What is Business Casual Attire for Women Anyway?

What is business casual and what is not business casual for women, is a necessary distinction to make. While some business people contend that there are no rules for business casual wear for women, other folks like, Christian Chensvold, Money Watch journalist, suggest that, “There are rules, they’re just more subtle--which make them hard to follow.”

Let’s try to make the definition of business casual easier to understand and deliver...

Two Business Casual Categories

According to Mary Lou Andre, author of “Ready to Wear: An Expert’s Guide to Choosing and Using Your Wardrobe”, there are two categories of business casual attire for women: classic business casual and relaxed business casual.

She states that, each category “is a step down from traditional styles, yet neither is sloppy or provocative.”

Classic Business Casual

Andre goes on to describe classic business casual, which is appropriate in a conservative industry like banking or law. She says, “Think layers even if you forgo a jacket. Pantsuits worn with knit shells and loafers, skirts work with shirt jackets are an easy way to practice a classic business casual policy.”

Relaxed Business Casual

“Relaxed” business casual women’s clothing is her second category. “In less conservative industries such as advertising and manufacturing, other options such as khakis worn with polo shirts or even jeans and
T-shirts are sometimes considered appropriate all week long and most always on Friday.”

However, regarding jeans, Andre advises, “No matter how relaxed your business environment is, always get clarity from supervisors about whether jeans are acceptable before wearing them.” She also reminds us that, “many people (especially those over a certain age) regard jeans as a sign of disrespect. They were never allowed to wear them to school, never mind work.”

A Third Business Casual Category?

I propose that there is a third category for business casual attire: creative business casual. It’s what you might see in fashion, the arts, or an alternative or “green” profession.

Fashion-Forward Creative Business Casual

For fashion industry creative business casual, think outside the classic or relaxed business casual box. Think fashion-forward, with a good sense of personal style and of clothes that are more comfortable than “arrogant”.

Micheal J. Cunningham, a Boston-born milliner and fashion columnist, coined the phrase “arrogant elegant”. In the book, The Beautiful People, he is quoted as saying, “The coat was so sharp and brittle and so positive it was right. Not that the women who wore them were arrogant. The clothes made them arrogant.”

Although creative business casual fashionistas may creatively and stylishly wear designer labels or great knock-offs, creative business casual is indeed not arrogant or stuffy.

Artsy Creative Business Casual

Look for artsy creative business casual in artistic settings like the theater, music or art industry. Think of an eclectic blend of the other business casual categories with an individual personal touch added to it.

Alternative Creative Business Casual

Alternative creative business casual attire leans toward natural fabrics and dyes. It is not usually very structured or tailored and may be the most comfortable of all the business casual wear for women categories. However, it still holds the line between casual business attire and weekend women’s clothing.

What is Business Casual to You?
How do you define it?

You've heard our two cents about "What Business Casual Is" and how we defined it. Now, we'd love to hear what you have to say about the matter.

Tell us your business industry and how you define business casual...let's see if we can come to some agreement on the subtleties of business casual.

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Five Rules of Style for the Business Casual Workplace, by Christian Chensvold

Forbes Article, “What is Business Casual?”, by Renee Sylvestre-Williams

Ready to Wear, by Mary Lou Andre