Business Casual Dress Code: How to Build Your Outfit

The Business Casual dress code has been on the rise since the boom of Silicon Valley in the 1980s, and with each passing year it’s becoming more and more common in the working environment. While the likes of bankers, government employees, and legal professionals are still usually required to adhere to business professional and business formal dress codes, many other professions have relaxed the rules significantly.

Although it’s the least formal office dress code, business casual comes with its own set of rules, both written and unwritten. Here, we’ll talk you through your options for the ideal day-to-day work outfit.

The Business Casual Shirt

Man drinking a coffee with a business casual shirt.

Your shirt is the centrepiece of your entire outfit, since it draws the eye before any other garment. Some people use the business casual code as an opportunity to dress down in a polo shirt, though T-shirts are still off the table here. But remember that business casual is still business, so we’d always recommend a nicely fitted, button down shirt.

The classic and reliable option for business casual shirts is 100% cotton, or a cotton blend, as this is the most comfortable for day-to-day wear. When it comes to colour and pattern, it would serve you well to plump for a few simple, single-colour options, avoiding those which are too bright or garish. White, blue and black would all do perfectly here.

If you enjoy wearing patterned or striped shirts, by all means go right ahead, but we’d recommend keeping it subtle. Thin stripes ranging from light to mid or even dark blue, set against white, is an option that’ll never let you down here.

A classic straight point collar carries a timeless style, and will serve you better than a more formal cutaway collar in a business casual environment.

As for cufflinks? Generally these aren’t a great choice for business casual dressers, as they’re usually worn on more formal occasions.

Business Casual Shirt Fit

Slim or regular fit is the order of the day for the business casual dress code. We’ve written an explainer on shirt fit here, and will be doing another in the near future where we’ll also discuss skinny and relaxed fit shirts, but here are the cliff notes:

Slim fit shirts are the most popular nowadays as they gently “hug” the wearer’s frame while still leaving plenty of room to manoeuver. They’re an excellent choice for slim to medium framed people, who don’t carry much excess weight.

Regular fit shirts are a good deal more loose fitting than slim fit, though a well-made one will still compliment the wearer’s form. Generally speaking, regular fit shirts are the recommended option for people carrying a little more weight.

We’ll deal more with skinny fit and relaxed fit shirts in the near future, but just know that they’re generally a no-go for the business casual environment.

Business Casual trousers

Chinos are by and large the staple of business casual outfits. Your other options are flat fronted or pleated trousers, slacks, or indeed a pair of well fitted corduroy trousers. For each of these, it’s best to have a selection of two or three pairs in a range of colours from light to dark. Blues, blacks, and greys are solid options, as are beige and stone.

If you work in a much more creative environment such as advertising or design, more standout colours such as green or red are usually acceptable. However, before opting for these, take a look around your workplace and see what your colleagues are wearing. Dressing for work involves fitting in with your environment after all.  

Jacket or Sweater Up Top?

You’ll want to avoid a formal suit jacket here, as it’ll clash in style with your trousers. However, a well fitted blazer in a classic dark blue or navy is a great choice here. When pairing a jacket with business casual trousers, try to avoid wearing them in the same colour. Unlike the business professional and business formal dress codes, a colour clash looks just the part here.

There’s also the option of a sweater or jumper. A lot of people in business casual environments choose to sport these in lieu of a jacket, or indeed along with one. A light, knitted sweater in any plain colour, one which doesn’t match your trousers or shirt, really catches the eye here.

If you are going to wear a sweater as part of your outfit, we’d usually recommend wearing it over a button down shirt in white or a subtle stripe to avoid too much colour clashing.

Business Casual Footwear

And finally, choosing the right shoes will complete your business casual look perfectly. It’s all about striking the balance between formal and casual here. We’d recommend avoiding the likes of Oxford brogues or patent leather shoes, as they’re a touch too formal, while stylish sneakers or canvas shoes can sometimes be a good option. A solid and reliable option would be Chukka boots, loafers or driving mocs in a darker colour—brown, grey, navy or black.

We trust that the business casual dress code makes a lot more sense after reading. Check out our related articles and guides below, and stop by the Nickson Online Store when you’re ready to purchase your next shirt.

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