WTF is Business Casual?
Whether you are starting a new job, or sick of the dress code where you work, figuring out what to wear can be the hardest part of getting out the door each day. Not only am I a sluggish morning person, but a business casual dress code can seem really boring and make it hard to get geared up for work. To me, business casual means professional, but with a lot of room for interpretation, which leaves the opportunity to showcase your personal style.
This summer, I’m working as a marketing intern at an office. I’ve got my own cubicle, a landline that I have never touched, and enough blog post assignments to last me a lifetime. I was really excited to start, but had nothing appropriate to wear. I’ve never had an office job before, and my closet consists mainly of crop tops, ripped jeans, and pjs, which I would wear every day if I could. When I told my mom about my worries, she was immediately excited to take me shopping, but I wasn’t really sure what I needed.
What even is business casual? All guys typically need is khakis and a polo, but women don’t have such clearly defined standards. I ended up ditching this label and just thinking about ways to buy the fewest things, but still create a bunch of outfits that showed both my personality and professionalism.
Turns out I had way more wearable items than I thought and only had to buy a few pieces to pull a bunch of looks together. I will say that trying to find dress pants that fit was a brutal experience, but overall, building a new section of my wardrobe was a really fun and creative process that opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of business casual.
Wear Your Hair in Ways That Make You Smile
The other day I put on a pair of slacks and a professional blouse and was immediately dreading the work day. But I didn’t even have to change my outfit to liven it up. I pulled half my hair up into a neat top knot, which isn’t a look that I usually go for. It was just silly enough to make me smile every time I took a bathroom break or just bobbled it around at my desk, but it was neat and professional at the same time.
Liven Up Your Look with Pops of Color
Regardless of how boring your work clothes are, you can show your personality by drawing attention to accessories you love. I love to go with a black dress and a bright colored headband or earrings. A sweater can also work as a pop of color. Try a cropped sweater or other outer layer to show off your style without compromising your professional edge.
Style a tighter fitting piece with a looser one
This is a rule I tend to live by in general when assembling outfits. It’s not only flattering to have contrasting shapes on the top and bottom, but it ensures professionalism. This way, you will have an easier time avoiding looks that appear either too form-fitting for work or so flowy that the outfit doesn’t appear put together. Abiding by this rule can help you make more adventurous choices too. For me, it pushed me to try out wider fitting pants, which make me feel confident and mature while making a statement. Because they were out of my comfort zone, I feel even more stylish wearing them.
Your Shoes Can Dress Up a Casual Look
Business casual is already taking a more relaxed turn, and jeans in the office are becoming more and more common. Still, there is often a gray area surrounding acceptable work attire. When in doubt, dress it up a little, and a fancier shoe is a great way to elevate a more casual look (literally), but it doesn’t have to be a heel! I like to match dressy flats with a sweater or blouse so that my jeans are sandwiched by professional pieces.
Try a Look Out of your Comfort Zone
Putting together looks for the office can be a nightmare, and it can seem like you run out of options after three days. But, if you broaden the range of styles you’re willing to try out, it’s likely that you’ll be able to pair pieces you already have for something that might turn out to be totally you and you didn’t even know it. As long as your clothes are appropriate, I think the office is a great place to try out new fashions because it’s almost like a separate identity. Your work clothes say a lot about you to your coworkers, but they don’t tell all.
Colored and Patterned Outfits are Fun
I have always found color indicative of mood and able to express style preferences. We traditionally reserve that type of expression for tops and dresses, but a bold pair of pants can be a way to break out of the routine. Pick a pattern and fit that goes with the rest of your wardrobe but you feel confident and yourself in.
Marry a Formal Piece and Something more Casual
Business-Casual. Sometimes it’s helpful to take that literally and wear a blazer with a pair of jeans. It’s empowering to wear full-on business pieces and freeing to be able to express your fashion sense through more casual pants with fewer rules.
Include an Accent that Reminds you of Anything BUT the Office
Whether a silly pair of socks, or a sentimental piece of jewelry, adding a subtle bit of pizazz to your look can help get you through a boring day or remind you to bring all that personality to every task you do. Your company hired YOU, and your unique experiences and perspectives are valuable assets that your wardrobe can remind you to use.
You’ve Got This
Business casual is vague, which is completely annoying and potentially scary, so you should always err on the professional side, especially when you are just starting out. However, professional doesn’t have to mean boring. You’re at work to be productive, and everyone is most productive (or at least I am) when they feel confident about the way their personality is coming across.
For me, shopping for basics and accessories at H&M and Amazon (or equivalents) helped me fill the gaps in my closet. I would also recommend investing in one or two pieces that make you feel special, and most like yourself. For example, I picked up a pair of wide leg pants from MadeWell that feel great on and make me feel trendy as heck (who knows if I actually am, but whatever! I feel good, and that’s what matters). Let’s redefine dressing for success to reach across a variety of fashion-senses and inspire creativity by showcasing our personalities with our wardrobe choices.