“Business casual” has taken on a lot of different meanings, and it often depends who your audience is. Shields Meneley Partners Executive Coach Bob Ryan has been a top HR executive for over 25 years and stresses the importance of knowing your audience when you are dressing for a professional event. When going to a job interview (or your first day at a new company), it is crucial to understand what is expected when someone says “business casual.”
Ralph Lauren was once quoted as saying, “I don’t design clothes, I design dreams.” If clothes are dreams, then how you are dressed should reflect your dream job. It is hard to perform well in an interview when you are uncomfortable because you are not dressed appropriately. Even if you get past your discomfort, an otherwise excellent interview may completely be overshadowed by your outfit because it skews the interviewer’s perception of you.
Many companies are making the transition to more casual work attire, especially as younger employees come into the job market and work their way up to leadership positions. It is important to remember that the word “business” is still present in the term “business casual.” You want to look polished and professional, not like you are heading to the beach or the bar. For women, a dress with a cardigan, khakis or slacks with a blouse, or a casual skirt with a sweater are just some examples of what is appropriate for a business casual dress code. Brighter colors and bolder accessories also distinguish what is business casual from what is considered business professional. For men, a dress shirt (without a tie) under a sweater, sport coat, or corduroy blazer pairs well with khakis or slacks and dress shoes for a business casual look.
Oftentimes, the biggest dilemma you might face when dressing business casual is whether or not you can wear jeans. There is some disagreement on the subject, and some companies allow their employees to wear dark jeans with no holes or tears as part of a business casual dress code. Bob suggests that you do not wear jeans if you are unsure because not all companies consider jeans to be business casual. It is always better to be a little overdressed by wearing slacks, khakis, a skirt, or a dress instead of jeans.