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The Short Guide to Business Casual Styles for Men

man in white dress shirt and black pants sitting on the sidewalk during daytime

It is important to know what business casual attire should look like. Even among “experts”, there is still a lot of confusion about what business casual actually means these days.

Today, I want to let you know that you can relax. Business casual does not have to be difficult or confusing. Today, I present the first ever tested guide to business casual style. You’ll learn how to dress well and be the best dressed man in the room by following a few guidelines.


Step 1: Forget everything you know about dress codes. In 1975, a coat, tie and hat were essential for survival. You wouldn’t have worn chinos to work 20 years ago.

Wall St. took a page from tech companies and poached all their top talent. They also relaxed their dress code. One thing that is constant about dress codes rules is the fact that they are constantly changing. Maybe I’ll update the guide in a few more years to reflect another shift.

You have my permission to discard your business casual rules.


Let’s begin! Here’s the bad part: Business casual can mean different things for different industries. You can be more relaxed and have more control over your wardrobe choices if you are like my clients in tech.

If you work in finance or academia, you might be one step closer to wearing a suit and tie. These are my top tips to help you determine where your job falls within the formality spectrum.

Tip 1: Take a look at the clothes on others.

Simple, yet effective. One of these jobs might be for you. The owners wear jeans and t-shirts, and expect the employees to wear ties. Consider your office style as a whole. Look around, and find an average.

Are sports coats more popular than button-up shirts? If so, your business is probably more business-oriented. Do you see a lot of men in sweaters, boots and jeans? Most likely, your place is more casual. As a guide, you can use the scale I have created above.

Tip #2: Talk to HR (and your higher-ups!)

Your HR department should be able give you the details of what to wear to work if your company has one. Send them an email or drop by. Also, I recommend talking to the higher-ups about what to wear. Let them know that you are updating your wardrobe in order to better represent the company. They will appreciate it.

It was even more helpful to ask them about what is acceptable and unacceptable to wear with what I expected.


“How do I tell if something is too casual?” To answer this question, you don’t have to spend 15 years studying fashion. To quickly determine if clothing is “casual” or formal, you only need to know a few design principles (e.g. more business).

We all know a few basic rules. We all know that button-down shirts and dress pants are more formal than jeans and t-shirts. What about when two items are very similar? For example, a button down shirt or a shirt with a button up?

The “More Means More Casual” rule can be used to gauge formality. A piece of clothing that is more casual tends to be less formal. A more trendy design is more casual. It has more details and more colors.

Let’s take a look at it.

Rule #1: More details make an item more casual.

Consider a graphic tshirt as an alternative to a plain white shirt.

You might prefer cargo pants with lots of pockets to simple, clean chinos. Although they might be made from the same fabric, the extra pockets, stitching and details make them more casual. These would probably not be appropriate for an important meeting.

This rule will become more obvious as I lay out items on formality scales later. For now, let’s think of this rule in another way. The more formal the design, and the simpler it is, the better.

Rule #2: Be more colorful and casual.

A pink shirt is more casually dressed than a white shirt. A light blue suit is casually more casual than a dark Navy suit. Neutral colors, such as white, black, grey and olive, are more formal and professional when it comes to formality.

Rule #3: The more casual the trendier

You can find a more modern design in the casual section, such as athleisure sweats or Hawaiian-style print shirts. Items that are higher up on the formal scale tend be more timeless and classic.

Although this tool may not be foolproof, it is a great starting point for shopping and planning your outfits. It’s not all about one piece. It’s about how you combine your pieces to create a versatile wardrobe.


Now you know where you want your casual business attire to go. You know how to tell if something is formal or casual fast.

Let’s learn from each other how to create your perfect casual business start-up wardrobe. As I said in my post about building a minimalist wardrobe, I like a minimum of 1.5 weeks worth of outfits.

Why? Because most people only do laundry once per week. We need enough clothes to last us through the week. Plus, we want clothes that can be worn every day.

You can add more pieces to the template if you wash your laundry less frequently or want more variety. This is where I recommend that everyone start.

We want multiples of the same item, but not two at a time. The stuff that can get a little crazy fast, such as socks, underwear and shirts. As a buffer, you can add 2-3 extra for each day.

Plan for our laziness. We should do laundry on time every seven days in a perfect world. Some weeks, however, I am lazy and I know I’m not the only one. Instead of having 7 days worth clothes (6 days plus what you wear on laundry days), we now have 10 days to stock as a “laziness buffer”.

Accessories not included. Accessories like sunglasses, ties, pockets squares and bags are optional, but they can add an interesting element to your outfit.

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