As someone who started their career working remotely in the midst of a pandemic, terms like “business casual” terrified me when it came time to finally step foot in an office. All I knew about business attire was that it was better to be overdressed than underdressed, but after a year of working in a variety of sweatpants, pajamas, and shorts, I wasn’t even sure what the baseline was.
Luckily, you don’t need to be as terrified as me if you’re trying to dress business casual in 2023. We consulted top fashion experts to help define what business casual means, learn how the dress code has changed in recent years, and show us how to dress for it. We’ll cover:
- Business Casual Definition
- How Has Business Casual Changed?
- How to Dress in Business Casual in 2023
- What Should You Avoid Wearing for Business Casual in 2023?
- Business Casual in 2023: The Bottom Line
Business Casual Definition
“Business casual” is a dress code where the term translates precisely to what it means: a mix of formal and casual clothing. It’s less formal than business wear, like suits, but still professional. It’s one of many types of business attire that people wear in the workplace.
This dress code can be a bit harder to define in practice because it doesn’t have a set “look.” It’s not a pants suit, but not jeans and a t-shirt, either. Cue my first-day-in-the-office panic. So, what do the fashion experts think?
“I consider business casual to be a seamless blend of ‘elegant’ and ‘effortless,’” De Anne Combs, fashion, textile, and travel expert and co-founder of La Peony, an ethical women’s luxury clothing collection, says. “It’s an upscale look that’s chic enough to command attention yet understated enough not to overwhelm.”
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MaryKathryn McArthur, lead stylist at Short Story, a DTC retailer and personal styling service helping petite women, agrees that business casual is all about balance — “that harmonious balance between a suit set and weekend wear,” she says.
McArthur also believes this dress code allows for more personality and style.
“It brings a level of comfort to the table, not only because you can avoid a stiff suit, but also because you feel more YOU!” she says. “Depending on your workplace, this can mean a pair of black or dark wash jeans paired with a nice blouse that can be elevated with a chic blazer.”
So, according to the experts, business casual is all about balance, allowing room for your personality while elevating an everyday look. Appropriate clothes for business casual include blouses, dress shirts, slacks or khakis, dress pants, longer skirts, dresses, and blazers.
Easy! But actually …
Business casual may look different depending on the workplace. For example, jeans might be more common at a laid-back startup, and blazers might be the go-to for a marketing agency where clients regularly visit the office. Back to square one?
Luckily, you don’t have to go into the office without any idea of what business casual means at that particular company. Instead, do your research. Look for pictures of employees working at the company, which you can find on LinkedIn, company website, or social media.
You can also ask what business casual looks like at the company! If you’re in the interview process, ask the recruiter about the specifics of dress code. And if you’re onboarding, ask your hiring manager if there are any guidelines you should be aware of before your first day. Keep in mind that if you’re still unsure, you should always err on the formal side.
How Has Business Casual Changed?
The workplace has changed in countless ways since the start of the pandemic, dress codes included — which made it a lot harder to know what the trends would be when many people returned to work (again, cue my fashion crisis).
Looking back now, we know that workwear had a shift toward the casual. After many people worked from home and enjoyed the comfort of more casual looks, they kept the emphasis on comfort as they were called back to the office.
“We traded dress pants for leggings and sweats became tailored ‘streetwear,’” Combs says. “Even high-heeled pumps transitioned into slides or upscale sneakers. Previously, I wouldn’t have envisioned boyfriend jeans or any of the above items working well at an office meeting or birthday brunch. Thanks to some stylish updates, however, they not only work — they’re a sophisticated wardrobe choice!”
McArthur believes this focus on comfort has also allowed professionals to “let more of themselves come through” in their workwear, especially if working from home.
“You’re going to be discussing millionaire dollar deals one minute, and then feeding your dog the next, so you’ll want to feel 100% in your element.”
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How to Dress in Business Casual in 2023
So, what does appropriate business casual actually look like, and what should you wear to the office?
What Is Business Casual for Women in 2023?
Fashion experts predict business casual for women in 2023 will be all about accentuating the basics and showing off your unique style.
For example, Giovanni Bordone, professor of fashion at London Metropolitan University, says that dark suits will return to style but “with a different touch, such as a fancy scarf, a pair of funky sneakers or a colorful sweater.”
Bordone says women will continue to use suits for “power dressing” in 2023, “but will move into a more personalized and individualized look where the accessories are playing a defining role.” This will make the formal “suit” look a little more casual to fit the dress code.
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So, what items should women wear to fit a business casual dress code in 2023? Some other examples include:
- Lightweight fabrics in non-neutral colors (vibrant colors, pastels)
- Neutral colors with accessories that fit your style
- Dresses with jackets
- T-shirts with jacket or a blazer
- Flowy, wide-legged pants
What Is Business Casual for Men in 2023?
In 2023, business casual for men will also focus heavily on the “casual,” according to Combs. She says we’ll see a “return to some fun, old-school elements from the pre-millenium era. Neckties, baggy pants, low-riding waistlines, patchwork fabrics, and denim-on-denim outfits are just some of the latest runway styles.”
So what does that mean for those not on the runway (and just in the office hallway)? Examples of business casual trends for men in 2023 include:
- Comfortable sweaters
- Patterned or non-neutral dress shirts
- Relaxed slacks
- Simple blazers or jackets
- Stylish closed-toe shoes, such as boots
Gender Neutral Business Casual Outfits for 2023
Regardless of your gender expression, there are tons of options for business casual outfits in 2023. You’ll want to balance the formal and casual style while adding in a bit of your personality, whether that’s with a print, bold color, jewelry, or accessory. Examples of gender neutral business casual trends include:
- Dress sneakers
- Relaxed pants or slacks
- Bold color dress shirts or tshirts
Business Casual Outfit Examples
What Should You Avoid Wearing for Business Casual in 2023?
In years past, certain clothing items were seen as off-limits or inappropriate for a business casual dress code. Off-limit items included jeans, shorts, and short dresses and skirts.
In 2023, this dress code isn’t as strict as it was pre-pandemic, but it’s still inappropriate to wear:
- Torn or ripped clothing
- Clothing with offensive or inappropriate messaging
- Revealing items, including see-through items that reveal undergarments
- Dirty clothes
Business Casual in 2023: The Bottom Line
Business casual sticks true to its name: it’s a blend of formal and informal wear. To fit this dress code, you’ll need to look professional and put together, but that doesn’t mean you need a suit. You can be casual and dress more to your personality — just not the same way you would to lounge around your house on the weekend.
In 2023, business casual is more about the “casual,” and trends will encourage professionals to show more of their style in their outfits. To fit the dress code, wear comfortable yet professional items that make you feel confident and ready to take on your work.
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