Dress Decoding: Business Casual

Story by Briana Thornton
Photos by Monica Escamilla
So you’re starting a new job and you need a new wardrobe! For some of you, that may bring joy, getting to shop for all new attire, but for others “business casual” are two words you dread hearing side by side. There’s somewhat of a lack of consensus as to what business casual really entails, but as every professor’s favorite search engine, Wikipedia, says “business casual is a kind of middle ground between formal business wear and streetwear.” That means you don’t have to buy an entirely new wardrobe; you can mix pieces already in your closet with new pieces to create the proper work dress code.
But hold on. Before you go and try to pair your sweats with a white collared button down, there is a delicate balance you have to reach for a look to suit a business casual work environment. This attire suits many different workplaces on a varying degree; some may swing closer to business professional while others may allow for more casual dress. Look at what your coworkers and superiors are wearing and dress accordingly.
There are endless options for business casual wear but here are some basic tips you can pretty much always count on:

  1. Avoid denim. Instead, opt for silks, chiffons, cottons and blends.
  2. Never EVER wear anything shiny or neon. This isn’t a rave, it’s work. 
  3. Everything you wear should be clean, pressed and wrinkle-free. Yes, it may mean you have to go against everything you believe in and actually use an iron, but it’ll make you look 100% less sloppy. This should also go without saying, anything ripped should never be considered an option when you’re dressing for work. 
  4. If you wear it to parties (or the club, whatever your scene is), it’s not acceptable for the office. Period. It may be dressy, but it’s probably not modest. 
  5. Closed toe shoes are typically the most acceptable option. Dressy sandals can be worn during the warmer months but for the most part, you should lean towards flats, loafers, booties, etc.

Building a work wardrobe from scratch isn’t easy and it most certainly isn’t cheap. However, if you do a little bit of hunting and make several outfits out of every piece, you can have a closet full of work attire without breaking the bank. Some of my favorite places to buy business casual attire are Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/Ross, H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy, Gap, J. Crew and Loft. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Loft? Gap? J. CREW?! Those certainly don’t cater to a college student’s budget! And normally, you’d be right. BUT these stores offer a college student discount and great clearance styles. Trust me, I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything full price from any of these stores. But I have scored some great finds. Keep scrolling to see some looks I styled featuring some great pieces from these stores and more.
A blazer is an absolute essential to any work wardrobe because it can be worn over any top and instantly it looks more professional (within reason). Turtlenecks are also a great piece because of their conservative neckline, and suede skirts have been a huge trend this fall; here’s the perfect way to style what you may already have in your wardrobe.
Culottes are a hard trend to pull off, truth be told. They are a not a style for the fashionably faint-of-heart. The super-flared style looks best when paired with a slimmer-cut style on top and heels to play off the volume on the bottom.
Dresses are often a good option for the office. However, stick to styles that hit your knees, or slightly above, and aren’t skin tight. Play with color-blocking to stand out from the sea of gray, navy and black that will most likely be worn by your co-workers.
Trying to out-dress everyone at the office including your boss? Go for a cape. No,you won’t look like a superhero. You will look incredibly chic. You can throw a cape over sweatpants and it would look classy, but as I said before, no sweatpants in the workplace.
Don’t be afraid to play with layering and giving your pieces multipurposes. This thing that you probably thought was a trench vest is actually a dress but thrown over a jumpsuit, it looks quite cool and really professional. Plus, a tote bag is a great touch, perfect for your professional wardrobe because it looks classy but it can hold a lot of crap.
**My biggest tip to buying a business wardrobe is this: build it up piece by piece. It’s much more cost effective to buy a pair of pants here, a blazer there, rather than having to buy it all at once. And don’t be afraid to splurge. You’ll be wearing these wardrobe staples for years into the future so you might as well get some quality pieces.

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