How to Do Business Casual With Exquisite Style

There is contradiction between casual and looking good.

learn more about Jacqueline Whitmore

By Jacqueline Whitmore • Apr 12, 2016

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As an entrepreneur, you have the luxury of setting the professional tone in the office, and that includes the dress code. In today's business world, business casual is often the norm, but just how casual is business casual? Here are some quick tips to help define what's hot and what's not.

It's okay to be casual, but not too casual.

Jeans are acceptable as long as they are not overly worn out (no holes, please). Pair the casualness of denim with a comfortable blazer or sweater and button down shirt up top. Sneakers are not considered professional enough, but loafers are, as long as they are aren't scuffed and are in good condition. For women, pair your jeans with a fitted jacket or trendy top and statement jewelry. Elevate jeans with a pair of classy heels.

Start with the basics.

Invest in a couple of classic wardrobe pieces that can be accessorized in many ways. The little black dress, a wrap dress, a pencil skirt, and a pair of straight-legged pants could be staples in a woman's casual wardrobe, white and blue button down shirts, crewneck sweaters, wrinkle-free khakis and cashmere blazers could provide the basis for a man's business casual attire.

Have fun with accessories.

Men and women can create their own style with colorful and well-appointed accessories. For men, choose a vibrant pocket square, fun watch or playful socks to compliment your personality. Women have even more options, with jewelry, scarves, shoes, stockings and handbags. Both men and women can rock the business world with a stylish briefcase or carryall.

Related: The Stars of Shark Tank on How to Dress for Success

Look neat, clean and presentable.

No matter what you wear, make sure your clothing is clean, pressed, and devoid of defects like rips, runs or holes. Repair missing buttons, snip loose threads and professionally remove stains. Polish and clean your shoes. You never know when you are going to come face to face with a client or potential customer. Grooming counts as well. A well-put-together outfit can be ruined by dirty or unruly hair. Be sure to apply makeup in a tasteful manner, style your hair, and groom your beard or moustache.

Related: Your Attire Speaks Volumes Before You Open Your Mouth

Fit in.

Pay attention to the office culture, and dress accordingly. If everyone in the office is business casual, you probably don't want to wear a suit to work, or vice versa. Dress your best to fit into the company culture. If you want to move up the ladder, observe what the leaders are wearing and copy their style. You will most likely stand out among the crowd.

Related: 6 Items Every Entrepreneur Needs to Dress for Success

Dress for your client's comfort.

Although you want to dress for comfort, one thing that is often overlooked is the client's comfort. It is your priority to make your client feel comfortable with you. The rule here is "dress for the occasion'. For example, if you work in a creative career and your clients are attorneys, they will feel more at ease if you are dressed like they are. Be sure to research the company you will be visiting, and if you have doubts, it is always best to overdress than underdress.

A fun activity is to "shop your closet." Occasionally, pull out everything from your closet and lay it out on your bed. Toss items you don't wear, are damaged, or are out of date or style. Then pair the remaining items to create new outfits. You'll be surprised at how many new combinations are available. Note what new items would be perfect additions to your wardrobe and try to update your wardrobe at least once a year.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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