Business casual vs. business professional

Shirts & Tops

Business professional attire and business casual tend to vary depending on the industry. Keep in mind that it’s generally better to be overdressed than underdressed.

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Is business casual or business professional best? 

The question about business casual and business professional seems as old as the office environment itself. The definitions of these two styles can vary widely, depending on the environment and field of work. For example, what’s considered casual for a person in finance may be considered business professional for someone in the technology sector. In general, business professional attire tends to be more conservative and structured in contrast to the more relaxed business casual. 

Business professional: Best in conventional style and playing it safe

Business professional helps to take the guesswork out of a group setting and ensures that there is a level of uniformity within a meeting or conference. This clothing is typically closer in nature to the kind worn by people who work in fields such as finance or law. 

Important notes to consider

ties

Business professional attire typically includes a more polished look such as pantsuits, longer skirts, dress shirts and ties. When looking for a safe business professional look, it’s a good idea to find stock photos of professionals within a boardroom meeting and try to emulate their attire. As times change, business professional can now include a touch of personality, such as a strategic pop of color in a tie or scarf. If you’re unsure about the dress code at your new job, be sure to ask a coworker or supervisor for clarification.

What it’s good at

cuff links

This type of attire is the ideal option for upholding tradition and can effectively convey a sense of timelessness or professionalism. Consider adding essential touches to round off the outfit, like cuff links or a small necklace or watch. The details also matter with professional clothes: make sure that clothes fit correctly and iron pants and shirts to avoid wrinkles.

Wear business professional clothes if…

comfortable flats

The event or meeting is with people in much higher positions than you or it’s a job interview. It’s important to dress up for a job interview even if you already have a position within the company. Consider wearing items such as a smart blazer, comfortable flats, with a tasteful work dress or suit pants. Of course, keep in mind the weather and what clothes you feel comfortable wearing.

Keep in mind…

suit pants

  • The cut and fit of an item such as suit pants or a dress should provide the illusion of a shape without being too tightly fitted or too excessively baggy
  • Professional business attire should generally be made from thicker or higher quality material. Avoid any fabrics that are see-through or snag easily. 
  • Business professional generally means toned-down, minimalist accessories. 
  • Shoes generally need to be closed-toe, even heels.
  • Business professional clothing usually leans closer to a monochrome palette, so when in doubt aim for colors such as black, white, navy or gray.

Don’t wear business professional clothes if…

There are already messages and texts that communicate a need for business casual or call for less restrictive clothing due to intense traveling or physical labor. Wearing extremely formal clothing may negatively distance you from the group if it was explicitly stated to wear business casual. Avoid wearing business professional clothes if the event is something typically informal, such as a cookout or picnic. 

Business casual: Ideal for daily work life or casual Friday

Business casual doesn’t have a clear definition, but there are a few markers to make sure that you’re in the clear. It’s important to note that business casual really varies depending on the office culture and field of employment. What is standard business casual for one office may be too casual for another. Ideally, business casual means slacks or nice jeans instead of suits and skirts, and cardigans or sweaters instead of blazers. 

Important notes to consider

cardigans

Business casual is an office favorite when it comes to days such as casual Fridays. That usually means a more relaxed take on tasteful outfit items such as cardigans and slacks. Slacks are generally similar to suit pants, but they can also be worn as business casual when properly dressed down. Some workplaces allow jeans to be worn as part of business casual attire.

What it’s good at

Business casual is ideal for setting a more relaxed tone at work events or conferences. Business casual clothes help to maintain an elevated professional aesthetic without the frequently associated stuffiness or discomfort of more formal clothing. 

Wear business casual clothes if…

If it’s literally mentioned in an email or if the dress code has a more casual tone and includes informal language. It’s best to use the rule of thumb of paying attention to others so try to take the consensus of the other people within the group and remain at their same level of outfit decorum or even slightly higher. 

Don’t wear business casual clothes if…

The event is at a commonly accepted upscale restaurant or includes a prestigious award ceremony. Ideally, these marked events are associated with business professional clothing. If you have doubts about the level of propriety and decorum, then be sure to either call someone or look up photos from the previous years. 

Should you wear business professional or business casual?

business professional jacket

In general your workwear really depends on the immediate culture of a company as well as the specific event. So which is better?
Overall, the answer depends on the company, culture, and even the specific event. However, when in doubt, it’s usually advised to dress in business professional instead of business casual. Consider bringing a business professional jacket and shoes and leaving them in the car when you are on the fence about the two attire options. Consider calling another person that will attend the event in order to confirm the tone and attire of the event. Another option that can help you to decide about which style to wear is to simply go online and research previous events or even the expected venue. Some restaurants even provide strict clothing guidelines that can act as markers about where your own personal attire should fall within their stated guidelines. Remember that when in doubt it’s usually better to dress up.

 

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Camille Cabrera writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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