Starting a New Job

What Is Business Casual in the UK?

August 25, 2020

Many workplaces today allow their employees to dress less traditional and more casual. Supervisors encourage employees to wear business casual attire to look professional when clients visit the office while still staying comfortable. Knowing what items to consider as business casual helps you dress appropriately in the workplace. In this article, we discuss what business casual is, the benefits of dressing in business casual attire, examples of business casual outfits you can wear and how to pick the right business casual outfit for your role.

What is business casual?

Business casual is a workplace dress code that involves wearing clothes that are more modern and casual, rather than strict and traditional. Though it's more casual than the original business work attire, business casual still looks professional, orderly and appropriate for the office environment.

Business professional dress codes typically include ensembles like a suit and tie for men or a pantsuit for women. Business casual dress is a less formal version of this, like a solid-coloured blouse, dress with a blazer or a button-down shirt with slacks.

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Benefits of dressing business casual

Unlike traditional dress codes that require employees to wear full suits or pantsuits, business casual keeps you feeling comfortable and relaxed. Here are some advantages of business casual attire:

  • Saves employees time and money: Business suits, pantsuits or other professional clothing items tend to cost more than casual clothes and can increase your dry cleaning bills. Business casual items often cost less and can be worn again to other events. You can also save time tying ties or putting on business professional clothing by easily slipping on more simple business casual items.
  • Increased employee comfort: Feeling more comfortable in business attire can boost your morale, motivation and focus since you're not distracted by the discomfort of your clothes. This may even increase your productivity as well.
  • Encourages creativity and individuality: When you're in an atmosphere with a less strict dress code, you can be more creative with your wardrobe by letting your personality show through your style. This allows you to feel like a unique part of the team.

Related: Job Interview Tips: How to Make a Great Impression

Business casual outfits to wear

Business casual dress codes often vary depending on the workplace or industry you're in. Meet with your supervisor to ensure the items you plan to wear fit in their guidelines for appropriate business casual attire. Here are some common guidelines for business casual attire:

Business dress code for women

Here are some great business casual items you can wear:

  • Tops: Simple tops that cover your shoulders and the rest of your upper body are best. Solid colours and subtle patterns or designs can help you showcase your personality without distracting others. You can also wear a jumper or jacket with a polo shirt or blouse. If you're wearing a sleeveless blouse, wear a blazer or cardigan with it to look more professional.
  • Bottoms: You can also wear professional skirts that reach an appropriate length. Slacks, knee-length skirts or other long pants can keep you looking professional and feeling comfortable. Some employers may even allow you to wear cropped, denim or dressy capri pants. Make sure they're in dark, solid colours.
  • Shoes: Your shoes can be comfortable flats or heels. Many offices prefer closed-toe shoes, like ballet pumps, loafers, courts or heels, while some allow you to wear sandals or peep-toe classic shoes. Appropriate heel height is less than 3-inches.
  • Dresses: Typically, these should be knee-length, though some companies allow them to be slightly above the knee. You can pair dresses with a cardigan, blazer or jacket, especially if the dress is sleeveless.
  • Accessories: Allowed accessories for women include scarves, jewellery, purses, hosiery, and briefcases.

Business casual dress code for men

Some effective business casual items men can wear include:

  • Tops: These can be plain shirts like polo, button-downs or collared shirts. Warmer weather allows you to wear sweater vests or crew neck sweaters. Make sure these are solid-coloured shirts and don't contain distracting images or words. If you're planning to wear a jacket, make sure the colour and fabric match the pants.
  • Bottoms**:** Choose pants that match with your upper half. This can be dressy khakis, chinos, corduroys or dress slacks. Some workplaces may allow denim pants if you pair them with a professional suit jacket or blazer.
  • Shoes and socks**:** Shoes should be closed-toe, appear clean and look somewhat professional. Many closed-toe shoes should work, like brogues, dress shoes, brogues or derby shoes. Running shoes or trainers may only be accepted in certain workplaces or for certain occasions.
  • Accessories**:** Allowed accessories for men include wristwatches, bags, briefcases and belts that match your shoes.

