What is Business Casual Attire for Women?

Behind the Design

architectural detail

Creating the perfect business casual look requires finding a delicate balance of a formal and approachable style. Learn to define business casual for your office, assemble dependable business casual attire for women, and follow a few essential tips and tricks from St. John to perfect the elusive style. 

The most challenging aspect of business casual style is that there’s no single definition. What qualifies as acceptable business casual attire depends upon the atmosphere of your specific workplace and the attitudes and expectations of your industry. 

In essence, business casual calls for ensembles that are slightly more relaxed than formal business attire, but more elevated than casual attire. A good rule of thumb is to think of business casual as dressing down a formal look, rather than dressing up a casual outfit. The key to finding the perfect business casual balance is to take your cues from your workplace, and choose pieces that make you feel comfortable and refined. 

Defining Business Casual for Your Workplace

Business casual is a little different for every office and offers room to explore your personal style. If you're joining a new workplace, opt for more conservative and formal styles for your first week while you assess the atmosphere – it’s always better to be too formal than too casual. Different industries will have different expectations, too. For example, financial corporations tend to lean towards a more formal version of business casual, while a fashion company may be more open to exploration. 

One of the most common business casual debates is whether jeans are appropriate. The answer to this is entirely dependent upon your workplace – in political and financial industries, jeans are likely a little too relaxed. In a more laidback office, a tailored pair of dark wash jeans with a sleek blazer can make the perfect ensemble. 

Creating Business Casual Outfits

While business casual clothes for women will vary from workplace to workplace, there are a few tried and true workwear staples that form the base of any professional ensemble. 

Tops: A classic blouse or button-down is the go-to for business casual tops. While short-sleeved designs may be appropriate on some occasions, opt for more modest pieces like a white silk shell rather than revealing straps and plunging necklines.

Bottoms: A sleek pencil skirt or tailored slacks create an elegant impression that's slightly softer than a formal suit. A structured dress is also appropriate and can look more dressed up with a blazer or jacket if an unexpected meeting comes up. 

Shoes: When selecting your shoes, follow three essential principles – comfortable, conservative, and quiet. Flats are perfectly appropriate for business casual, while a low heel also feels professional. Closed-toe shoes tend to look more polished, but a subtle peep toe in a structured shoe can also add style. Avoid sandals, loud heels, and any shoes that make distracting sounds in the workplace.

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What to Avoid with Business Casual

Before you step out the door, give your ensemble a quick review to ensure your look avoids any elements that aren't appropriate for business casual.  

Distressed details: Avoid any hemlines that have a distressed look. Instead, choose pieces with clean lines and structure. A pressed pant or tailored jacket puts a perfectly polished touch on any ensemble.

Loud patterns: In general, solid colors and neutrals have a more professional feel. In more relaxed workplaces, a subtle print or colorful blouse can be a playful way to add a little personality to business casual.

Revealing cuts: Choose skirts and dresses that fall around knee length, and add hose underneath in more conservative industries. 

Business casual is the perfect opportunity for refined, professional ensembles that showcase your unique personal style. At St. John Knits, all our designs are crafted from proprietary textiles with timeless looks for women of inspiration and accomplishment.  

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