Ask Belle: In the Business of Casual
Feb 18, 2010
I was wondering if you would would be willing to post some wardrobe advice if you had some time and needed a blog topic. I have a conference for work next week in South Beach, Florida. The attire is supposedly “business casual” for 3 days of conferneces and social events and such. As I’ve never had the opportunity to attend a conference such as this before, I’m a little at a loss as to when outfits change take place or if they even do from one event to another. AND, as you well know, business casual has a variety of definitions and I’m pretty sure the idea behind business casual in Wyoming is not the same as business casual in New York. I would really prefer not to look like the “girl from the sticks” if I can avoid it.
Fashionistas (and fans of Mad Men) often wonder when American style went so horribly awry. How did we go from perfectly coiffed and pressed in three piece suits and wiggle dresses of the 1960s to the schlubby Uggs and Capris of today?
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, many employers turned off the air conditioning to save money and the lack of cool air made working in professional attire uncomfortable if not impossible. I mean, can you imagine wearing a suit in D.C., in July, without the benefit of AC? As a result, businesses were forced to slacken their dress codes and trade their ties and trousers for button-ups and khakis. It’s been downhill ever since.
So if you ever want to blame someone for the hideous crap your co-workers wear to work, just remember, it’s all OPEC’s fault. But I digress, the question on the floor is how to perfect “business casual.”
The basics of a business casual wardrobe are as follows: light wool trousers, knee length skirts, dress khakis, cardigans, non-suit jackets and casual dresses of an appropriate style. Jeans are highly discouraged. As for footwear, flats are good, flip-flop/casual sandals are forbidden, and heels should be no more than 2.5 to 3 inches if you just can’t give them up. Maybe it’s better if I show you.
Two quick notes: You’re going to Florida so, yay for warm weather. And two, since it’s a conference with people from all over, most female attendees will probably dressed in capris. And we all know my feelings on capris.
For this look, I took a casual cotton dress and paired it with a red belt and flat. The belt gives the loose fitting dress structure and the flats keeps it casual. You could also do a neutral sling back or an open toed flat in beige or cream.
If a dress just isn’t your thing, then you can try to recreate Zoe Saldana’s David Letterman outfit for a look that is casual and chic.
Image courtesy of the Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style.
To recreate this look, you will need a charcoal blazer with a hint of sheen, a grey tee, a black scarf, white skinny jeans (trousers, if your prefer), and a pair of round toed black shoes (pumps or wedges would both be cute). Also, these white jeans are only permitted because the conference is in Florida. Anywhere with snow on the ground, and it’s just too damn soon.
The key to creating a business casual look that is chic and appropriate is the accessories. Twill pants or a classic black trouser will benefit greatly from a good belt and a cute shoe. A nice handbag always lifts an outfit. And some jewelry (long necklaces, stud earrings, a stack ring) never hurt anyone.
If you need more ideas, both Banana Republic and J.Crew style their pieces in a way that should help you put something together. A skirt with a cardigan is a classic combination that most women can pull from their own closet. As is a chino with a ruffled blouse (though I don’t recommend rolling the cuffs). And if all else fails, you can wear a navy pants suit with a graphic tee , a slightly rolled sleeve and a casual shoe.
In my estimation, if you’re not sure what their particular brand of business casual is, it’s always better to be a little overdressed than underdressed. As long as you keep the hair and makeup relaxed and a smile on your face, you will be fine. Plus, these conferences tend to showcase a wide range of style, so you probably wouldn’t be out of place unless you to showed up in a prom dress.