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Congratulations! You’re in a position where you need to dress professionally; however, you might be uncertain what “business casual men” really means. Either that or you’ve already got a solid understanding of men’s business casual attire and you’re seeking outfit inspiration on how to liven up your wardrobe more. Fortunately, this guide to business casual men can help you with both.
What is Business Casual for Men?
Let’s start with the most basic framework of what business casual is composed of: button-down shirt, dress pants (or chinos), and some nice shoes. Depending on the culture of your workplace, this structure can certainly vary.
Some workplaces allow for chinos, some require ties, and others may have casual Friday thrown into the mix. (There’s a good guide to get you started on that here by the way). For the rest of the week, though, leave the denim, sneakers, and t-shirts at home. Don’t be afraid to consult your recruiter, manager, or the company website for dress guidelines. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially on your first day! Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of men’s business casual.
Men’s Business Casual Dress Shirts
The classic dress shirt is the cornerstone of any men’s business casual attire. It’s both your sidekick and your business partner and it’ll literally have your back (pun absolutely intended). This garment sets the tone for what the rest of the outfit is going to be, often being the first choice a man makes for the day’s look.
You’ll want the cut of your dress shirt to fit the shape of your body, but not so skin tight that you can’t breathe. There are three main types of dress shirts to consider: slim, regular, and relaxed (some brands also have an athletic fit).
Modern male fashion trends favor a slimmer fit. If a slim fit doesn’t compliment your body type, opt for a more classic, especially in more traditional workplaces. Relaxed fit apparel is a slippery slope to looking sloppy and disheveled, so even bigger guys should stick with slim or regular fit shirts. Whether you’re wearing a slim, regular, or relaxed fit – just remember one thing: tuck your damn shirt in.
Difference Between a Button-Up and Button-Down Shirt
The key to nailing the business casual look relies on both what you wear and how you wear it. Putting on any old collared shirt won’t cut it in most instances, so make sure you know the difference between casual shirts and dressier ones.
A mistake business casual men often make is wearing a short that’s far too casual e.g a regular oxford cloth button-down (OCBD). For business casual, you’ll want to opt for a button-up shirt, which differs from a button-down shirt. A button-up shirt lacks buttons that fasten the collar to the body of the shirt. Instead, the collar is usually stiffer and may employ metal or plastic shirt stays to keep the collar crisp and proper.
Looking to upgrade from the wrinkly JC Penny shirts you’ve had since high school? We love the dress shirts from Charles Tyrwhitt, which can be customized with different fits, cuffs, collars, and monograms. The brand’s semi-regular 4-for-$199 shirt sale is one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to business casual shirts.
For stubborn shirts that won’t stay tucked, we’ve found this type of shirt stay that attaches to the bottom of your shirt’s hem and your socks. It’s an excellent solution to ensuring your shirt stays tucked all day long. Surprisingly enough, they’re not at all uncomfortable or cumbersome!
When choosing a dress shirt to wear, choose something that aligns with the company’s culture. Is it a bank? A law firm? Elect for more reserved colors and simple patterns (e.g. light blue or white, plain or thin stripes).
Tech startups and more creative roles tend to allow for trendier patterns, more casual fabrics, and even rolling up your shirt sleeves. As a good rule-of-thumb, play it safe the first day and see what the office culture is like. What sounds worse: “suit on the first day guy” or “leopard print shirt dude”?
It’s typically a better idea to play it safe and overdress than to show up underdressed on the first day.
Dressing to impress, but want to avoid the full professional suit? Throw on a blazer and tie to further polish your business casual look.
For fall or winter weather, layering a sweater over a dress shirt is a great way to keep warm while looking sharp!
Crewnecks, v-necks, and quarter zips are solid choices for layering. We’d recommend opting for a thinner sweater in favor of a chunkier version to avoid sweating right through your shirt. Merino wool is an awesome material for sweaters. It’s lightweight, odor-resistant, and just outright classy. Check out these merino v-neck sweaters from Joseph Abboud – the v-neck looks great with a tie!
Men’s Business Casual Pants
Before you walk out the door in just your dress shirt, let’s not forget about the next most important part of the men’s business casual formula: pants.
Pants are an integral part of putting together a men’s business casual outfit because, you know, you’ll probably get arrested walking around without them (but don’t let us stop you, my man).
The bottom of the pant leg opening can actually vary in size quite a bit. The “break” refers to where your pant meets your shoe. It’s typically a measure of how much extra fabric is left once you run out of leg. A pant break can be the difference between having a well-fitting pair of dress pants and looking like you’re swimming in your trousers.
A tailor is your best friend when it comes to making your clothes fit your body and you should absolutely not skimp out on altering your dress pants. We’d suggest going either quarter break or half break as they’re typically much neater than a full break.
There’s a thin line between no break and pants that are too short.
Check out this visual as a reference. Your tailer will know exactly what to do if you tell him/her these terms.
It’s essential to make sure your pants and shirt match. The interaction of colors and patterns between your top half and bottom half makes or breaks a business casual outfit.
Khaki/tan pants are a tried-and-true staple of many men’s business casual outfits and have been for many years. If your workplace allows for chinos, they’re a comfortable and accessible alternative to the typical dress pant. Not to mention, they’re probably the most versatile pant available.
Chinos come in many different colors, but for a business casual workplace, it’s best to keep it simple. Try khaki (all shades, but avoid anything too white), grey, or navy. Olive is another great choice, but borders on the more casual end of the business casual spectrum.
