Navigating the NEW Business Casual
And no, we don’t just mean jeans on Friday.
Sneakers, jeans, and the perfect black tee no longer live in the causal Friday, weekend wear section of your wardrobe. They are now staples in any stylishly dressed professional’s Monday through Thursday attire. Blame it on large tech companies, avocado eating millennials, or a myriad of other reasons, but whether you like it or not, the trend is here to stay. It’s Business Casual, baby! Just as in any business, you can adapt and survive, or you can keep your power ties and pinstripes and enjoy an early retirement! Down with the patriarchy, right? Sadly, there are many professions that are dominated by the “Old Boy’s Club” so to all our friends at firms like PwC, Bain & Co, and McKinsey…you can sit this one out! You will be stuck in your suits until well after your grandchildren join the workforce.
Personally, I love the new business casual dress code. I live my life in a constant business casual state of mind, but I must admit it took years of finesse to achieve that swag. Business Casual is difficult to define because it isn’t a standard, it’s an idea. It varies from office to office and more importantly, situation to situation. If you work in a creative field you can pull off a pair of jeans, a basic black tee, and throw on some chucks to see a client. On the other hand, if you work in sales you’d want to throw on a blazer before your client throws you out of their office. In addition to job category, you also have to think about what your day is going to entail. For instance, “internal meeting day” Business Casual should be completely different than, “pitch to investors” Business Casual. Yes ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, you CAN have a pitch meeting in jeans!
I know what you’re thinking ”Hasn’t business casual been around for a while?” It’s true, business casual is not a new concept, but it wasn’t until recent years that minimalist sneakers and textured t-shirts became widely accepted and encouraged. Before this era, business casual was just another way of saying jeans at the office, now it’s a way of life! I remember sitting in my business classes with professors explaining to me that business casual was khakis, a button-down, dress shoes, and maybe even a tie and jacket. While this is a form of business casual, (and in fact, one that I am currently rocking), it’s not what people think when they think business casual.
Above all, business casual should be about having the confidence to wear what you want. Within a few rules, of course! Jeans, tees, and sneaks, we are going to break down all the rules one by one. But first, let’s talk about why this is happening now.
We’ve seen this trend adapted by younger companies and it has to do a lot with work-life balance, overall comfortability, and employee confidence. As a man who enjoys a good suit, I can confidently say that no one wants to wear one every day. Employees need to be able to dress in such a way that they will be comfortable for the entire day. If they have meetings all morning, a lunch date, office time, and then a networking event later, they need an outfit that will suit their needs the whole day.
But without further ado, let’s get into it!
WASH, WASH, WASH. And I don’t mean the state of your stanky clothes! But seriously, the wash of your jeans matter! The wash you want for a clean, business casual look should be a dark wash; meaning they have higher concentrations of indigo dye. Dark Wash jeans accomplish different style goals than light wash jeans. Don’t get me wrong I love a good light wash as much as the next person, but they have no place in your business casual style. As for acid washed, don’t even get me started on that abomination.
Not all jeans are created equal. Besides the wash, there are other factors that you need to keep in mind when selecting your next pair of business casual jeans. Sadly, even though we love them, ripped jeans have no place in a business casual wardrobe. This is non-negotiable and will never change. There is nothing worse than trying to score a new client while looking like you were just mauled by a tiger. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy, girl, or gender fluid, don’t do it.
Lastly, my final tip for work appropriate jeans is to make sure they fit AND taper properly. They should be hugging your body so well that your jeans and your butt are besties. Please note, I said hugging, not smothering each other and rolling together like two horny high school kids on a love seat. Don’t have diaper butt, aka don’t have enough room for the entire cast of Family Matters to hide in the excess space. And don’t, for the love of god, wear mom OR dad jeans.
Now that we have discussed jeans, let’s talk about the top half of your body. While I strongly advocate for polos and sports shirts, right now we are going to talk about the beloved tee shirt. Why you may ask? Because this is where everyone gets hung up and confused. There are an incredible amount of different styles of t-shirts to choose from. Inherently, t-shirts are causal and meant to be beaten up, however, the kind you wear to work should only be fit and taut for the purpose of hanging perfectly on your body. An important part of wearing t-shirts at work is how you take care of them. It is important to keep your work t-shirts in good condition by washing them meticulously and making sure there aren’t any holes or rips. You need to have flawless t-shirts, and no, Hanes t-shirts from the pack won’t do.
Let talk about the most common mistakes people make when wearing T-shirts in the business casual workplace.
The ONLY branded items you should be wearing at work are your own companies. Logoed company t-shirts are the only exception to this rule (make sure to never cover up the company logo). If it has any other kind of logo or graphic, save it for your adventures outside of work!
Tees that don’t fit.
T-shirts are not as forgiving as dress shirts and blouses; they have to fit. Keep the shoulders square, make sure they hug your torso and don’t pull. If there is any space between the top of your pants and bottom of your shirt…. lets just not.
Old t-shirts tell a story and often revitalize a part of you that you thought was dead, but save that for the weekend. The seams of your shirts should be intact and not unraveling. There should be no discoloration (Nothing is worse than the not-so-black, black tee). The only holes that it should have are for your head and torso. Even if it’s Yeezy, visible holes are a no go.
Admittedly, there are a lot of no-nos to rocking a t-shirt but don’t let that discourage you! In fact, if you remember those three rules, you’re good!
While the high fashion world is clamoring for the chunky sneaker trend, your “dad shoes” have no place in the work world. In fact, if you can run in them, they don’t belong. Sneakers in the workplace are the hallmark of the new business casual style, but often times this is where people make the most mistakes. When I say sneakers I’m not talking about Nike or New Balance. I’m talking about a pair of fashion sneakers with a slim profile, contrasting sole, and crafted of the highest quality. That’s a lot of features… let me break it down for you.
What I am referring to here is the how the side profile of the shoe pairs with the break or hem on your pants. Slimer profile shoes act as an extension of your pants. What you are looking for is a sneaker that meets right at the break of the pant leg or hits right under the hem.
These details are crucial in pulling off the sneaker look. You see, the more casual you dress the more cohesive your outfit needs to look. There is no room in professional attire for an awkward pant break or bulging around the ankle. Think of it this way: when you dress more casual “traditional” business counterparts will look for any reason to judge your outfit. When you make a mistake here it will be sure to come up on their radar.
We can think about this in two ways; the sole contrasting the shoe or the sole contrasting the outfit.
We see the former more often in today’s fashion trends. For instance, black shoes with a white sole. The most common pairing seen today is the white sole with the non-white shoe.
On the other hand, you can also play around with the idea of the sole contrasting the outfit. For example, let’s say you have on all blue, you can pair a sick pair of blue suede sneakers with a brown sole and be ready to impress.
If you don’t have a pair of shoes that match that description in your closet right now, stop what you’re doing and go shopping! Just remember to keep that white sole white and clean.
Well, there you have it, folks. Now you are ready to go out into that crazy world and rock those meetings.
Keep things casual, Business Casual.