+ Casual Fridays, + Work

Ask the Edit: The Casual Side of Business Casual

Hi Abra,

Long-time reader (my college internship days!)/ first time question-submitter. I have been working in non-traditional environments (including abroad) and am about to start a job in NYC. Dress code is said to be “casual side of business casual.” Because I need to upgrade my professional wardrobe anyway, I’d love some recommendations on classic business casual pieces please. 

Sincerely, A

The casual side of business casual description says two things to me: 1) denim, and 2) no jackets.  I know you said classic pieces, but I chose pieces that are classic with a little extra.  The reason being, if you get to wear almost anything you want to work, you should enjoy it.

For the office, I recommend dark denim with a good structure.  If you like skinny jeans, the AG Farrah are my favorite style (super flattering).  The Indigo Autumn wash has a great look to it; I also love their Super Black wash.  If you prefer a casual pant, their olive-colored Prima pant is also a favorite.

Prefer a wider leg opening on your jeans?  The 7 for All Mankind Dojos are a favorite.

If you’re hunting for classic pieces, I would stick to layering blouses and sweaters.  Unless you’re into leather jackets, I would skip jackets entirely.

Boden has this great ruffle neck blouse that you can wear in all four seasons.  I also like their Broderie top; it has a great texture.  From Ann Taylor, I’m digging this piped blouse.  This Cynthia Rowley printed tee also caught my eye.

For sweaters, this printed sweater from Boden is a nice piece.  This embellished C Cashmere sweater from Bloomingdale’s is pretty.  This long BP. cardigan is a casual classic.  I love the look of this J.Crew Harlow cardigan.

I think the key to a chic business casual look is layering, so choose your blouses and tops with toppers in mind.  For example, the Harlow cardi with the ruffle neck blouse above, with the metallic flats below.

Another great way to pull together casual outfits is good shoes.  Animal prints, embellishments, bright colors are all good choices.  These Boden Abbie loafers in red or metallic are gorgeous.  These Sole Society pale pink, velvet flats are also amazing.

Ladies who work in business casual offices, feel free to share your best tips in the comments.

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  1. Yael @ nosherium says:

    I love this question and Abra’s reply. I work in tech, in a very casual office. My uniforms are either as Abra described – dark denim or casual trousers with blouse and cardigan, or a cool t-shirt with a blazer. I use the blazer when I want to look and feel more structured. I have two Boden ponte blazers and a white Classiques Entier (RIP) jacket. I wear Allbirds merino sneakers (the go-to shoe for Silicon Valley and so comfortable), or pointed toe ankle boots.

    January 4, 2018/Reply
  2. Monica T says:

    I also work in tech, in Southern California. Depending on the season I wear jeans and t-shirts, or jeans and casual button-ups (flannels, plaids, polka dots). I wear slip-ons from Sanuk in black suede or blue denim, or boots in the cooler months. As toppers I wear denim jackets, leather jackets, or a field jacket because I like the structure of a jacket over cardigans. The fun thing about a casual dress code is that, as long as you aren’t being unprofessional, you can do your own thing and be yourself.

    January 4, 2018/Reply
  3. Christine says:

    From a cold-weather casual office-goer, my staple is dark or black skinny jeans/pants, paired with booties (Vince Camuto Peera bootie is my favorite) or riding boots (Penny from Sam Edelman is my favorite) from October-April, flats or wedges the rest of the year. Just like Abra said, a lot of layering of blouses, sweaters, cardigans goes on in my office.

    January 4, 2018/Reply
    • Chloe says:

      All of this – I work in a SUPER casual office but like feeling “dressy” at time. I up the ante with fun earrings (typically silver dangly ones or bright smaller earrings), statement necklaces over basic T-shirts with a cardigan, leather jackets and unstructured blazers – think blazers with a slightly boxier look over jeans and booties/boots/flats.

      January 4, 2018/Reply
      • Chloe says:

        The only thing I don’t wear – sweatpants/gym clothes, flip flops, shorts shorter than 5″ (i do wear bermuda shorts sometimes, but I’m short so really they’re more like capris!. I avoid hoodies too, even though people honestly don’t care. It’s just personal preference! And I still keep straps covered, etc. Still a workplace, IMO.

        January 4, 2018/Reply
  4. Shannon says:

    I work in a nonprofit thats’s on the casual side of business casual. My go to’s are skinny chinos or ponte pants in fun colors (olive, burgundy, electric blue), soft, flowy, printed button downs and flats or boots. Scarves are a great way to accessorize and make a casual outfit look a little fancier, especially if you tie it in an interesting way. I layer with moto jackets and moto cardigans.

    January 4, 2018/Reply
  5. Lydia says:

    I work in a super casual workplace, although there is huge variation in terms of what I notice women wearing- jeans to slacks to runners, to heels.

    I am dress wearer – they look better on my hourglass shape rather than pants or jeans (though I wear jeans about once a week or every other week) I love wearing a longer cardigan like the bp one with dresses, or a v neck sweater with a fun skirt. I have a few soft motto jackets from anthro, and usually wear boots in winter, and sandals or flats on spring and fall. I wear pointe skirts and dresses often. If you are a dress wearer, gap has some great long sleeved swing dresses that many women in my workplace wear.

    I agree that layering is key. The only downside of layering with cardis is that even when I pay a premium, they rarely last– even good quality merino has to be replaced. My husband teases me because I am always on the hunt for cardigans:)

    January 4, 2018/Reply
  6. Lydia says:

    Forgot to add that what makes dresses wearable in the wet, cold west coast winter are taller, insulated boots (la cannadienne is so warm.,.I have four pairs purchased on sale) and warm, sometimes fleece lined tights. I have cold hands and feet, and poor circulation, so the insulated boots that have a classic shape are a game changer. I’m looking to buy booties, but sadly only for spring as my whole foot and leg would freeze:). If I looked better in jeans I would so have more shoes and booties…sigh

    January 4, 2018/Reply
  7. nora says:

    The best part of casual offices is that no one really cares, so you can dress to flatter and please yourself.

    Since I started at my super-casual office, I’ve figured out a cool-weather uniform (straight jeans, short boots with a 2″ heel, a scoop-neck or split-neck top of some kind, a long, no-button cardigan, and a necklace or scarf). When it gets warm, the uniform shifts to wedge sandals, a casual skirt, a scoop-neck tee, and a jean jacket (I have them in four colors). Both uniforms make me feel good and disguise my height (super short) and thick middle. Your uniforms may vary – but once you figure out your silhouette, you can focus on nice pieces that fit that.

    January 4, 2018/Reply
  8. Nina says:

    I’m wondering if you have any recommendations for “business casual” interviews? I have two final interview rounds next week and both recruiters mentioned that they are a “casual workplace.” I come from an extremely formal background and feel uncomfortable wearing anything other than a black suit and heels. I’m thinking about a navy skirt suit with a navy J.Crew gingham button down. I’m not really a jewelry wearer, so likely nothing more than my regular diamond studs. Abra or fellow commenters, do you have any thoughts? TIA.

    January 6, 2018/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Definitely don’t wear a suit. I would wear a good quality blouse and colorful wide legged trouser. Or I would wear a leather jacket or moto jacket with a graphic tee and pencil skirt.

      January 7, 2018/Reply