Business casual basics
This summer I finally got the promotion I had been waiting for: I am finally a manager! No more horrible beige polos with black work pants. I got to go shopping to get some trendy business casual fits for work.
Only one problem — like many of you, I have never had to dress business casual before. For men, dressing business casual is much easier; suit pants, a button-up and a tie. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
For women, dressing formally but not too formal is a hard line to balance. Especially because what is considered appropriate attire is so much more vague than it is for men. When I asked what is considered appropriate all I was told was it had to cover every part of me that is covered by the male managers. Meaning from my neck to my wrists to my ankles; I had to be covered.
Easy enough except when you consider I am on a budget, and that’s the most unclear advice on earth. But if I can learn business casual, there is not a doubt in my mind that you can too.
The first thing I did was call up my girlfriends. We made a Pinterest board and we added looks that we thought fit the theme over a week, then I filtered them through what I knew wasn’t quite appropriate.
For example, I can’t/don’t want to wear skirts or jeans while on the clock. Skirts are simply not practical and a lot of times don’t have the length I need to be covered head to toe. Jeans on the other hand lean a little too hard into casual.
However, these Pinterest boards pointed me in the right direction of what I consider work staples now, and help give me direction to form my own styles and signature looks.
They are easy to find at thrift stores, come in all kinds of colors and look flattering on my body type. I have bought a high-waisted one and a striped one to add to the black and grey turtlenecks I already own.
They don’t break the bank and it’s a great way to add a little bit of elegance and class for a simple yet business-appropriate ‘fit. They look great with any color work pants and are super comfortable.
The other obvious closet must-have for me are button-ups.
If men can wear button-ups why can’t women? They are easy to style but are meant to be tucked in. They are a dime a dozen at thrift stores and I am certain there will probably be one that works for you.
Blazers are kinda like a women’s suit jacket and are the epitome of high-class fashion. They can truly take a simple white t-shirt and black pants to a whole new level. They are pricey, so if you want to have this as part of your clothing lineup, either wait for them to go on sale or thrift for them.
Styling-wise, having a black and white blazer can be super cute and are versatile. While thrifting I found a pink blazer for $20 bucks. I also found a red blazer in the back of my closet.
For combos, think of a white sweater, red blazer and black work pants. Boom. Super cute, casual outfit.
What does that even mean? It’s a pretty broad category, but I consider it to be any pair of pants that are not jeans or leggings. This is also a good item to find at thrift stores. Black work pants always seem to be available.
There is a caveat though: work pants are much harder to find fit-wise than the above items. It can also be harder to find a variety of colors, which I find vital to spice up my looks. It can also be damaging to your self-confidence to try on pair after pair of pants that don’t fit your body right.
It’s for this reason that I recommend buying pants new. It will be easier to find a variety and the right size, and there is always a sale rack available.
These pants go with everything. I always keep them at the end of my wardrobe rotation because no matter what shirt I have left, they will match. If you get nothing else from this article, know that simple black work pants are an absolute must.
For me, this is what makes or breaks a casual versus formal look. If you wear Nike Air Forces with a black blazer, white t-shirt and black pants, you still look cute, but formal. If you wear the same thing with black mary-janes, you look a lot more formal.
Other possible looks
If all of these still don’t appeal to you, there are other options. You can experiment with cardigans, sweater vests or cashmere. This is just where I started on my fashion journey based on what I owned and what I thought would suit my style.
You might find you can’t stand button-ups or that you prefer more flowing tops. I just know that this is what has worked for me, and what made me feel confident. What works for you will be different.
This is a guide, not a playbook.