Business Casual for Women
For men, business casual can mean jeans, a belt, and a polo shirt. For women, it’s a bit more convoluted because of the sheer options we have in our wardrobes. In short, business casual for women falls somewhere between, not what you would wear to the beach/gym, and not a stuffy all-black power suit. Your best bet is to look around you at what your co-workers are wearing. You can also ask your HR manager for guidance as to what business casual means at your company.
Before abandoning you to the business casual black-hole of “something in-between” and “just look around”, here are some guidelines to follow. Plus, we’re including a do’s and don’ts list, how to dress for an interview, how to build a capsule wardrobe, and a shopping guide just right for your budget so you can dress business casual with confidence, and without breaking the bank.
What Does Business Casual Mean?
We’ve all had that moment where we walked into a room and suddenly felt embarrassed and extremely under (or over) dressed for the occasion. We planned and prepped but it was painfully obvious we were out of our depth when stepping into a room dressed differently than everyone else.
When it comes to business settings, the dressing part seems to become even more important. You want to show up for work as your best self, and advance your career and salary. Feeling confident you are dressed the part goes a long way in how you interact at work.
The definition of business casual varies depending on the person, but for most people, it means dressy casual. Clear as mud, right? The goal is to look professional and clean while still projecting a relaxed way of dressing. Women’s business casual clothing usually consists of skirts, dresses, pants, blouses, and sweaters in muted colors and patterns.
The problem with decerning what “business casual” means, is that the definition varies from one company or region to the next. The very best thing you can do is to learn what business casual means for your company. It is important to observe what the majority of your coworkers are wearing. Creative workplaces might lean towards a more casual and colorful version of business casual. While more tech-oriented jobs might be a bit dressier with muted, traditional colors like grey, black, and blue.
Later we’ll get into the dos and don’ts of business casual for women, but keep in mind that anything ripped, stained, wrinkled, or threadbare is a no-go. These items will give you a disheveled “I don’t care” appearance even if you are technically wearing the right clothing.
On that same note, don’t wear anything you’d wear to bed, the gym, or the beach. The idea of dressing business casual for women is about looking the part. How you dress does have an effect on your own mindset at work, and the perception of those around you. Strike the balance between your work look and a relaxed vibe.
What you don’t want to do is overdo it with the business casual for women just as much as you don’t want to underdo it. Make sure your clothes are clean, unwrinkled, and fit appropriately. You want to look pulled-together and polished, not like you’re trying too hard.
You can’t go wrong with a good pair of slacks or a pencil skirt in a neutral color like black, navy blue, gray, or dark brown. A fun pop of print with a silk blouse or button-down is okay, just keep the colors muted. You could also try a cardigan or blazer over your blouse to dress it up a bit. If you do choose to wear a skirt, make sure it’s at least knee-length and not too tight or too loose.
Business Casual for Women on Video Meetings
Whether you’re on Zoom, a Teams video conference, or even a voice call, we recommend getting fully dressed as you would at work. Yes, even down to the shoes and jewelry! How can we unsee the accidental underwear Zoom calls of 2020?
Don’t be that guy (or that girl!) Just don’t take the risk in a video interview of wearing a silk blouse on top and fuzzy pajama pants on the bottom and having your camera at the wrong angle. Besides avoiding potential embarrassment, you will present yourself better and work more efficiently when you’re dressed for work.
With the increase in remote work especially for women who need to balance family and career, it can be difficult to separate work and home life. This imbalance can lead to burnout. Remote workers can also struggle to communicate with, and even be promoted as much as their in-person counterparts. We suggest you dress the part even at home—especially at home. This will help your brain make the necessary switch into the productive work headspace at home.
It will be easier to disconnect from work at the end of the day if you’ve already stepped away mentally and you can do this by dressing for your workday at home, then changing into loungewear when you’re done working for the day. Wearing clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good while still being business-appropriate will help you stay productive when working from home.
Business Casual for Women in Interviews
When it comes to dressing for an interview, first impressions are everything. You want to make a good one.
Many people make the mistake of preparing for their interviews by researching what they should do on the day of an interview, and neglecting how they will present themselves in person or on camera. Both are important steps to prep for. But as more companies rely on video interviews, you need to feel confident and comfortable in front of that screen!
