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Perhaps over the past few years, you’ve adjusted to a more casual, cozy way of dressing as you work from home – and slowly return into the world at large. But that’s the crux of it: As you head back to the office, dressing in business casual style might feel a bit odd or out of sorts.
Heck, perhaps even in the “before times, you struggled with how to dress business casual. Fear not, because this is where WERD enters the game to deliver the best business casual basics and know-how for your 9-to-5 grind (and beyond).
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Business casual is neither too stuffy or formal, nor too laidback – think of it like a middle ground, one that works at a large majority of offices these days.
It’s crisp, but not as refined as wearing a suit, nor is it as relaxed as wearing lounge pants and a merino T-shirt on the weekend.
Dressing business casual these days means you’re mixing and matching tried-and-true menswear staples with a decidedly dressy (but still casual!) approach.
To name but one example: You’ve probably got a navy suit in your wardrobe. Replace that suit jacket with a more casual sport coat, swap out your starched white dress shirt for a more easygoing Oxford shirt, and trade in your suit trousers for tan chinos. Boom: You’ve just gained but one example of how to dress business casual.
Go with more formal wear (like a sharp suit, or even a suit sans tie) for big presentations, for instance, but you should be able to stick with business casual men’s style picks most of the rest of the week. When in doubt (as in, dressing for a wedding or another formal event), try to follow the provided dress code.
The rest of the time? Business casual style is your best friend, and this is our guide on how to wear it well.
Jump to a category…
Below the formal tuxedo or a matching suit jacket and trousers sits the sport coat. So named because this more casual style of jacket originally was made from more rugged fabric and worn for sporting pursuits like hunting, the sport coat today (or blazer) is made to be worn with contrasting trousers, jeans or chinos, and features less construction than a suit jacket.
Business casual sport coats and blazers come in a variety of fabrics, like wool blends or cotton stretch fabrics – these are also more laidback than suit jackets, and more comfortable to wear as a result.
Pay attention to relaxed details like patch pockets or a lack of shoulder padding, and look for a color you can wear frequently, like dark grey, charcoal or navy.
Don’t do this:Be sure to avoid wearing your suit jacket as a blazer – the suit jacket will look odd when worn with jeans, while the right blazer wears easily with chinos or denim.
The handsome herringbone pattern makes this a classic take on the sport coat, while the modern fit is flattering and neither too slim nor too tight.
The Carry-On Jacket is the epitome of the business casual blazer. It’s unlined for extreme ease of movement and comfort, the soft cotton fabric makes it easy to wear a shirt or multiple layers underneath, and the patch pockets give it an old-school feel.
This knit blazer might be the best of the bunch when it comes to business casual blazers. Textured knit stretch fabric feels like wearing a sweatshirt with the polish of a blazer, while the lack of shoulder padding helps this jacket feel extra-casual (but not too casual).
Your shirt is yet another key category that can make or break your business casual wardrobe.
We mentioned that dressier items like suits are best worn with a crisp, ironed dress shirt, usually made out of a more fine, thinner dress shirt fabric. So, when going with the best picks for a business casual wardrobe, choose a shirt that’s, well, more casual.
We appreciate the sturdy-yet-soft nature of the Oxford shirt (named for the Oxford cloth used in original British versions). The style features a chest pocket, a detail not found on most dress shirts, and also includes a visible buttondown collar – this helps the collar hold its shape and makes it easier to wear unbuttoned, without a tie.
What about a tie?
If you do opt for a tie, ensure you’re sticking with something more textured and again, casual – old-school knit ties are a cool business casual style move.
If you’re ditching the blazer and Oxford shirt, opt for a well-fitting polo.
A polo in a soft cotton fabric breathes easily, showcases your arms and shoulders, and delivers style that’s more polished than just wearing a T-shirt (which is a no-no at most offices any way). Plus, long-sleeve options feel and look more like a sweater for the colder months. Of course, you can wear your polo under a sport coat if you so choose, too.
Look up an Oxford shirt in the dictionary, and this timeless option might be what you’d find in the definition – the washed fabric is laidback and soft to the touch, and the details (from the chest pocket to the buttondown collar) are truly timeless.
On the polo front, it’s tough to top the luxe cashmere fabric and relaxed-but-sharp long-sleeve design offered up here by Buck Mason. This is about as dressy (yet versatile) a polo as it gets, so wear it accordingly with chinos or even dark blue jeans.
