You’ve been hired for your dream job, and you’re told that the expected attire is “business casual.” Initially, you’re relieved, thinking it should be simple. Yet. as you begin looking through your wardrobe, you find yourself wondering what business casual truly is. While the definition is cloudy for men and women alike, the diverse clothing options available to women make it difficult to determine what is considered appropriately casual for women in a business environment.

Business casual is a term used by many employers to describe a dress code that allows a certain degree of flexibility from traditional office wear. It’s important to check with your human resources department to ensure that you fully understand your company’s definition of business casual. While the term does not mean the same thing in every workplace, there are some basic universal guidelines regarding what business casual means. For example, women should be appropriately modest in their business casual wear. That is, don’t reveal too much cleavage or show your belly, back or undergarments. Clothes should always be laundered and wrinkle free. You shouldn’t wear T-shirts in most cases, especially those with pictures or words on them.

Features

As you put together your business casual wardrobe, consider materials like silk and cotton. You can also look for wool, linen, twill, khaki or corduroy. Some companies consider jeans appropriate business casual attire while others prohibit denim. A basic working business casual wardrobe might consist of a few tailored blouses, sweater sets, several pairs of slacks and a couple of skirts. Skirts should be no shorter than just above the knee. Many women also like to have a suit or coordinating business separates (jackets, skirts and slacks). A daytime pants suit can be the basis for an entire week of looks. For example, you could wear both pieces of the suit together and change the look simply by changing the shell or blouse worn under the jacket. Alternatively, you could wear the jacket with a casual blouse and dark jeans with a coordinating boot for a classy casual Friday outfit. Be sure to buy the best quality you can for your pants suit and coordinating skirt.

Function

The most important thing for women to remember in choosing business casual wear is that fit counts. Buying items that are too big can make your body appear dumpy, regardless of your actual size. That can make you appear sloppy. This is bad news if you’re gunning for that promotion. Clothing that is too tight or revealing is simply unprofessional and inappropriate for work. Keep loud patterns to a minimum. Try to build your wardrobe around neutral pieces.

Considerations

Business casual attire goes beyond actual clothing. Other factors are equally important. For example, women should be clean and appropriately groomed. If hair is dyed, it should be a color that appears natural. Avoid unnatural colors like blue, green, or pink in your hair. Piercings, with the exception of ears, should be removed for the office. Jewelry must be tasteful and classy. Nails should be short and clean, or properly manicured with neutral polish. Chipped or peeling polish is unacceptable. Perfumes should be used sparingly (if at all), and should not be overpowering.

Misconceptions

Many people think “casual Friday” is a chance to wear their favorite old sweats and flip-flops. In reality, these things are never acceptable in a professional environment. While some companies with a casual day policy allow jeans, they should never be ripped or stained. Instead, be sure they fit properly (not too tight or too loose). They should also be clean and wrinkle free. Pair them with a stylish blouse, sweater or a neatly pressed button down shirt. This may also the right day to wear the company polo shirts or sweaters. Khakis are also appropriate. Above all, keep it clean and professional. That’s true even on casual day.

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