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The Difference Between Business Casual and Business Attire

Business Attire vs. Business Casual Attire

By

Business woman waiting
David Woolley

When interviewing for a professional position at a traditional company, it's always important to dress professionally and to dress in your best business attire, regardless of the dress code of the organization. For other more casual workplaces, business casual attire is more appropriate.

Dress Appropriately for Your Workplace

After you have accepted the job offer, you may be working in an environment where business casual or just plain casual is appropriate workplace attire. If you're not sure what you should wear, ask. There is no better way to make a bad impression than to show up for your first day of work standing out like a sore thumb because you're not dressed correctly.

Business Attire vs. Business Casual Attire

One reason that it's important to ask, is that you could have interviewed on a dress-down work day, so, don't assume that the way you see people dressed is how you should dress on the job.

Another, is that business casual can mean different things to different employers. There is no strict definition of the phrase. In some cases, business casual attire means pressed khakis and a button-down long-sleeved shirt. To other companies, it might mean dress jeans and a polo shirt. In general, the following is appropriate attire for interviewing and for dressing in business casual.

Business Attire for Interviews

Women

  • Solid color, conservative suit with coordinated blouse, moderate shoes, tan or light pantyhose, limited jewelry
  • Neat, professional hairstyle, manicured nails, light make-up, little or no perfume
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Here are examples of interview clothes for women:

Men
  • Solid color, conservative suit, long sleeve shirt, conservative tie, dark socks, professional shoes
  • Neat hairstyle, trimmed nails, little or no cologne or after shave
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Here are examples of interview clothes for men:

Business Casual Attire

Women

  • Khaki, corduroy, twill or cotton pants or skirts, neatly pressed
  • Sweaters, twinsets, cardigans, polo/knit shirts
  • Solid colors work better than bright patterns

Men

  • Khaki, gabardine or cotton pants, neatly pressed
  • Cotton long-sleeved button-down shirts, pressed, polo shirts or knit shirts with a collar
  • Sweaters
  • Leather shoes and belt
  • Tie optional

What Not to Wear

Regardless of gender, when the dress code is business casual it's not appropriate to wear your favorite old t-shirt, ripped jeans and antique sneakers. Keep in mind the "business" part of business casual, and leave your old comfortable clothes at home.

Quality Over Quantity

One important point to remember, when dressing in either business or business casual attire is that quality is much more important than quantity. One classic bracelet or ring, for example, will impress your interviewer or employer more than an armful of bangles or rings on every finger. In the same vein, a good quality leather portfolio will impress more than a loud, colorful bag and four-inch spiked heels won't impress your interviewer like traditional flats would.

Regardless of whether you are dressing for a job interview or to go to work, remember that appearances do matter. Prospective (and current) employers may think less of you if you don't dress appropriately and it's always important to make the best impression, whether looking for work or hoping for a promotion.

Read More: How to Dress for a Job Interview | What to Wear to Work

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