Stylists and designers share 7 items that will always be business casual and 6 that absolutely aren't

Stylists and designers share 7 items that will always be business casual and 6 that absolutely aren't
  • Business Insider asked professional stylists and designers to share what "business casual" means.

  • Trousers and sweaters are work-wardrobe essentials that are always appropriate for the office. 

  • On the other hand, flip-flops and baseball caps aren't right for a professional setting. 

Most people live much farther from their offices than they did before 2020. But that doesn't mean you won't come across the sometimes dreaded, often ambiguous "business casual" dress code again.

Business Insider asked two stylists and three designers to share which clothing pieces are always considered business casual and which never will be to help demystify the term.

Here's what they said.

Trousers are a wardrobe must.

two women standing next to each other on the street wearing trousers and carrying small purses
Trousers are a good staple, and they come in different materials and colors. andersphoto/Shutterstock

Trousers — for any gender — are always appropriate for work, according to Monica Diaz, personal stylist and owner of Monica Diaz Mode.

"These can be in wool for winter and cotton in warmer weather," she told BI.

Polo shirts offer comfort and professionalism.

man wearing a pink polo shirt checking his phone on the sidewalk by a pier
Polo shirts are typically associated with golf, but they're great for business-casual events too. Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB/Shutterstock

A polo is clean-cut and nice without being overcomplicated, according to Melony Huber, founder and design director of La Peony.

"A polo can take you straight from the meeting room to the networking event or out to dinner or golf," the designer told BI.

She said it's a versatile top that should be on everyone's list when packing for a business-casual work event.

Chino pants strike a balance between formal and casual.

man wearing a long blue trench coat over a sweater and green chinos
Chinos can be a comfortable option to reach for. Gareth Abraham/Shutterstock

Chino pants are a great midway point between casual and formal, according to Patrick Kenger, personal and celebrity stylist and image consultant at Pivot.

Diaz also touted the simple pants and said they should fit well (not too oversized) and be neutral in color (black, blue, brown, or tan).

Tailored dresses are an easy and appropriate option.

woman crossing a street wearing a nice navy blue dress
Opting for a tailored dress can help you look more professional. Alina Bitta/Shutterstock

According to Kenger, tailored dresses are widely considered to be an appropriate choice for business-casual environments.

"It's a good idea to opt for styles that are not too tight or revealing, and perhaps consider pairing it with a blazer or cardigan for some added warmth and polish," he told BI.

Loafers are great for a business-casual look.

person wearing long tan coat, dark jeans, black socks, and black loafers
Finding comfortable and professional shoes can be hard, but loafers are a safe bet. Anna Zhuk/Shutterstock

Footwear can seem especially challenging when it comes to putting together a business-casual look, but Kenger said loafers are a fairly safe bet.

Opt for leather or suede options in neutral colors.

A blazer can instantly elevate your ensemble.

man wearing blue blazer looking at his phone
If you put a blazer over a T-shirt, the whole outfit looks professional. Anna Zhuk/Shutterstock

A well-fitted blazer adds a touch of class to any business-casual outfit, according to Kenger.

"Tailoring is a good move here, as is investing in a piece with a neutral color like navy, black, or charcoal gray for maximum wearability," the designer told BI.

Sweaters are always a safe bet.

woman wearing a cream sweater and brown trousers in an office
Sweaters can look polished, but they'll also keep you warm in chilly office spaces. insta_photos/Shutterstock

Sweaters have been a go-to for decades of professionals, according to Huber. Plus, they're comfortable and layer nicely.

"I would recommend a fitted sweater that is not too baggy or oversized — otherwise, it makes it feel a little too casual, like loungewear," the designer told BI.

On the other hand, flip-flops are never the right shoe choice.

person sitting in a chair wearing black and tan flip flops
Flip-flops aren't appropriate for the office, business meetings, or other business-casual events. CB 3762 Studio/Shutterstock

Casual sandals, like flip flops or slides, are never considered business casual, according to Jamie Lewin, fashion designer and founder of Vetted.

Consider more formal footwear options such as loafers or ballet flats, which can provide similar comfort levels without sacrificing style.

Graphic T-shirts can be distracting and inappropriate.

man wearing a graphic tee and jeans on the street
Stick to solid colors or simple patterns on T-shirts.

According to Britt Barkwell, designer and cofounder of T. LINE, graphic or slogan T-shirts are often considered distracting.

"You never want your clothing choices to start a conversation," she told BI.

Instead, Lewin recommended pairing a plain round or V-neck T-shirt with a blazer if you're after comfort.

Save your distressed denim for the weekend.

woman from legs down wearing ripped jeans, fish net tights, and loafers
Ripped jeans aren't professional-looking.MS_studio/Shutterstock

Oversized or distressed denim shouldn't be worn to work, according to Barkwell. Instead, reach for a more appropriate fit and wash.

Huber recommended classic dark-wash denim without any embellishments.

Ball caps and snapbacks are not appropriate for work.

back of someone's head who's wearing a white and navy baseball hat
Hats, in general, aren't needed in indoor settings — and ball caps are absolutely a no. iso100production/Shutterstock

Avoid wearing baseball caps when you're in an office environment.

"A business environment, even business casual, is the time to ditch the hats," Huber told BI.

Athleisure and workout clothes should stay in the gym.

woman crossing the street wearing a track suit and white sneakers
Athleisure is an ever-popular way to dress, but don't wear it to the office. shezimanezi/Shutterstock

According to Lewin, athleisure should never be worn to the office — save the workout-appropriate clothing for the gym or running errands.

Huber recommended finding a comfortable pair of slacks or dark jeans and replacing a sports-bra tank top with a camisole for layering.

Crop tops don't make the cut.

woman wearing a blue suit with a white tube top crop top
Even if you pair them with more professional pieces, crop tops are still too casual. Victoria Fox/Shutterstock

Crop tops may be trendy, but they're too casual for a professional setting.

Instead, Kenger recommended a tailored sleeveless blouse or a lightweight shell tank under a blazer.

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