Translating the Business Casual Dress Code


It’s the most common company dress code, but it still sounds like a misnomer. How can anything be both “business” AND “casual”? Is this professional or relaxed? A party in the back and business in the front didn’t work as a hairstyle, so why is this even a thing?

Relax, we made you a cheat sheet. Yes, it will solve your dilemma.


Attitude (a.k.a. reasoning):

Blame the ‘90s, when wearing an ‘80s power suit was clearly out of touch, but no one wanted to bring the grunge era into the office. This was the compromise. “We’re friendly and not super formal, but without the risk of possibly offending anyone.” Now that there is “Tech Casual” where t-shirts are the norm, everything else has gotten more casual as well. While there may have been ties in the business world before, that’s now considered formal.

All clothing: should be ironed/pressed and never be torn, dirty, or fraying.  All seams are finished. Nothing has words, terms, or pictures, and is therefore never offensive to anyone. Insult someone with your wit instead of your clothing, you heathen.



Dressy slacks, wool pants, dressy capris, chinos, or nice looking dress synthetic pants. Avoid pleats at all costs. Khakis are pushing it. Should be ironed with a crease down the front. Dark colors encouraged, unless its summer and you might go yachting with Zuckerberg later. Not allowed: jeans, sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, shorts, bib overalls, leggings, casual capris, sweatpants, yoga pants, anything that could be mistaken for bicycling gear.



All reach to the knee area, and should be at a length where sitting in public doesn’t require rocket science. Sheath dresses are a prime example, as they neither show any cleavage or much leg. (Some companies consider showing shoulders as “too much”, despite very few people finding shoulders risqué. Best to check ahead of time.) Anything that rides up the thigh or is tight is inappropriate, and anything asymmetrical not professional enough. Always a safe bet: pencil skirts, A-line or pleated knee-length skirts made out of anything besides denim. Not allowed due to either amount of skin or considered too casual: miniskirts, skorts, sun dresses, ankle length skirts or dresses, beach dresses, and anything with spaghetti straps or no straps.



Simply from a financial basis, this is the easiest place to buy things in color. Brightly colored shirts/tops are fine and where you’re most likely to be able to show personality. While men are stuck with button-down tops (but please undo the top button, as it looks odd without a tie to have it buttoned all the way up), women can also wear wrap-around cotton blouses, wide-strap tanks, turtle necks, dressy tops with high necklines,  or similar.

Allowed: Sweaters with dress pants and dress shoes, collared shirts.

Not allowed: t-shirts, or anything with writing that isn’t the company logo. Too casual.






Conservative and polished. Brogues, monk-straps, loafers, and oxfords are an easy go-to. Loafers, clogs, boots, flats, dress shoes/heels, and leather desk-type shoes are acceptable.

Women get the range here, with flats, wedges, heels, boots, and heels under 3 inches. Pumps, sling backs, T-straps, or peep-toe are also great options.

Not allowed: flat sandals or any sandals with a lot of embellishments, straps, or could be worn to a club. Don’t ask about flip flops.


Blazer vs. Sweater

Sweater, unless you’re angling for a promotion or only own blazers. Casual, remember? Cardigan, pull-over, whatever works for you, but fit is important, so stay away from anything too baggy or ill-fitted. Fine-gauge knits work best, but bulky sweaters not so much.



While jackets or blazers are more of a requirement while traveling to and from the office, your jean jacket still won’t work. It still needs to look professional, because people do see you in the parking lot, at a professional lunch, etc.  Stick with neutral colors for the most coordination: black, charcoal, brown, and navy are easiest.



Makeup, Perfume, Cologne: No, Some people are allergic to those, so wear either with great restraint or not at all. Consider how close people are going to get to you before applying.


Men: messenger bag or knapsack, depending on the culture

Women: Clutch, shoulder bag, or tote. Cross-body, depending on material used.


Minimal and understated for everyone.


End of the Day

It’s about proportions. Don’t overdo anything and keep it simple.


Looking for the dress code for the Tech Industry? Try  here

Just finished your interview? Tips on Thank You Note After an Interview