How to Succeed in the Business Casual World

This is a guest post by Susan Mowder.  She is the owner of The STYLE Principle, a wardrobe-styling firm based in Chicago, IL. You can find and follow her on her The Style Principle website.

Business casual is the stated dress code in the majority of offices today; yet, few offer a true definition. Early on, you are informed of the job’s requirements, responsibilities, and expectations, but the appropriate wardrobe—not so much. Unfortunately, the answer is not simple.  It differs according to profession, position, and experience.  


How to Succeed in the Business Casual World

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Today, we use all factors at our disposal to help make a decision as quickly and accurately as possible. Right or wrong, how someone is dressed is a big one!  In any interaction, especially business, we are subconsciously asking ourselves if the person looks the part. If he/she does, we confidently move forward. If not, we tend to question a person’s credibility.  


Dress for the Role

The easiest way for others to see you in a certain role is to dress for the role.  Most often you will be treated accordingly. You are more likely to be given important responsibilities, included in pertinent meetings, and asked to attend company events.  Yes, just because you look the part!

Dressing appropriate becomes even more important once you attain an elevated position.  The more experience you have, the more others—clients, potential clients, and co-workers--expect you to look the part.  With thye experience comes “status marker” expectations— tailored clothing, pressed shirts, named watch, quality handbag, shined shoes, etc.—even in the business casual world.  If the client--and your company--is investing in you, they expect you to be investing in you as well.

So what is appropriate business casual attire?  For more serious professions—law, accounting, etc.—often it is the suited look, but not worn as a complete suit.  For example, wearing the suit pants with a cardigan or wearing a suit jacket over a knit dress or trouser jean.  In more creative fields, your “core suit” is often less structured and trendier, but still follows the experience expectations.  Keep in mind, the easiest way to appear polished and sophisticated when dressing casually is to wear at least one structured piece.  

In the business casual world, developing an appropriate work wardrobe has become a daunting task for many.  Just because your co-workers are or are not wearing it, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. When you get dressed in the morning, the choice is yours--you can be seen as less qualified, less ambitious, and not the obvious candidate; or you can continually show them you are confident, competent, and the right person for the job! 


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