When shopping for the best business casual shirts, leave it to the pros – Brooks Brothers helped bring the Oxford shirt to the masses, and they still make an excellent, classic-fitting option today.
Business casual wardrobe selections are terrific because they give you so much leeway to layer and dress in interesting ways. For chilly fall and winter days, a well-made sweater can stand in for your blazer with ease.
Look for classic crew neck or V-neck designs, the kind you can layer over that trusty Oxford shirt, for instance, and opt for soft cotton or cotton stretch (or merino) blends in seasonally friendly shades. Plus, a neutral sweater in navy, tan or grey pairs up with just as many essentials as your trusty sportcoat.
Don’t do this:Avoid the type of crewneck sweatshirt you’d wear to the gym or on a casual morning at home.
Those sweatshirts are too casual for the office, but the right sweater in a fashionable color wears more than stylishly with chinos or corduroy pants (or, yes, your trusty dark blue jeans – more on those in a second).
Everlane’s designs are no-fuss and no-nonsense, made transparently and made to be mixed and matched with other favorites, and it helps that this sweater is designed to remain breathable even when layered up.
Searching for a soft cashmere sweater that, while splurge-worthy, is still a steal for the high-quality fabric? Head to Wills, where you’ll find stylish colors and expertly crafted designs on offer as designed by Huckberry. Wear it with your new white Oxford shirt for good measure.
J.Crew is back in a big way, as if the brand ever left, but the brand still excels at making tried-and-true classics for guys. This timeless sweater offers room to layer while framing the face, thanks to the crewneck design, and the range of colors is something else.
No wardrobe filled with the best picks for the perfect business casual wardrobe should overlook your pants, since they’re often what makes or breaks a look. Granted, you can sometimes wear suit trousers with business casual looks (like a cashmere sweater atop an Oxford shirt), but let’s go with pants that truly fit the business casual mode.
Here, the classic chino – with a five-pocket design and sturdy-yet-soft cotton twill fabric (sometimes garment-dyed for texture and often made with stretch) is your best friend. The best chinos work with a blazer and buttondown, or with a merino tee-plus-blazer combination. You can even dress them down on the weekends with a henley and rugged shawl cardigan.
Dark, well-fitting jeans can also work in business casual settings, provided the jeans feature minimal fading or added details (think of them as “dressy” jeans, and wear them with your soft-shouldered navy blazer).
Don’t do this:Avoid overly formal trousers like suit pants, and make sure both your chinos and denim fit well (a slim-straight cut works well on most guys).
Huckberry designed these pants to be worn just about every day, hence the name, and between the tailored-yet-comfortable fit options and the durable-yet-soft fabric, it’s not hard to see why they’re an all-time bestseller for the retailer. You’ll certainly want more than one pair, and they wear well with a blazer or an untucked Oxford shirt.
When in doubt, opt for well-fitting chinos from a brand you can trust, in a fit that’s classic but not too relaxed. A straight-fit design in a rich color like a dark tan or olive is going to look great on most guys, in most seasons (and in most offices).
If you want a middle-of-the-road design from a trusted retailer made with long-lasting quality in mind, L.L. Bean is precisely the brand to shop. Note the use of comfortable stretch fabric and the tried-and-true fit.
We talk often about the details making the difference with an outfit, particularly as you dress to head back to the office, so make sure your ensemble is on-point from head-to-toe. For starters, opt for socks that you wouldn’t wear to the gym – no athletic socks with these looks, folks.
We favor a mix of either neutral or subtly patterned socks in soft fabrics like cotton or merino wool (for moisture-wicking and anti-microbial properties), and the more wearable, the better.
Solid-color dress socks work well with most looks, and that’s the case if you go with navy, dark grey or charcoal socks (which can be worn with black or brown dress shoes, dress boots or even crisp, dressy leather sneakers). Some say your socks should match your trousers, but in our book, it’s perfectly fine to wear, say, navy socks with dark khaki chinos and tan dress shoes, for example.
Gold Toe makes it easy to hit all the right marks, using comfortable, soft mercerized cotton and nylon for both durability and a smooth feel on your foot, and the brand’s signature reinforced heel and toe are also markers of top-notch design.
For the guy that wants maximum coverage, over-the-calf dress socks are the way to go, and you might say that nobody does it better than the aptly named sock purveyors at Boardroom Socks. The USA-made construction is a mark of premium quality, while plentiful color options should suit every palette and style.