Similarly with shirts, pants come in a variety of cuts and fits. It’s common to see slim, straight, relaxed, and skinny fits of chinos, but most dress pants come in straight or slim cuts.
There’s no secret “best” fit when it comes to men’s business casual either. Just be sure your pants aren’t too tight or baggy. An all-around great chino that we love at Styles of Man is the Dockers Alpha Khaki. They’re offered in a wide range of fits and colors and they’re budget friendly! Dockers is owned by Levi’s, so expect similar quality of materials and construction. Higher up on the chino echelon are Jomers (often limited releases) and Bonobos.
Men’s Business Casual Shoes
The last piece of the men’s business casual puzzle is footwear. Shoes can make or break your entire business casual appearance, so it’s important to choose wisely.
Before we go any further, though, just in case you missed that day at school: your belt needs to match your shoes. If you’re wearing a watch to go along with that, make sure that matches too – but more on that later. Belt. Shoes. Match. Got it? Good!
A good rule-of-thumb is that any leather on your outfit should match.
There are many different types of dress shoes out there: oxfords, monkstraps, dress boots, derbies, loafers, brogues – all with their own individual style and means of expression. They can be confusing so let’s break them down.
Oxford – The most versatile dress shoe out there. This should be your go-to dress shoe when starting your professional wardrobe. Timeless and classic, the oxford will provide you with a reliable, versatile shoe that’ll keep you well-dressed and ready for the day.
Derby – The derby is similar to the oxford, but the subtle differences should still be mentioned. The Derby is known for its stitching on the top of the “vamp” (middle section of the shoe). This type of stitching is referred to as open lacing. The difference between this and the oxford is that the latter has closed lacing meaning the stitching is on the bottom of the vamp. The derby is certainly comparable in versatility to the oxford, though the oxford is typically viewed as a more conservative choice historically. Again, check the culture of your workplace.
Monk Strap – The monk strap is differentiated by one or two leather straps and buckles (in lieu of laces) used to secure the shoe. Do note that monk straps are usually less adaptable than the oxford or derby as it often pushes into the more casual spectrum of business footwear. However, this is a business casual for men guide, so it should be fine in most workplaces.
Loafers – Ah, the slip-on shoe for the modern man. Although empirically known as a more casual shoe, loafers have crept their way into the workplace as a business casual shoe in recent years. Loafers generally feature either a tassel, buckle, or belt where laces would traditionally serve to secure the shoe. Less formal than most shoes, but an interesting addition to the wardrobe nonetheless.
Brogues – “Oxfords not brogues” – the callsign of the Kingsman. It’s often fun pretending you’re a Kingsman eloping with Swedish princesses in your spare time, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’re probably just going to be doing entry-level work for now.
There’s nothing wrong with that, though, because everyone has to start somewhere. Now onto what determines a “brogue” shoe. Brogueing refers to the perforations you see in certain shoe styles. There’s quarter, semi, and full brogue (commonly referred to as “wingtip”).
Brogueing can add some personality to an otherwise plain dress shoe and help you develop your individual sense of style; however, we’d recommend a good pair of oxfords or derbies before you make the jump to a pair of wingtips.
Business Casual Accessories
Now for the part where you can turn that basic business casual outfit into something that really expresses your style: accessories. If you imagine your outfit as a present, accessories are the neat little bow that ties the entire ensemble together. How fun!
There are many types of accessories you can use to liven up an otherwise plain outfit to show everyone the true fashion icon that you are, you magnificent bastard.
Whether your workplace requires them or not, ties are the go-to business casual accessory to liven up your look. There are a near-infinite variety of ties out there, so feel free to search around and experiment. In regards to statement pieces, know that the same policy for shirts in the workplace applies with ties.
A more conservative workplace likely won’t allow Hawaiian floral print (yes, even if it’s really cool, Chad), but solid colors and neutral patterns are always a safe bet. A tie bar is also great for putting some extra detail into the tie itself as well as keeping the tie in place. Unfortunately, a dark time in men’s fashion existed where freakishly-wide ties were cool, so do yourself a favor and opt for the less-pronounced varieties.
Business Casual Watches
Every man should own at least one watch, period. Whether its brown leather, black leather, metal, nylon – whatever, but a minimalist brown leather, white dial watch is a must-have for any guy.
Watches may not be as functionally relevant now as they once were, but their timeless (timefull?) style is here to stay. Plus, you can look at them and say you have to leave to exit an awkward conversation. Thanks, watch!
Silver metal watches are great because they can go with almost any outfit but nothing beats the classic style of a brown leather strap. There are many different styles of watches out there, so look around for some that interest you. When making your first watch purchase, think about how you’ll pair it with what is (or isn’t yet) in your wardrobe.
Although some may not think of belts as accessories, if used correctly they can be. There are more than just plain leather belts out there. From braided leather to braided cloth to accentuated leather grain – the list goes on. There are patterned belts as well, but save those for your casual outfits.
If you do decide to rock that blazer with your business casual look, you might want to consider a pocket square as well. It provides a nice splash of contrasting color against the jacket you’re wearing. Like ties, there are millions of different styles to choose from.
Hopefully, this guide has given you a basic understanding of how business casual men dress and how you can start building your wardrobe accordingly. If you need some inspiration for what outfits you want or what to look like, check out our Instagram page. Good luck out there, gentlemen.