There’s a reason why you’re here, and it’s not your fault: the term “business casual attire” is confusing as hell. Almost meaningless, really—especially in an age of hybrid work and post-suit office style. Even the most well-seasoned style veterans struggle to turn the concept into an actionable dress code without resorting to Powerpoint slides and laser pointers. Particularly because the “business casual,” if it means anything substantial, is almost completely context dependent on what you do for a job—and where you do it.
The Business Casual Hit List
But here’s the good news: We think there are a few universal truths you can lean into, whether you’re required to wear a two-piece Monday-Thursday or your co-workers haven’t seen your bottom half since early 2020. For starters, let’s cross off the clothes that have no business being in a real business setting: hoodies, sweats, and slides. They’re 100 percent casual, zero percent business. “Dress for the job you want” still applies. So does “dress for the job you want to keep,” while we’re at it.
On the other end of the spectrum, what about fine wool suits worn with crisply-pressed shirts, ties, and hard-bottom shoes? It’s feeling awfully stuffy in here. If you’re visiting a judge (as lawyer or defendant) or signing off on a billion-dollar merger, then sure—walk in looking like you own the place. But you’ve asked about business casual. Don’t be the guy who makes everyone else at work feel underbaked on Fridays just because someone on TikTok told you it’ll give you a “mental edge.”
Somewhere between those two poles lies the foggy, minefield-laden middle ground that had you googling “business casual attire” in the first place. It’s also where, as we’re about to demonstrate, some of menswear’s most versatile closet staples reside. We’re talking dark jeans, unstructured blazers, sweaters, and smart-looking shoes that won’t leave your dogs barking by the time you hit the 4 p.m. lull.
Your job now is to find which pieces land on the bullseye in the Venn diagram featuring your job and your sartorial vibe. Then you can steal our inspiration for assembling them into a business casual look so flawless, HR will ask if it can put your fit pic in the employee handbook. And as a bonus (metaphorical, sorry), everything you’ll find below will look just as good once you slam your laptop shut and turn on “do not disturb” mode for the weekend.
Blazers for Anywhere but the Boardroom
A business casual blazer is absolutely not the top half of a daily-driver wool suit, which should never be worn without its partner. These jackets are made from more relaxed fabrics like tweed, corduroy, and cotton, which means they’ll harmonize with almost any kind of chinos, jeans, or vibe-y pleated pants. You can turn the dial more towards “business” with a button-down shirt and tie (try oxford-cloth instead of starched poplin), but a crewneck or V-neck sweater works like a dream, too.
Each of these office-appropriate shoes can stroll effortlessly across the sartorial spectrum, from suited-and-booted to Saturdays at the bar. If you’ve got choice paralysis, know that a pair of simple black derbies is more versatile than Daniel Day Lewis—except maybe tux trousers, there’s no pair of pants they can’t elevate. Chelsea boots are similar team players, and comfy as hell. Loafers lean leisurely or playful depending on what you pair them with—but if you’re feeling a touch funkier, lace up a pair of Tyrolean shoes like the Paraboot “Michael,” which bring a grandpa seriousness to your Friday office fits.
Watches That Work Round-the-Clock
Your work watch doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive—and certainly not smart. But as a general business casual guideline, you want some metal in the mix and a dial with hands. A leather strap tends to be more comfortable if you’re a keyboard jockey, plus it looks even better as your outfit leans to the “casual” side of the scale. A steel sport watch, on the other, brings a little showmanship. Don’t sleep on a GMT (a.k.a. dual time zone) watch if the job has left you with the ability to name your top-5 skylounges.
Pants Built for the Grind
Give us your slim chinos, your joggers, your stretch pants sold via targeted Instagram ads—so we can put them in the trash. What you need are kind of tailored, not-so-formal trousers that can turn a business casual fit into a style triumph. Today’s most stylish office hours pants achieve comfort the old-school way, with the looser cuts, softly-slouching fabrics, and retro-inflected pleats that dominated corner offices for the majority of the 20th century.
Warm Sweaters for Your Cold Office
There’s something inherently business casual about a sweater. Natural fibers sourced from far-flung regions gives them sophistication, but the knit construction makes staring at a screen all day as comfortable as possible. More than that, they’re a blank canvas for both designers and whatever business casual style you’re trying to triangulate. You’ve got options from C-suite minimalist to creative-director psychedelic—plus the ability to layer them with a button-up or blazer (or both) for added points (and offsetting arctic office AC).
Button-Ups That (Might) Mean Business
The bedrock of any biz-casual rotation is a button-up shirt. A dryer-fresh Oxford button-down brings just a little professorial rumple, but if you go for poplin—the cotton used for dressier shirts—loosen it up with stripes or a plaid. And please don’t be one of those guys who wears a spread collar dress shirt or suit pants sans jacket—and definitely not together, unless you’re trying to look like an extra on Suits.
At this point, wearing jeans at work is no longer the omen of societal breakdown grandpa complained about. Still, before you go indigo, either read the room—a.k.a. look at what the execs wear on Friday—or check with your boss first. (This article does not constitute a legal defense.) If you’ve gotten the blue light to proceed with denim, stick to a pair of dark or gently-faded jeans in a classic cut. You already know jeans look good with a sweater and sneakers, but we’d rather zig and counterbalance the workwear DNA with a blazer and maybe even a tie—but worn only because you actually want to.
Sneakers That Slide Under the Radar
If your office is Air Jordan-amenable Monday through Friday, you don’t need this guide. If you’re surrounded by those monsters that look like dress shoes on top and running sneakers on the bottom, you absolutely need this guide. When you’re adding sneakers into the business casual equation, err on the side of timeless, decidedly simple styles made from dress shoe materials (i.e. leather and suede)—none of which you could potentially resell on StockX.