Business Casual Rules

by Viviana M. Rueda

Morning time brings many choices. But Venti or Grande, fried or scrambled are the easy ones compared to choosing a business casual outfit to wear to work. Some people dread entering their closets for fear they may never emerge dressed. Others gleefully jump into mini skirts and flip-flops only to learn the company policy the hard way.

Strict corporate dress codes aside, there are no rules describing what business casual means. Naturally this opens the door for misinterpretation and error. The good news is that understanding some fundamental concepts can help.

Understand your company culture. In many industries, business casual is either frowned upon or prohibited, while in others there’s not a suit in sight. Know your industry, but always remember that casual doesn’t mean sloppy.

If there is an unspoken policy, follow it. Pay close attention to the attire of management and follow their lead.

Clothes affect performance. You’ll feel and act more confident and poised when you are groomed and wearing a polished outfit. Ripped jeans won’t make you feel your best because you won’t look your best.

Geographic regions have different rules. What’s acceptable in Los Angeles at a technology company might be taboo at an investment firm in Boston. Generally speaking the West Coast is more casual than the East Coast, but always consider your industry. The South has retained much of its formality yet cities such as Miami have loosened up over the years. To those of you who travel, investigate the dress code for that city and pack a business formal outfit just in case.

The following are some basic tips for what NOT to wear if you are attempting Business Casual:

Business Casual NO’s:

1. Open-toe shoes & flip flops – Flip flops are never acceptable at work. I know it’s hard during the summer not to break out beautiful Manolos but resist the urge.

2. Blue jeans –Some companies have a specific Blue Jean Friday policy. But blue jeans are casual, period. Not Business Casual, even if they cost you $300.

3. Sneakers – Absolutely NOT unless you are Woopie Goldberg or you are the undisputed boss.

5. Miniskirts – No. Never.

6. Shorts – No. There are some lovely shorts-suit combos out there but they aren’t meant for the office.

7. Hats or Baseball caps – Never.

8. Sports attire – Someone seems to have snuck a memo past the fashion police stating that sports attire is acceptable. Sweats and team jerseys are not Business Casual – ever.

9. T-Shirts with Messages – T-shirts in general are a no, especially anything with a message. “That’s Hot?” Not.

10. Casual handbags – If it’s the bag you took to the beach last Sunday, it’s not Business Casual.

The secret to dressing business casual is to look professional and clean cut. Ask yourself as you are picking out your outfit, “What impression am I hoping to achieve with this look” and “What do I stand to lose with the wrong impression?” Take a few seconds to answer these questions and you’ll be dressed for success in no time.