When it’s time for a remote interview over video chat, you want to look professional and polished—not like someone who just rolled out of bed or took off work at the last second before hopping into their car. This is why we recommend wearing business professional attire during an interview.
If you’re interviewing on video, which has become the standard practice for many companies since the 2020 pandemic, what you wear matters. Because a video interview is a different environment than an in-person interview, you’ll want to pick a fairly simple top without loud or distracting patterns. These may work in person; they’ll probably take up all the visual space in a video interview. We suggest a simple silk top with a cute blazer and classy black pants.
If your interview is in person, it will be more difficult to have a read of what people at the company are wearing. In this case, giving HR a call to ask about their company dress code will give you the most accurate insight into how to dress for the interview. When in doubt, we recommend erring on the part of a business professional for an interview. It will give you that confidence boost you need to give the interview your very best.
Business Casual vs. Business Professional
Speaking of interviews, let’s define the difference between business casual and business professional for women.
- Dressy jeans (no rips or holes)
- Tailored or pencil skirt to the knee
- Midi Dress
- Flats or low boots (closed-toe is preferable)
- Cardigans, sweaters, or blazers
- Moderate accessories and jewelry
- Tailored skirt or pants suit in neutral colors like blue, grey, or black
- A classically tailored dress with a coordinating jacket
- A blazer with coordinating pants
- Shirt tucked in
- Hosiery and dressy closed-toed shoes
- Minimal accessories and jewelry
- Leather bag
You may have a job where you will need to dress as a business professional for meetings, interviews, and conferences, but can dress in business casual the rest of the time. It’s important to understand the difference. If you don’t need to dress as a business professional most of the time, you do not need to invest heavily in expensive suits. Just one blazer and coordinating tailored skirt, or pants can go a long way. You can incorporate these pieces into your business casual wardrobe by untucking a shirt, adding a scarf, and leaving the hosiery at home.
Business casual vs. business professional, which is better? It’s not the easiest question to answer because it depends on your company culture and what you want to convey about yourself. If you want to come across as someone who values their time at work, then you might feel more comfortable in a business-casual environment. On the other hand, if you are looking for ways to stand out or be noticed by leadership for potential promotions, then dressing up professionally may send the message that your career is important to you.
The best way to find out how much formality suits your workplace is to look around at what others are wearing and ask HR managers or co-workers about guidelines set forth by management teams. You can also try contacting human resources or management professionals at other companies to get an idea of what is considered business casual attire.
How to Stay Comfortable in Your Business Casual Clothing
The main reason companies opt for business casual is it’s a lot more comfortable. And comfortable employees make happy, productive employees. Make sure your casual wardrobe is effortlessly comfy and classy. We recommend high-waisted and stretchy pants, comfy flats, and layered tops for that just-right temperature. We all know how fun it is to sit under an arctic AC vent at work or have another damn hot flash!
Did you know they make yoga pants for workwear!? Yes, they do and if you haven’t tried them yet you are missing out. They are your same favorite yoga pants, but with classic slacks pockets, belt loops, and seams you can wear with heels or flats.
We love woven ballerina flats from Frank Mully or Rothy’s. These stretchy flats made out of plastic water bottles have mind-blowing comfort you will never want to take off. A good classic pair will complement all your outfits, but if you’re anything like us you’ll want them in all the colors and patterns!
Are Jeans Business Casual?
Are jeans business casual? In a word, yes. But with acceptions. In general, ripped jeans and noticeably distressed jeans are not considered business casual. My beloved 4-way stretch ripped American Eagle jeans are sadly going to have to stay at home.
But there are a lot of jeans that fit the bill. Look for clean lines, darker washes, and no holes. Judy Blue makes some of the world’s most flattering and comfortable jeans all the ladies at work are raving about. Lucky Brand Jeans are another classic staple with the quality you can feel as you wear them. We love the selection to find the perfect fit for your shape.
Whether or not you can wear jeans to work also greatly depends on your company’s policies. Jeans are a good go-to for many people on casual Fridays, or when you’re running errands during lunch. But if your office is strict about what’s appropriate to wear, you might want to think twice before donning your favorite jeans the next time you have a meeting with your boss.
