So you got a new job and the wardrobe requirements state “business casual.” Or perhaps you want to upgrade your everyday wear to a different standard. Regardless of the reason, kudos to you for taking a greater appreciation for your appearance! But what exactly does business casual encompass?
There’s quite a bit of confusion as to the exact definition of business casual. The reason is simple: there is no official definition! You’re probably thinking, where am I supposed to start then?! The concept varies amongst different industries, businesses and organizations, leading to many men becoming baffled and thus, unwilling to find what works because of the increase in effort involved. This lack of clarity actually works in your favor however, giving you more options to choose from and allowing the creative juices to flow! I’ll break down the bare minimum you should be incorporating while keeping a budget in consideration, and include a few (optional) additions and pairings that can help set you apart.
Simply put, a belt should be worn! In a casual setting with more capability for “trendiness,” it’s more acceptable to skip the belt. In a business casual atmosphere however, rock the belt (it helps pull everything together!)
Many men skimp on the quality of their belt, which baffles me as a belt is the one piece you’ll most likely wear MORE than any other item in your wardrobe! Invest in a few quality belts and you’re set for a spectrum of different outfits. I cycle through probably 3-4 belts at the most!
Key Factor: Versatility
It’s simple to cover all your bases with only a few belts, including black, brown and perhaps a couple of off-colors (gray, navy)
Experiment with textures and patterns, but keep things subtle to ensure versatility and usage across a wide range of outfits
In a real conservative setting, it is probably best to align your belt color to match your shoes.
If you have some flexibility, it doesn’t always have to match your shoes despite this common misconception! The belt actually looks quite nice when it complements your overall outfit rather than matching your shoes perfectly. Be bold and pair an off-brown belt with a deeper, cognac brown pair of shoes. Or, try a black belt with black pants and gray shoes. Perhaps throw in a patterned belt that complements the colors of your outfit. There are no ‘rules’ in personal style; just guidelines per say and plenty of opportunities to be creative. Risk-takers will always benefit!
Nordstrom Rack, Macy’s, JC Penney, Marshalls, TJ Maxx
Nordstrom, Suit Supply, Neiman Marcus
Key Factor: Shape
An example of a shoe style to avoid. Note the wide, bulky toe.
Avoid the stereotypical square-toed shoes that most corporate men seem to cling to (unless you’re very slender and are looking to widen your appearance, or have extremely flat feet and these are the only shoes that allow you comfort). You know what I mean – the bland, basic black pair most men walk into a store and pick out, then feel gratified they handled their “shoe shopping.” This is the exact approach we’re trying to steer away from!
Opt for a tapered-end shoe which is more visually appealing and creates a slendering effect. It doesn’t have to be extremely pointy, but the general outline of the shoe should not resemble a box!
Contrary to popular belief, black dress shoes are not the only way to go! There is a whole world of brown dress shoes out there, and it immediately sets you apart as a man who actually put some effort into his fit. Also available: gray, navy, white, beige.
Materials: Suede, Leather, and their variations
Designs: Wingtip, Brogue, Solid
Styles: Oxfords, Loafers, Chelsea boot, Monk Strap, Chukka Boot. What do all of these mean?! We’ll touch on the different shoe styles in a different article, but the take home point here is to incorporate a variety into your arsenal. Loafers and Chukka Boots tend to be on the casual side but can be dressed up with the right pair, whereas Oxfords, Chelsea’s and Monk Straps tend to have a more formal appearance. Each of these styles has a place in both everyday streetwear and business casual realms: it’s all about what you pair it with!
Left to Right: Wingtip, Chukka, Double Monk
Left to Right: Chelsea, Oxford, Loafer
Stacy Adams (promo codes and free shipping frequently available); Nordstrom Rack (1901 line, 14th & Union, etc); Lands’ End, Tommy Hilfiger, Banana Republic, Gilt Groupe, Aldo
Allen Edmonds, Nordstrom, J Crew
Socks, Socks, Socks
Mix things up by incorporating colored and patterned socks! Solid white shouldn’t exist too much in your arsenal, outside of the athletic setting. Solid black and brown is a fine option, but there are so many simple alternatives that make a big difference toward complementing your entire outfit!
Key Factor: Don’t Match!
Socks do NOT have to be the same color as your shoes and/or pants! Depending on the conservativeness of your workplace or environment, it actually gives you a chance to infuse character and personality by wearing socks that don’t match and are on the wild side, including color and pattern.
However, not all socks have to be wild to be stylish; there is a wide array of fashionable socks with conservative patterns that still stand out from your basic black, brown, or white.
Go-to patterns: Striped, Polka Dot, Alternative pattern
If you’re concerned with your socks maintaining conservativeness, invest in a range of solid-colored socks. It’s debated in the style industry whether your socks should “go with” your shoes or your pants, or neither! To me, it doesn’t necessarily matter. I’ve found success wearing socks that blend in more with both or none, so just have fun with it. The key here is to be a bit more liberal and not so concerned with making sure it all matches. Don’t be that guy! The recurring theme here is creativity pays off.
Maxton Men, Nordstrom Rack, Target, Marshall’s, Ross
Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus