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Deciphering the Dress Code: What Does Business Casual Mean?

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Trying to get dressed each day shouldn’t be stressful! We’ll help you decipher the dress code, starting with the question: What does business casual mean?

Anytime I have ever interviewed for a job I would ask the interviewer something along the lines of explaining the company dress code. Very rarely was there ever a clear directive of:

“Wear dress pants and a button-down shirt.”

“Wear a suit.”

“Wear jeans and a nice shirt.”

No, usually it’s something like, “Oh, you know, just something kind of nice, but not too dressy.” 

Uh, thanks. Considering everyone’s definition of “dressy” would be completely different it’s no wonder everyone’s wondering what to wear to work. Starting a new job is stressful enough!

Today let’s break down “business casual”.

I’ll give you an overall glance at this corporate-y term and try to help decipher what it means. (Though, of course, every work place is different so it may vary a bit!)

what does business casual mean

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What does business casual mean?

The actual definition is “a style of dressing for white-collar employees that is less formal than traditional business attire”.

Great! If you know what “traditional business attire” is, of course. :)

For most companies, traditional business attire for women would include suits – pants with jackets, jackets with skirts, nice tailored pants with button-down or “dressy” tops, and conservative-length dresses that are tailored and “professional” looking. 

Now you just throw in some “casual” to that. Done! Good luck!

Just kidding. I’ll help.

Here’s what business casual would include for women:

  • dress pants
  • conservative blouses/tops
  • conservative-length dresses and skirts (but usually not maxi-length, which are viewed as too casual) 
  • sweaters
  • jackets/cardigans
  • if denim is allowed, stick to dark washes or a more tailored wide-legged style

Again, some workplaces would fall on the more conservative-side and others way more casual, and it may even depend on what your job is to know where that falls. Here are a few ideas to get you started!

While my last corporate job offered “Casual Fridays”, business casual dress changed for me when I changed departments. The last department I worked in didn’t really get to enjoy the “casual” aspect of it. Men might go jacket-less with their suits but that was about it. I think the only times any of us ever wore jeans was when our boss was out of town! 

Where to buy business casual clothes:

what does business casual mean

You can find the right pieces pretty much anywhere from Walmart and Target to department stores like Nordstrom, as well as high-end designers. 

A few of my go-to recommendations for affordable finds:

You’ll be able to find a lot of great options at pretty great prices. 

Starting from scratch? Here’s what I’d use to build your new business casual wardrobe:


  • You’ll need at least 2-3 pairs of pants (not cropped/capri length). Black and some other neutrals – khaki, gray, or navy are a good place to start.
  • I’d look for some straight-legged slacks (though boot-cut or wide-legged work too). I have a great pair I found for cheap at Kohl’s similar to this


  • Short sleeve, long-sleeve, sleeveless (but not thin strapped) all work. No plunging necklines or exposed midriffs, this is work, remember?
  • If you’re worried about tops being too low-cut or having an issue when you bend over, grab some thin camisoles to wear underneath. Lots of stores have them –JC Penny, Gap, etc.  


  • Lightweight sweaters that can be paired with a variety of pants or skirts. Sweaters will be easy to find come September – check out places like Target, Loft, and Walmart for simple basics that will go with lots.

Cardigans and jackets

  • Great for cold work environments and give a professional look too.
  • Look for jackets and blazers with stretch so you can move easily – ponte fabric holds its shape but also is super stretchy for movement. See my red blazer below, it’s super cute AND super comfy! I’ve also got some more options at the bottom of the post for you.

My best advice? On your first day wear something on the more formal-side of business casual and see what everyone else (especially your supervisors) wear and go off of that. 

Looking for some more style tips? We’ve got plenty!

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