Ask Belle: Dresses for Business Casual Friday

Jul 15, 2015

Dear Belle,

I work at a large law firm with a very strict dress code.  Last month, they altered their policy to have “business casual” Fridays during the summer months.  (I suspect that it is so partners can wear golf clothing to work.)  Can you help me find some dresses that are still professional but a bit more casual?  Please, no t-shirt dresses or maxis.

Best, Marcia

Dressing for casual days is much tougher than dressing for work.  What is business casual?  Is it more business?  Is it more casual?  Decoding the definition depends entirely on your office culture.

It seems to me that your employer is looking to loosen the reins a bit, but keep things professional.  I think dresses are a good solution to your conundrum, so let’s find you a few that should work.

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Boden Cowl Neck Dress ($118)

You said no t-shirt dresses, but while this dress is made of jersey, it’s dressier than a basic tee.  Boden has some great jersey dresses.  I also like this dotted Gaby dress.  Still need to go dressier?  Okay, let’s…

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Ann Taylor Midi Tie-Neck Dress ($159)

I adore the bright color of this dress.  I think it would be amazing with a v-neck cardigan, or solo if sleeveless isn’t off-limits.  I also like this black midi-dress with a fun detail on the trim.

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Land’s End 3/4 Sleeve Shirdress ($69)

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Cynthia Steffe Lin Dress ($228)

If you work in a very conservative office, a short-sleeve sheath in a bright color, may be as close as you can get to “casual.”  For something less-expensive, try this Marc New York dress.

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Karen Kane Brushed Flower Dress ($85)

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  1. VS says:

    Business casual is always hard. To me (and in my office) it means, no jeans, no jacket. I use this opportunity to wear combinations I might not normally. For example a pencil skirt with a more casual shirt and wedges or flats. Or Skinny pants with a loose top with again ballet flats or wedges.

  2. Jennifer D says:

    Greetings Marcia – These are great options! For dresses or anything else on Fridays, I would keep in mind: 1) Nothing to high cut (knee-length or just above the knee, but no minis), 2) Nothing too low cut (no cleavage, please), and 3) Nothing too tight (but make sure it’s fitted). Avoid anything that looks like clubwear (unless it’s the country club) or would be more appropriate on vacation (I’m looking at you capri-length pants). You may not be able to go open-toe with your shoes, but hopefully you can skip the pantyhose in the heat of summer. Coordinating cardigans and blazers ward of air conditioning and are your friend if the boss (or a client) forgets it is Business Casual Friday and shows up in a suit. Good luck!

  3. Joanna says:

    wow, I don’t even shop at Ann Taylor but that tie neck dress is just really great. Agreed that bus casual is hard! I recommend a shirt dress with a closed toe wedge. Shirt dresses are always classic and the wedge keeps it professional w/o being dressy.

  4. Kate says:

    This seems like it might be a good opportunity for an ankle pant or a skirt/top combo with a light cardigan if you need one for the a/c.

  5. B says:

    I feel this pain, almost three years ago I transitioned from a job that was 100% business every day during legislative session and 100% causal every day during the interim, to a job that is 100% business casual every single day.

    Belle makes awesome suggestions, for me, I’ve found dresses with sleeves are my #1 best bet, and I now own several DVF wrap dresses. Frankly, watch what female partners with a good sense of style wear on Fridays and imitate it.

    As I was reading this post, though, I couldn’t help thinking back to the several times my “emergency suit” saved me from an underdressed situation. I have always kept one full suit of work-appropriate clothes in my office for “emergencies”… take the coffee incidents of 2008 and 2011, several lunchtime mishaps, and the pants ripping debacle of April 2015. But it has also saved me a few times when I showed up on what should have been a normal, boring casual day, found out that something was developing and I needed to put together a meeting – and be dressed for it – that afternoon. It used to be an actual suit, with a whole set of the necessary undergarments (remember the coffee? It soaks through), now that I’m biz casual everyday it’s a black wrap dress and Spanx. If you’re less klutzy than I, it may be that your back up clothes are there as a peace-of-mind measure. It’s Friday, wear whatever you want and don’t worry about dragging a coordinating/dragging a blazer to work if you don’t think you will need one. Then, when you find out a major client will be at the office in an hour, it takes you 5 minutes to change.

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