How Women Can Dress in Workplace Business Casual - dummies

How Women Can Dress in Workplace Business Casual

By Jill Martin, Pierre A. Lehu

With business casual, you have the freedom to be a little more stylish and a lot less conservative. Instead of the traditional business suits, you can wear pants, blouses, skirts, and dresses. These selections make business casual more comfortable and give you the opportunity to inject some more of your personal style.

If you’re the slightest bit confused about what to wear as far as business casual, take a cue from the men in your office. If they’re wearing khakis and polo shirts, you can use that as the standard, even though you don’t want to wear exactly that. Your goal is to distinguish yourself in a way that makes you look both stylish and feminine.

So instead of khakis, try sharp wool gabardine slacks or a pair of linen pants, and instead of a polo shirt, put on something more fitted that shows your curves without revealing any extra skin. Of course, if you do decide to wear khakis and a polo shirt (a preppy look), make sure the fit on each is a 10: The shirt should be fitted and in a feminine color (pink or another soft pastel), and the khakis can be capri length to show off your legs.

Don’t forget a great pair of shoes (ballet flats are always chic yet comfortable). Figure 10-1 shows how a pair of khaki pants and ballet flats can be a stylish yet comfortable outfit for work.

Khaki pants and ballet flats can be a stylish, comfortable work outfit.
Khaki pants and ballet flats can be a stylish, comfortable work outfit.

Dressing casual: Some challenges to getting it right

Business casual may be one of the more common forms of dress these days, but with no exact definition, getting dressed in the morning can be complicated. When you just had to choose from one of the five suits you owned, the limitation made choosing your outfit for the day a lot easier (shopping was a lot easier, too). Now that you have a lot more options (pants, blouses, skirts, and more), the selection process can be tricky.

Here are some tips to help you adapt your business casual wardrobe when the need (or desire) arises:

  • Keep a few items in your office to throw on when you need to. These items include a cardigan of neutral color and/or a scarf. Suppose you wear something to the office that’s a little on the edgier side and you have a meeting with a client late in the day and need to tone it down. You can throw on the sweater or tie the scarf around your neck for a more conservative look.

    Keep a perfect pair of black pumps and a perfect pair of black flats at work, too. You’ll be glad you have the flats if your feet are killing you, and if last minute plans come up, you can dress up your outfit with the black heels.

  • Even if your place of work doesn’t require you to dress formally, show up decked out from time to time. You’ll feel great when people say “Wow, you look nice today!” It also helps people see you in a different light, which never hurts. And when people ask why the change (which you know some inevitably will), just say with confidence, “I felt like getting dressed up today.”

  • You can be playful, but make sure it doesn’t turn from playful to too sexy. If you’re wearing a tight skirt that rides up when you sit and you’re in a business meeting, part of you will constantly worry about how much of your legs are showing instead of the subject matter being discussed. While you’re tugging at your skirt, you could be missing an important point, and others in the room may notice that you’re distracted. Plus any type of fidgeting often can be misinterpreted as anxiety or lack of preparedness. Why chance it?

    Adding flair to business casual.
    Adding flair to business casual.

Accessorizing your business casual outfit to add flair

Aside from wearing more comfortable clothing, business casual dress is an opportunity to wear clothes with more flair. A scarf, earrings, and a nice pair of sandals can totally transform your work look.

Accessories can be a quick fix when trying to make an outfit pop. If you’re wearing a simple outfit, you can use statement jewelry to express your personal style. A chunky necklace or chandelier earrings can dress up any outfit, but don’t wear both — choose one or the other!

Also don’t underestimate the power of a belt. An outfit that is simple or even a little roomy around the midsection can be totally transformed with a great belt. Play around with it. If you do go the belt route, make sure you don’t over accessorize. Earrings or a bracelet (or even a small necklace) is fine. But just one is likely enough!