank tops and weekend wear into the office. It adds a conservative edge to anything underneath, and it’s perfect for office environments that end up frigid like freezers from air conditioners in overdrive. Get one in a neutral color to make sure it always matches.


The Button Down


Best for Monday’s, a solid button down is the look of banks and accounting firms. Brought into any other office, you’ll always be pegged as professional. From solid colors to more playful prints, adding a collar and buttons means you can never go wrong.


V-Neck Sweater


A V-neck sweater is another staple. Pair it with a collared button down for a client meeting, or a scarf in winter weather. There’s a multitude of ways you can wear it.


Pencil Skirt


Pencil skirts to the knee are always a classic choice. Like a tailored pant, there’s a variety of ways you can dress it up or down. Don’t be afraid to experiment with bold tops. In the winter, try a variety of fabrics from wool to flannel to keep you warmer, and pair with tights.


Bold Accessories


For even the most conservative office, statement jewelry has a place. Think tiered necklaces, bold bracelets and bangles, and earrings to match. Experiment with clutches, totes and purses that add personality to your outfit. Just keep the belt basic.



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