Business Casual for Women: What To, and What Not To Wear
As much as we keep saying, it all depends on the culture of your workplace, we know you like hard and fast rules. So here is our list of what to, and what not to wear when dressing business casual.
On the not-to-wear list, some items are simply “too much” to be appropriate for the workplace. If what you wear is an in-your-face type of distraction for your colleagues, it will take away the excellence of your work. Only you know where that line is, and if you’re unsure, text a picture of your outfit to a girlfriend you know has good taste.
What To Wear:
- Clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident
- Dressy Jeans, Yoga Slacks, or high-waisted tie front trousers
- Jumpsuits with layers on top
- Top layers including sweaters, cardigans, blazers, and jackets
- Midi dresses with layers on top
- Knee-length skirts, not too tight, and not too loose
- Tops tucked in or out
- Moderate accessories and jewelry
- Closed-toed shoes are best
What Not To Wear:
- Ripped jeans
- Flip flops or sandals
- Overly loud prints or 1,000 accessories
- Loungewear or pajamas
- Excessive cleavage
- Business professional when you’re the only one in it
- Clothing that makes you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious
Business Casual Capsule Wardrobe
Now that you have all these great ideas, you may be wondering what pieces you need and where to shop. We love the idea of having a business casual capsule wardrobe where you have around 20 pieces that you love and fit you well. Use what you already have and buy each piece so it can mix and match with all the other pieces, giving you an effortless style that always looks put together. Depending on the climate you live in, you will likely need a fall/winter wardrobe, and a spring/summer one.
A business capsule wardrobe for women includes a few versatile pieces that can be dressed up or down to create multiple outfits. A blazer, a few dress pants, a variety of tops, and a skirt are all good options to start with. You can also add a few accessories, like a scarf or necklace, to change the look of your outfits.
There is no exact recipe for creating a business casual capsule wardrobe, but we like these basics as a starting point:
- Tops 5-7
- Layering tops 2-3
- Pants 3-4
- Skirts 1-2
- Dresses 2-3
- Jumpsuit 1
- Shoes 2-3
When creating a capsule, consider your budget, your needs, and what you already have. Start by going through your closet and pulling out every single item you would consider business casual. Go through every piece and ask yourself these questions: “does it fit, is it in good condition, is it right for my business environment, have I worn it in the past year?” If you can’t answer yes to every question, then toss that item in the donate pile.
Now you have the beginnings of your capsule wardrobe in front of you. Lay them outside on your couch, bed, or closest floor and see how they look as a group. Are there some pieces that don’t coordinate with the rest of the group? Are you starting to see a pattern of styles that all go well together?
Set aside what doesn’t coordinate with everything else. Grab a pencil and paper and list out what you already have, and what you need to complete your business casual capsule wardrobe. Once you know what you need, visualize what colors would go well with what you already have. Cream, grey, black, and light blue are all very neutral colors that go well with almost anything. You can definitely add some fun accent colors and textures in there. Now that you have your list, let the shopping begin!
Where to Shop for Business Casual Clothing (on Different Budgets)
Shopping on a Small Budget
If you’re just starting out in the workforce, or if your budget is tight, it’s tough to find work clothes that are both professional and affordable. But there are some great places to shop for business casual clothing on a budget which will make you feel empowered and confident at work! These stores offer amazing deals on high-quality pieces with an eye toward dressing women of all shapes and sizes. So, no matter what your circumstances, you can look like a million bucks at work!
What can we say, we are Amazon moms? Who can argue with the reviews, cheap prices, and two-day shipping to your door with free returns? You must check out these stretchy yoga trousers on Amazon and get yourself some!
Poshmark is another great place to shop for trusted brands on a budget. Poshmark is a marketplace of users buying and selling from their own wardrobe. Their system is uniquely set up to protect both the buyer and the seller. They also have super-fast shipping, an impressive selection, and great search features. So you can usually find exactly what you’re looking for. Some items are sold new with tags and others are used, and users upload their pictures so you can see exactly what you’re getting.
