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Fashion Opinion and Editorial

Stay Informed: The Basics of Business Casual

You already filled out that application with super confidence, and now you just landed that awesome interview. Look at you go! Maybe, you kindly asked your contact what the dress code is, or maybe you didn’t, yikes! Don’t freak out…yet. I’ve had my fair share of interviews for both professional and nonprofessional jobs (anywhere from a big-name corporation to a party attendant at a bowling alley). Whatever job you’re interviewing for, it’s best to dress for success.

In my personal experiences, as well as learning from professionals that are well-acclimated to the business world, business casual is 99 percent of the time the best way to dress for an interview unless otherwise noted.

In this edition of Stay Informed, I will give you guys and gals some quick tips on how to dress business casual and what is appropriate for both genders. Alright, let’s go! 

For the ladies

A few examples of business casual.
A few examples of business casual.

What to Wear on Top: A short or long-sleeved blouse (no cleavage may show) and shoulders must be covered. If the blouse has a print, it shouldn’t be overly flashy or bright. Dark or neutral colors work best. If you choose to wear a tank top, halter, or other type of shirt that exposes your shoulders, pairing it with a blazer or shrug works wonders. Dresses are great too; just make sure the hem of the dress falls at or past your knees. I use the “sit test.” If you sit and the hemline comes more than an inch or two above your knees, it’s not very business appropriate.

What to Wear on the Bottom: Your pants don’t have to be boring. Black dress pants or slacks are usually preferred, but dress khakis in a neutral color work well too. Make sure they are not made of denim materials and are not skin-tight. Cotton or wool blends are best. Believe it or not, your dress pants do not have to be full length. If you prefer dressy capris, go for it. Skirts are fine too wear as long as it follows the hemline rule or the “sit test.”

Shoes and Accessories: Shoes don’t have to be overly vague, but they should be a respectable height if you’re wearing heels. Usually your heel shouldn’t be higher than three inches. Stay away from peep-toe shoes and sling-backs. Ballet flats or wedges are great choices and can be more comfortable than regular pumps. While sticking to a neutral color is safer, you can wear a colored shoe that goes with your outfit. Riding boots are not appropriate footwear. As for accessories, you can add a little of your own flair by adding a red headband or a pop or color by using a colored belt. Some women like to wear a subtle patterned scarf or a chunky necklace as statement pieces.

A detailed visual guide to business casual attire.
A detailed visual guide to business casual attire.

For the gents

What to Wear on Top: Sorry fellas, polo shirts should be left in your closet when dressing business casual. Instead, long sleeve dress shirts in neutral, dark, or muted colors work best. Business Insider suggests “going for shirts that you would most likely pair with a full suit.” If you don’t plan on wearing a tie, leave the top two buttons of your shirt open, making sure your undershirt does not show. If the weather is cooler or you’d like to take your look a step further, wear a blazer. However, to keep it business casual, make sure it’s not a full suit where the blazer perfectly matches your pants. Otherwise, this will appear out of place. Instead, add a versatile blazer in a shade of gray, navy or in a soft pattern.

What to Wear on the Bottom: Trouser selections can be pretty broad for men in regards to business casual. Colored trousers are not out of the norm for men, but for a first impression at an interview, I recommend sticking to

A casual dark blazer contrasting with a white trouser pants makes for an impressionable ensemble.
A casual dark blazer contrasting with a white trouser pants makes for an impressionable ensemble.

black, dark gray, dark brown or a navy. Business Insider also suggests “to opt for trousers made from cottons and wools,” instead of buying suit separates which are made of a heavier material. The pant leg should cover your socks and touch the top of your dress shoe. Anything longer is ill-fitted and should be tailored to the correct length.

Shoes and Accessories: If you plan on wearing a tie, you may choose a casual looking tie in a subtle, professional pattern, such as stripes or checkered. Colored ties are fine as long as the colors aren’t overly bold.  Shoes are a wise investment if you need to spend more than you initially planned. In the men’s business world, shoes speak volumes in terms of professionalism and status. For business casual, avoid shiny dress shoes and cap-toe shoes. Opt for a matte dress shoe that does not have any embellishment or a men’s dress boot. Your shoes should be a brown, navy or black. One last tip: make sure your socks match the color of your trouser. If you sit, your pant-leg will likely rise up a little. The matching socks create the illusion of a longer pant.

Just remember folks, keep it classy, keep it timeless and avoid anything overly flashy or super modern!

If you have a story idea, please submit it by tweeting @StayInformedBU or email it to StayInformedBU@yahoo.com. Remember that any selected ideas or experiences will automatically be kept anonymously unless otherwise noted. 

Stay Tuned and Stay Informed!


Missed the last Stay Informed? Read it here.

Lauren McCullough is currently a second-semester Junior at Bloomsburg University and is a Mass Communications & Public Relations Major and the author of the Stay Informed web-series.