What’s the first thing people notice about your outfit? Sure, it might be your watch or your blazer, but when the first step literally makes a first impression, it’s all about the best business casual shoes for the office. There are plenty of casual shoes you could rock these days, but you might commonly see the classic Oxford shoe.
This is a lace-up dress shoe (black is dressier, dark brown or tan works well for business casual), sometimes with a captoe design for a bit of visual interest. Think of them like your workhorse business casual shoes for most times of year. In the warmer months, the slip-on loafer, with a sleek toe and a design that allows you to show off some ankle, can be a nice change of pace from Oxford shoes.
And best of all is the fact that you can get much of the same refined-yet-versatile style in the brisk fall and winter months with Chelsea boots. Elastic side gores make it easy to step into these boots, the stacked heel and slim profile are perfectly dressy yet acceptable with chinos or denim, and they often come in handsome shades of leather to suit every style.
Don’t do this:When selecting your footwear of choice, avoid athletic sneakers or worn-out work boots.
Dressing in business casual style gives you a bit of leeway in your footwear selection. Sure, reliable Chelsea boots or even finely polished leather dress boots are nice options to have in your rotation, but a pair of sturdy-yet-comfortable Oxford dress shoes are your best bet when wearing stretch chinos or blue jeans. These low-profile, modern leather dress shoes from Amberjack boast remarkable comfort (we should know – we’ve tried them) and the same technology that makes your sneakers so springy and comfortable. They’re free from too much ornate detailing and come in rich, versatile leather colors like Chestnut – perfect for plenty of different business casual wardrobe pairings.
The Chelsea boot is a statement-making set of footwear. Beckett Simonon’s Bolton Chelsea Boots are made to rise to the occasion, with Italian leather and an expertly crafted design that’s all about tailored refinement.
It doesn’t get more timeless than the penny loafer, and you might say that no one does it better than G.H. Bass & Co., one of the brands that helped bring the style to the forefront. These loafers are still made much the same way, with rich leather that tends to look even better when polished to a nice shine.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Your accessories are going to set your outfit apart from the pack, and the belt is essential when wearing an Oxford shirt and chinos (among other business casual combinations). Your belt is going to be front and center, so make sure your selection is a belt made with a slimmer, more dressy design (versus a thick, sturdy leather belt you’d wear with canvas work pants).
Pay close attention to your dress shoes – your belt should closely (or exactly!) match the shade of leather of your shoes, and the color scheme should work well with your pants.
If you’re wearing navy chinos, a tan belt and tan dress shoes, or a dark brown belt and dark brown dress shoes, are a natural pairing (to name but one combination).
Don’t do this:Avoid belts made from synthetic material (like tactical belts) or belts made from sturdy yet less formal materials like cotton canvas. A good, well-made leather belt will last for years, just like your favorite dress shoes or boots.
Why buy two belts when just one will do? Ted Baker brings you the most stylish reversible belt around, letting you choose between black and brown according to the watch and shoes you’ve chosen for the day. The mixture of bovine and bonded leather ensures excellent durability without making the belt too heavy or cumbersome.
Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: There are bags made for the gym, bags made to haul tools for yard work and outdoor projects, and bags made for business casual settings. Rarely do you find one that checks all the proper boxes, but a good rule of thumb is to find a bag made from sturdy, stylish materials (like leather, canvas or even a durable nylon).
Then, ensure that bag can haul your office essentials, like your laptop or iPad, a notebook, documents, a pen, a charger and perhaps even a water bottle. Messenger bags or briefcase-style bags deliver the utility you need while resting easily on your shoulder and fitting compactly beneath your desk, underneath a train seat or at a conference table.
Put all of these essentials together, and you’re well on your way to developing what we think might be the perfect business casual wardrobe.
Crafted from chestnut-colored vegetable-tanned leather, this messenger is a masterpiece of craftsmanship from Leon, also known as the “leather capital of Mexico”. Organization is made easy thanks to its many pockets: an exterior pocket sized for documents and folders, an interior padded laptop pocket, a water bottle holder pocket, and smaller organization pockets for compact items.
You’ve never felt smoother, softer, more buttery leather, and you’ll fall instantly in love with this sleek, sturdy briefcase by Shinola. The leather will develop a patina and grow truly unique with years of use, but it will be highly resistant to scuffs, abrasions, and wear. Be warned, though: it’s only lightly treated, so there is a risk of damage if exposed to water or stains (coffee, soda, juice, food, etc.). However, for men who want to look their best at the office and around town, you can’t beat this briefcase.
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