Defining Business Casual

By Mark MacDonald


Otherwise known as ‘smart casual’, the definition of this popular dress code is ambiguous at best. Generally understood as meaning ‘informal business attire’, clothing such as denim jeans, polo shirts and khakis could all qualify under the code, but then again, get it wrong and you might end up under-dressed and slightly embarrassed. Here’s a helpful guide to get ‘business casual’ right:

To Jean or not to Jean

Denim jeans are often worn in ‘business casual’ circumstances, but that doesn’t mean they are accepted across-the-board. Though common in cities like Seattle and Denver, wearing jeans at a ‘business casual’ event in England is likely to be seen as faux-pas. If you do decide to wear jeans, dark blue or black ones are your best bet to maintain a professional look. To be safe, avoid jeans altogether and stick with dress pants or khakis, as many consider ‘no jeans’ to be one of the few consistent rules in defining ‘business casual’.

Leave your Tie at Home

One of the very few things most people can agree on, when determining what qualifies as ‘business casual’, is that a tie is unnecessary. Give your neck a break and take advantage of this. A collared shirt is certainly still a must, and you would do well to wear a suit jacket or sports jacket on top, but feel free to let your collar loose when and enjoy the extra comfort when you can. Undo the top one or two buttons to give off a more relaxed look, but make sure you don’t go far enough that your undershirt is visible.


Never leave home without a good pair of dress shoes. Even on casual Fridays

Never leave home without a good pair of dress shoes. Even on casual Fridays

The temptation might be there to rock your Chuck T’s to work on a casual Friday, but doing so is likely to come at the expense of looking appropriate. Dress shoes, be them black or brown should always be worn when attending a ‘business casual’ event. Never, for any reason, wear sandals or loafers.

Don’t Risk the Polo

Some might argue that wearing a polo shirt with a nice pair of khakis is perfectly justifiable under the ‘business casual’ dress code, but the move is precarious-unless you’re at a golf course that is. Stick with a dress shirt and you won’t risk looking under-dressed and unprofessional. As James Wilson of the Business Insider writes: “Polo shirts should be avoided at all costs.”

Suit/Sports Jacket a Must


The word “business” implies a suit or sports jacket

Whether you wear khakis or dress pants, you should always sport a collared shirt with a suit or sports jacket when a ‘business casual’ dress code is in effect. The word ‘business’ more or less implies it. There is a fair amount of flexibility here, however, as your pants need not match the jacket you’re wearing. A grey sports jacket matched with a white collared shirt and tanned khakis, for example, is widely accepted as an appropriate look and subtle patterns such as herringbone can give you a relaxed, yet professional look. Try to stay away from those jackets you picked up at the vintage store though-anything with elbow patches should be saved for another outing.

Though the specific definition and qualifications of ‘business casual’ may be ambiguous, sticking to the standard collared shirt-suit jacket-dress pants-nice shoes ensemble will mean you’ll never get it wrong. And remember, being slightly over-dressed is always better than the opposite.