What Is Business Casual? Here Are 9 Classic Looks for Men.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
You’ve done the hard part. You’ve found a job, impressed through the interview process and accepted an offer. Now you just need to make a great impression on your co-workers.
A big aspect of your first impression will be how you dress. But if you’ve been told that your office is “business casual,” you might not know what is expected of you. What percentage of business casual is “business” and what percentage is “casual?” What should you wear on the first day of your new job?
You can get ideas from celebrity appearances on talk shows including The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. These are business casual events, because while the environment is meant to feel like a living room, the celebrities are usually there for business reasons -- to promote a new movie, record or initiative.
In this piece, I’ll break down nine classic looks that define business casual for men so you can feel confident and comfortable.
Sweater, trousers and sneakers
When Will Smith appeared on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, he wore a light-colored sweater with matching socks, trousers and clean, white sneakers. This is a simple business casual look, and you probably already have all or most of these things in your closet. The solid-color sneakers are a nice touch, especially if you are on your feet most of the day. However, you might want to wait to wear these sorts of shoes until you have seen your colleagues wear them, and avoid wearing over-the-top or highly patterned running shoes.
Shirt, tie, sweater ... and jeans?
When Austin Powers and Shrek star Mike Myers appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he wore a V-neck sweater with an untucked white dress shirt and a colorful tie up top. This sort of color scheme is representative of business casual. The tie is playful and fun but not overly flashy. The shirt and sweater are more staid. Myers chose to leave his shirt untucked, making the look more casual than otherwise.
He’s also wearing jeans with black loafers. Many people will say that jeans aren’t and shouldn’t be considered business casual. I’d recommend you wait to see what your co-workers are wearing before you wear them yourself.
Suit with sneakers and loose tie
Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda wore a suit on Jimmy Kimmel Live, which might make you think this is a fully business look. He even has a pocket square and a tie. However, there are two aspects to this outfit that make it business casual. The first is that Miranda chose to wear his tie loosely around his neck, similar to how Myers wore his under his sweater. It implies informality, and it’s not how Miranda would wear the same tie on the red carpet.
Second, Miranda is rocking white tennis shoes, similar to Will Smith. You wouldn’t see someone in business attire with that look.
Blazer over a V-neck T-shirt
Avengers star Mark Ruffalo wore a V-neck T-shirt with black pants and brown lace-up shoes when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel. The blazer and dark, simple color scheme punches this up and makes it more professional.
If you’re going to wear this look, make sure you don’t take the blazer off -- if you do, you’re really just wearing a T-shirt. That’s definitely more casual.
Also, try to at least wear a nice T-shirt under the blazer. A wrinkled dress shirt isn’t ideal, but a wrinkled white T-shirt looks like you slept in it the night before.
Blazer with knit tie, khaki pants with colorful socks
The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon wears formal attire when he’s on his own show, but when he sat down with Ellen DeGeneres, he adopted a more casual look. He replaced the suit with a dark blazer and khaki-colored pants, the shiny dress shoes with brown oxfords, and the slick tie for a knit one that makes him look much more comfortable even though he’s still wearing a jacket and tie.
He’s also wearing fun, colorful socks, which is another staple of business casual. Similar to Myers’s tie, this allows him a fun accent without being overly flashy.
Blazer, work shirt, trousers and chukka boots
Director Ron Howard appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and decided to skip the sock decision by wearing chukka boots that show off his shoes rather than socks. Chukkas are fairly comfortable and easy enough to slip into, yet provide a clean, professional look.
Howard is also wearing a simple blue jacket and work shirt, tucked into black trousers. Once again, you’re getting some color, but it isn’t in your face. It’s simple and gives a feeling of comfort.
I’d probably skip the ball cap in the office, though.
Colorful suit with simple, solid sweater and solid boots
Most of these men have worn simple outfits with a splash of color here or there. Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman inverts that look by wearing a patterned suit with a simple black sweater and black boots. Here, the splash of color comes from the actual suit, not a tie or pair of socks. It’s a bit of a peacocking move, but it’s not over-the-top.
If you’re Black Panther -- or think you can pull it off -- this sort of inversion can be fun and make a statement. Don’t take it too far, though. You want the way you dress to complement your presence in the office, not define it.
Long-sleeve polo with dress pants and dress shoes
What A Quiet Place star John Krasinski wore on The Tonight Show is probably not so different from what you wear on a regular basis, or from what I used to wear when I was 13 and had to dress up. He’s wearing a long-sleeve polo shirt.
However, the shirt fits him well, and he’s paired the dark shirt with lighter trousers, matching dress shoes and striped socks. It’s professional without sacrificing comfort, which is really the whole point of business casual.
If you need to buy new clothes for your work, it’s important to note how Krasinski looks here. His clothing choices are simple, but everything fits him well. He could easily wear a similar combination with each of these pieces interchangeably. When you’re buying for yourself, you should do the same and go for quality/reusability over quantity/diversity. A T-shirt can look business-y if it fits and is well-pressed, and a dressed shirt can look sloppy if it’s stained or wrinkled.
Unbuttoned dress shirt -- but not too unbuttoned
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s look on The Tonight Show is just on the border of business casual and business formal attire. He’s wearing a suit, dress shirt with cufflinks and nice dress shoes. If he were wearing a tie, I would probably consider this a formal business look.
Johnson skipped the tie and chose to wear his dress shirt with the top two buttons unfastened, revealing his tattoo underneath. Remember: He’s been a professional wrestler for decades, and he only has two buttons unfastened. There’s no reason you should need more than that in your office.
What is business casual?
If you’re starting a new job soon and you’re not sure what to wear for business casual attire, think about what you would wear on a talk show such as The Tonight Show. You can even watch those talk shows to formulate ideas on what would be acceptable to wear. Try to focus on the more conservative looks, though, because what’s acceptable for professional performers to wear is different from what you should wear to work. For example, you probably don’t need anything you might rock at the Met Gala.
In the meantime, these nine classic looks can make for a great start. The more formal looks should be versatile enough for any office, and you can wear them with confidence on your first day.