Business casual vs. business professional: How to dress for the office
Comparing business casual attire to business professional
As many employees begin to return to work (at least a few days a week) or venture into the office for the first time, decoding the office dress code can be tricky. Most offices simply delineate between business casual and business professional and leave the rest up to discretion.
While ambiguous dress codes can offer a little more freedom, they can leave employees confused regarding appropriate attire. The main difference between business casual and business professional comes down to mixed professional clothing versus a full suit, both for men and women.
Business casual attire
The definition of business casual typically varies widely from company to company. There’s a lot of room for interpretation with this type of dress, so you’ll want to pick up on context clues and ask any contacts you have at the company what they typically wear. For example, business casual might be inclusive of denim at some companies but not at others. A fool-proof formula for business casual is a blazer and top paired with a knee-length skirt or dress for women and sport coat, button-up shirt and slacks for men.
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Business casual pros
One of the more obvious pros of business casual attire is that it tends to offer more flexibility. If your office leans on the more laid-back side, you might be able to get away with more edgy or casual pieces. With shoes, for example, you could pair your outfit with a nice pair of leather sneakers or simple sandals. When sporting a business casual look, it’s appropriate to add some accessories for interest.
Business casual cons
Because a business casual dress code can be ambiguous, it’s difficult to decipher at times. Some workplaces that subscribe to this dress code are still on the more formal side and expect a more polished look, while others embody a more “anything goes” attitude. If you’re new to a job and not sure where your company falls on the business casual spectrum, opting for a nice blazer is a safe bet. Once you get a better feel for the attitude toward dress code, you can dress it up or down accordingly.
Best business casual attire
A staple pair of white jeans is a great business casual staple for women. They’re extremely versatile, a bit more elevated than blue jeans, and (contrary to popular belief) can be worn year-round. A black blazer is another women’s business casual nice-to-have. This is another piece that can be worn throughout all the seasons and styled in countless ways.
For men seeking business casual attire, try a sport coat. It’s a more casual alternative to a full suit and can be worn in a few different ways. A wrinkle-resistant button down is another wardrobe essential for men, both because it looks sharp and put-together and also because of the added no-ironing perk.
Business professional attire
You can think of business professional as a step above business casual in terms of formality. Women abiding by this dress code can expect to sport a blazer and a dress, or a button down shirt and trousers or a skirt. Men dressing in the business professional style typically wear a dark colored suit with a tie and dress shoes.
Business professional pros
One of the advantages of business professional is that it's easier to decipher than business casual. There is little to no ambiguity regarding what is and is not appropriate to wear at work. In addition, the neutral color palette and simplicity of a business professional wardrobe makes it easier to put outfits together and mix and match different pieces.
Business professional cons
As for the disadvantages, business professional clothing can be pricey – men’s and women’s suits are typically quite expensive. It’s also rare to find a suit that fits well off the rack. Most people incur an additional fee when suit shopping to get their suits fitted correctly. In addition, there’s less flexibility and room for expression with this dress code. While business casual allows for accessories and the potential for some brighter colors, business professional typically call for darker neutrals and very minimal accessories.
Best business professional attire
For women, a black pantsuit is a good place to start with a business professional wardrobe. While the suit can obviously be worn as a set, the pieces can also be worn as a separate. You can pair the blazer with a dress, swap out the pants for a skirt, or pair the pants with a different shirt/blazer combination. A classic leather tote is also a work wardrobe staple. Preferably, you’ll find one that’s large enough to stash your laptop and other workday essentials.
Should you get business casual or business professional attire?
The bottom line with business attire is that you ultimately have to follow your company’s dress code. Unless you are self-employed or still enjoying the benefits of a more laid-back work-from-home environment, your work wardrobe is likely at the mercy of someone else’s dress code mandate.
Mallory Pitts is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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