H&M is another favorite shop with great deals and lots of classics, and fashion-forward pieces. Even if you don’t have an H&M near you, they make online shopping easy. For the price, the quality is good. H&M has nailed the modern business casual look, so there will be lots of pieces to choose from that can work in your wardrobe.
TJ MAX. Because who doesn’t love sorting through dozens of racks, one piece at a time? It can actually be therapeutic! Bonus at TJ MAX you can try the clothes on, and you’ll get name brands at a fraction of the price. You will walk out with a few gems and sometimes that’s all you need to refresh your wardrobe.
Shopping on a Medium Budget
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on the perfect work clothes. In fact, most people only wear them for a few hours each day at most. You can find high-quality pieces that are affordable and attractive at some of our favorite stores. With a handful of high-quality basic pieces, you can afford to fill in with fun items that are a bit trendier and will go out of style more quickly.
If your budget allows, and you love the comfort and high quality, you absolutely must check out the stretchy comfort at Athleta. Known for their top-notch athletic wear and athletic wear and athleisure, they now have lots of quality tops and stretch pants that will fit the business casual bill, but feel like butter on. Treat yourself girl, you work hard and deserve it!
Express is another medium budget favorite, and they often have great sales that would put them in the lower medium budget category. Express oozes business casual in their whole store and is designed for the working woman to feel comfortable, and a little sexy too. You can find everything you need for work, and a night out, at Express.
If you love black and white aesthetics, you will be obsessed with the White House Black Market. True to its name, their clothes are primarily black and white, but ever so chic and classy. Plus, the fit is spot on and they are comfy while looking totally put together. They do have lots of fun patterns and colors that complement well with the black and white look.
Macy’s! Every Millennial who grew up hanging out with their friends at indoor malls knows the perfume smell and sea of golden racks carrying only the best at Macy’s. The charm of Macy’s is having all those gorgeous brands in one place, plus personal assistance in-store.
Our top pick for the hard-working boss ladies with an open budget is Theory. Theory’s high-end minimal staples are perfect for a timeless capsule wardrobe that will last. Consider making a move away from fast fashion and wasting excess and doing as the French do. Invest in a small wardrobe of effortless, high-quality staples and look chic as hell. You can find Theory in department stores or their own boutiques.
Other honorable mentions:
- Banana Republic: the Banana Republic is another great choice for high-quality, versatile pieces that will never go out of style. Their pieces are also designed to be mixed and matched so you can get the most use out of them. They often have sales, too, making them a more affordable option.
- Asos: Asos is a great choice for business casual clothing that won’t break the bank. They offer lots of options and they even let you upload your own pics if the pieces aren’t already in their catalog.
- Stitch Fix: If you prefer to leave the shopping for someone else, then try Stitch Fix. They send you five pieces of clothing (and accessories) based on your style preferences and you keep what you want and send back the rest. It’s a great way to try out new styles without having to go to the store.
- Zara: Zara is a great place to find affordable, trendy pieces that will help you stand out from the crowd. Just be careful not to buy too many things that will go out of style quickly.
- Target: We love Target for basics because they are affordable, high quality, and available in the latest trends. Plus, they have all the home goods already on your list. As busy women and moms, we love one-stop-shopping.
- Mango: Mango is another budget-friendly option for trendy pieces. Their clothes are very inexpensive and they update their lookbooks often.
- Everlane: Everlane is another great budget-friendly option for business casual clothing focused on basics.
Business Casual Accessories
Accessories can make or break your look. Incorporating business casual accessories into your wardrobe is simple and easy if you follow this rule: Stay away from anything too flashy or trendy. You want to look like you put thought into your outfit, not like you just stepped out of a club.
- Scarves are your best friend! A scarf is a great way to elevate any outfit and make it feel more special.
- Statement necklaces are also very useful for transforming basic outfits into something more eye-catching. Match them with conservative outfits for a more professional look. Or go for something fun and funky for a more relaxed vibe.
- Wear classic jewelry that won’t go out of style. Hoop earrings, simple necklaces, and tennis bracelets are all good options. You don’t want to have to worry about your accessories on a daily basis, so choose something that you know you can wear with anything.