Unisex business casual dress code

There are numerous gender-neutral business casual options. Here are some great examples:

  • Tops: You can wear a sweater, polo shirts or Henley shirts with plain designs that don't distract other employees.
  • Bottoms: Slacks, khakis, or non-denim pants on the bottom paired with a button-down shirt are great business casual options. The hem should fall naturally around the ankle or just below but not drag on the floor.
  • Shoes: Wear closed-toe shoes like boots, loafers, or dress sneakers and other leather or canvas shoes.
  • Accessories: You can carry accessories like wristwatches, bags, briefcases, jewellery like wedding rings, and ties.

Attire not considered business casual

There are other forms of attire that may be worn in the workplace. It's important to know the differences between them in case you are asked to wear clothes in another style so that you can appear professional at any occasion.

  • Casual wear: While most companies may prefer business casual over casual, there are some that may allow casual wear like open-toed shoes, T-shirts or sweatshirts. This varies depending on the type of business and industry you work for. Meet with the human resources department to discuss what items are too casual for the workplace.
  • Business professional: These items include full suits or pantsuits, pressed and ironed clothing and more conservative dresses, skirts and blouses. Some industries and workplaces have traditionally and continue to prefer this style due to prestige. Those in law, government, academics, finance and international relations are just some fields where this attire is most common.
  • Formal wear: Most businesses would prefer their employees to stay away from formal attire like long dresses or tuxedos as most of these are more appropriate for formal events like weddings or galas, rather than the everyday workplace.

How to choose the right business casual attire

Wearing the right business casual attire helps you maintain professionalism when around supervisors or clients and increases your comfort while working all day. Follow these steps to choose the right business casual attire for your workplace:

  1. Confirm the company's dress code
  2. Ask about casual Fridays
  3. Observe what other employees are wearing
  4. Inform supervisors of medical or religious requirements

1. Confirm the company's dress code

Each company enforces its own specific dress code. Some companies have little to no in-person interactions with clients, meaning they may encourage employees to dress more casually. Others may meet with clients regularly who value professional business attire, so employers may enforce a stricter business casual dress code.

Meet with the human resources department, and request a detailed list of what you can wear, if possible. This makes it easier to shop for appropriate clothing items and keeps you from spending money on clothing you're not allowed to wear.

2. Ask about casual Fridays

During casual Fridays, some companies may allow employees to wear more casual clothing than usual. Since every business has a different understanding of the right business attire, you should also inquire about casual Friday dress codes. For example, some businesses allow you to wear well-tailored, dark-coloured jeans and open-toed shoes on this day, but others may allow you to wear clean trainers and T-shirts.

If you are uncertain about the casual dressing code for a company, either ask your human resources department about appropriate casual attire or wear your everyday workday attire and observe what your colleagues are wearing.

Related: Guide to Smart Casual Dress Code

3. Observe what other employees are wearing

On your first day at the workplace, try dressing professionally and see how your attire compares to other employees. You can wear professional layers, like a blazer or suit jacket, that can easily be removed if you feel like you're overdressed compared to everyone else. After observing everyone's appearance, you can select outfits that match what others in the office wear so you can more easily fit in with their attire.

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4. Inform supervisors of medical or religious requirements

In some circumstances, religions and medical conditions can keep you from following the official dress code. Some religions may require you to wear religious garments throughout the day . Certain medical conditions may also keep you from wearing certain clothing items that the workplace may require. For instance, your doctor advises you to wear specialised orthopaedic shoes.

When interviewing for a new job, you can inform the employer about your condition in advance of accepting the position. If you develop any medical conditions or your religious affiliations change during your time at the company, you should report this to the human resources department so they can inform your supervisors.