Many workplaces have gone to a business casual attirebusiness casual dress code. The theory is that people can do their best work in a more relaxed, comfortable setting. The way we dress certainly does impact how we feel – even at work.

It is worth noting, however, the phrase “business casual” can be interpreted many different ways.

So, before totally overhauling your wardrobe, it might be wise to consider the four levels of business casual attire.

(Since I’m a man, this article focuses primarily on male clothing. Although I’m no expert at men’s fashion, I know even less about women’s attire. Sorry ladies! In the spirit of fairness, however, I did find a few popular business casual outfits for you on the Amazon marketplace.)

“Formal” Business Casual

You show up for a cocktail hour, and you’re the only guy not wearing a sport coat. Welcome to the unexpected reality of “formal” business casual. Unfortunately for you, you’ll be spending the next 2 to 3 hours kicking yourself because you didn’t ask enough questions before the event.

You own a few blazers, and you even enjoy wearing them. If only you had known to wear one! Alas, while everyone else is enjoying their Mai Tais, you’re fretting over your underwhelming appearance. What you thought was going to be a fun evening has turned into your worst nightmare. You feel judged, embarrassed, and, naturally, uncomfortable.

A word to the wise – when going into an unknown circumstance or event (especially social mixers), it’s always good to clarify if a sport coat is suggested. This is true even if the invitation clearly specifies the dress code as “business casual.” The event coordinator might mean “formal” business casual – and not even realize it!

“Everyday” Business Casual

“Everyday” business casual is probably the most common form of the term. Known for its slacks, long-sleeved collared shirts, and even the occasional short sleeve golf shirt, everyday business casual can have many variations.

Based on my prior experience in the corporate world, here are a few best practices that apply to everyday business casual settings:

  • Jeans are generally off limits (see next section)
  • When in doubt, opt for shoes that seem more formal than less formal
  • No one wants to see much, if any, of your undershirt (or worse, chest hair!)
  • White socks are never OK
  • Ankle socks are not cool either
  • Tread cautiously with silky-looking shirts. Remember, the first word in “business casual” is “business” – not “casino.”

“Friday” (or “Payday”) Business Casual

Some companies (my former employer included) permit employees to wear jeans on certain days. This can vary from company to company, but such privileges usually occur on Fridays and/or paydays. Some companies even use jeans as a motivator to participate in certain activities, such as fundraisers, social causes, or health initiatives.

All of the best practices from everyday business casual rules still apply, the only difference being that you can replace your slacks with blue jeans. I still recommend wearing dressy shoes, although it could depend upon your company’s culture.

“Work from Home” Business Casual

As we’ve discussed on this blog, working from home offers the greatest freedom of work attire. I personally enjoy wearing sweatpants during winter months and cargo shorts during warmer months.

I would recommend, however, that you always maintain a professional-looking upper body. Comb your hair, have a smile on your face, and wear a decent shirt. No one wants to see that old ratty shirt from your college years. Golf shirts and certain monochrome athletic shirts can communicate a professional, yet comfortable persona.

Comfort Matters

Whether you’re working on Wall Street or in your home office, one thing is for sure: comfort matters. Wearing business casual attire allows you to enjoy a more comfortable work experience. Just don’t go overboard on the “casual” part!

Now go out there and enjoy the business casual lifestyle!

PS: Regardless of which level of business casual you choose, it’s important to start with a solid foundation. My friends over at Tommy John have you covered with these comfy base layers for men. Check them out!

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Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and

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