- Finally, nail polish is a great way to add a pop of color to any outfit, no matter what the season is. Choose a light shade for summer or something dark and dramatic for winter. As long as it’s tasty, you can’t go wrong!
The best way to figure out what accessories work for you is to experiment a little. Try different things and see what makes you feel comfortable and confident. And most importantly, have fun with it!
The BEST Outfit Advice You’ll Ever Get
All this talk about what to wear, what not to wear, rules for dressing at the office, and examples can be very helpful. But nothing can replace how confidence makes you look. Being comfortable in your own skin is an irresistible quality that far too many working women lack.
We’ve all met a woman before who oozes humble confidence. She’s someone we all want to be around and hope her poise rubs off on us. But how can we be more like her? It sounds nice to feel confident, but how do we practically do that? How is it possible with stretch marks, chipped nails because we don’t have time for ourselves with kids at home, and dark tired circles under our eyes? What is the hack for THAT mess?
The answer is to practice loving yourself every day.
It’s really that simple. Yes, it’s much easier said than done, but loving yourself starts from within and radiates outwardly. It all begins in the dressing room… when you strip off your clothes and stand there in front of a mirror with nothing on, looking at your naked reflection what do you see?
If you are like most women, you see all your flaws. You might see the rolls of fat on your stomach, the cellulite on your thighs, or the wrinkles on your forehead. You catalog every single thing that is wrong with your body. And then feel bad about yourself because of it.
But what if you didn’t do that? What if you changed your perspective on your body instead of feeling bad about yourself? Imagine this—you strip off all your clothes, and look at yourself in the mirror with nothing on. And see a strong capable woman who has fought through menopause, childbirth, heartbreak, and loss of loved ones to war/cancer/ill-health. But somehow emerged a winner on the other side. You see a woman who loves herself despite all her flaws and views them as battle scars that make her unique.
This isn’t about being narcissistic; it’s about changing your perspective to one that is more positive. It doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days or feel self-conscious about yourself. But you will be more at peace with your body and not constantly down on yourself for it. And that translates to dressing better, feeling better, and living a happier life in and out of the workplace.
So, before you put on clothes every day, remember the goal isn’t to look like someone else or try to hide who you are—it’s actually the opposite. The goal is to learn to love yourself. And your body for what it does instead of how it looks or what you don’t like about it.
And when you’re able to do that, getting dressed will be a whole lot easier because you’re already dressing with purpose!
Need more than just a little pep talk on dressing with confidence from the inside out? You need MOM AF. Ranked a Top 10 Inspirational Book for Working Moms.
MOM AF is a sister circle in a book for moms, inspired by a single working mom, and Forbes Senior Writer Christine Carter. It’s perfect for fans of I Just Want to Pee Alone and Jill Smokler’s Scary Mommy. Moms and women feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of life will find MOM AF cathartic. Even if you’re not a working mom, you know one who absolutely needs this gift in her life.
Here’s the problem.
I’m striving to be perfect, but am by no means close to it. After all, society demands so much of us. In today’s world, many of us are on the journey to becoming health-conscious women. We desire to be the best moms, partners, and professionals. But we keep running on caffeine, chaos, and cuss words. Tireless doubts overwhelm every decision we make.
See? You are not alone.
There are millions of us. We’re flawed. We’re unpolished. We AIN’T wake up like this.
What you need (and what I offer to you through this book) is honesty and companionship. You don’t want to feel regret and believe me, you are not alone. This is a sister circle in a book for mom; it is about YOU. You’re going to hear the story of a woman you’ve never met, but who might be just like you. My spirit is fueled by you. I’m a badass bitch now, but you’ll soon discover that means being a boss in some areas, just okay in a few more, and downright fucked-up in the rest.
Above all, I hope that this book will help you rediscover yourself again—outside of being a mom. I hope it boosts your confidence and makes you feel great in your own skin. It’s okay to want to reclaim your life. To regain your strength, your sexy, and your sanity. It’s my story. But it was written with you in mind, mama, because I, too, sometimes let other forces take it over. At the end of the day, we’re all just striving for balance while raising these little turds; we have more similarities than differences.
You may not be perfect at the end of this book, but hopefully, I can help you be present.