What Can You Wear When The Dress Code Is Business Casual?

These days, we're all well-versed in "zoom casual," or dressing for the office from the waist up. Since 2019 — and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — the amount people working from home in the U.S. grew from approximately 9 million to 27.6 million (via United States Census Bureau). This sharp increase also meant a change in fashion — buttoned sweaters replaced structured blazers, per GQ, and elastic waistbands became preferable to zippers and belts. However, as more and more employees commute back to their actual workplaces, rather than their couches, it's time to upgrade our office attire (via Forbes). 

As noted by Well Said, Inc. president Darlene Price via Business Insider, "Many highly intelligent, well-qualified, capable men and women are often disqualified or dismissed because 'they don't sell for what they're worth.'" In other words, "They've left the 'business' out of 'business casual' and the lack of professional appearance holds them back." Though you can always look to an episode of NBC's "The Office" for fashion inspiration, bring your workplace's business casual dress code to the 2020s with the help of a few simple guidelines — and maybe even pants with a zipper.

You can't go wrong with a white button down

Per Darlene Price via Business Insider, a "business casual" dress requires a level of professionalism while also allowing for a certain amount of comfort. Oxford Dictionary defines it as "a style of dressing in which people who work in business wear clothes that are suitable for their profession but less formal than traditional business clothes." When it comes to your top, you can't go wrong with a white button-down like this tailored style from Banana Republic. In chillier months, layer a cozy pull-over sweater on top — check out this extra soft J. Crew crew neck — and don't forget to let the collar peek out.

Try on tailored trousers

According to Forbes, our attire can have an effect on both our mood and performance. "Generally speaking, what you wear to the office definitely has some impact on productivity," reasons Roberto Revilla, "tailor in-chief" at Roberto Revilla London. With this in mind, part of getting out of that weekend mindset could involve swapping yoga pants for trousers like this simple pair of straight leg black pants from Quince — a button can do wonders. Alternatively, bottoms can be a great way to incorporate a pattern — check out these slim checkered pants from Banana Republic and add a little character to your office fit.

Keep it breezy in a satin blouse

Satin is the perfect fabric for spring and summer office wear. Invest in something like this gray long sleeve from Amazon or shake it up with a silky short sleeve from Quince. Alternatively, Stitch Fix notes that patterned shirts are growing increasingly popular. Think bold florals, abstract color blocking, and geometric prints. Ultimately, lightweight fabric is the perfect way to preserve comfort while still adhering to a dress code. Though, according to Indeed, business casual will be partially defined by the industry you're in. For instance, the entertainment and finance industries will have varying requirements.

High waisted skirts work for any season

As Fairygodyboss communications director Samantha Spica told Refinery29, "no two companies are exactly the same, so I always say to overdress [when you're new to the job], and then get a feel for what everybody wears." When in doubt, a pencil skirt is a great choice — not too formal, and a step above casual. Wear something like this simple Banana Republic skirt with your go-to button-down. In colder weather, pair it with a cardigan, lined tights, and maybe even trendy knee-high boots. Alternatively, find a loose-fitting, pleated option for warmer months.

Talk to your boss about denim

As Shea Jensen, Nordstrom's general merchandise manager told The New York Times, jeans are "really having a moment" as many workers head back to their in-person jobs. Many bosses, too, have grown more accepting of previously-taboo workplace fabrics like denim. Opt for tailored, dark-wash jeans like this high-waisted pair from Express. To dress up the fit, pair with a satin camisole — check out this washable shirt from Quince — and a fitted blazer. Though keep in mind, even though low-rise jeans might be back in style, it's best to avoid anything that shows off too much skin.

Business comfort is here to stay

As noted by The New York Times, Stitch Fix is referring to today's post-pandemic office fashion as "business comfort." According to the site, over 80% of women list comfort as a priority. In other words, there's an influx of elastic-waisted products like this pair of tapered joggers from Athleta. Simply match with a white button-down, loafers, and maybe a hint of gold jewelry — from here, you're office ready, no belts required. If joggers aren't for you, try something like these pull-on tapered trousers from Banana Republic. While they give the appearance of structured bottoms, the waist is just as stretchy as your favorite pair of sweats.

Channel Steve Jobs and dawn a turtleneck

Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs was the champion of the black turtleneck, a look later adopted by Theranos' infamous founder Elizabeth Holmes (via Yahoo). "Famous business people and politicians are known to be consistent with their wardrobe because it's their brand identity," explains Millennial Branding founder Dan Schawbel, per Forbes. Now, you too can channel tech moguls by jumping on the turtleneck train. Pair this cozy Banana Republic top with tailored pants and a cardigan. Alternatively, tuck it into a loose-fitting, belted midi skirt.

Bring your favorite dresses out of pandemic retirement

Though some have opted for more casual styles since the onset of the pandemic, others are anxious to go all out now that work is officially back in session. "We saw radical swings in work attire through Covid as people were dressing for the keyboard up, as we like to say, and now as they return to the office, there's a really exciting enthusiasm about head-to-toe dressing again," explains Shea Jensen, Nordstrom's general merchandise manager (via The New York Times). With this in mind, there's no better time to pick out some new favorite business casual dresses — for instance, check out this comfy patterned design from Known Supply. Or, if your office runs cold, this sweater dress from Quince is a great option. When it comes to skirt length, Indeed recommends keeping it knee-length or lower.

Layer a knit vest

According to Vogue, knitwear is in. Especially in colder weather, knit vests are a great way to add a little dimension, and warmth, to your workplace ensemble. Over a standard button-down, layer a sweater vest. Consider this Banana Republic design and pair it with straight-legged trousers or spice up your silhouette with a wide-legged cut. Check out this pair from Known Supply for inspiration. Alternatively, wear a knit vest with capped sleeves — like this ribbed Express design — on its own, no button-downs necessary.

Pleather pants can be tailored to fit your workplace environment

"Companies are more concerned with the work employees are actually doing than with the clothes they wear," says Fairygodyboss communications director Samantha Spica (via Refinery29). With this in mind, don't be afraid to show a little bit of personality by incorporating unique fabrics — something like pleather, for example. Cosmopolitan recommends making leather leggings workplace appropriate by dressing them down with flats and a blazer. Best of all, you can repurpose them for weekend nights with heels and a figure-hugging top. Check out this high-waisted pair from Express or impress in these wide leg pants from Banana Republic.

Avoid logos when dressing business casual

As recommended by Indeed, it's best to steer clear of logos or graphic tees when dressing for a business casual event or workplace. Given office requirements, you'll also want to avoid clothing items like shorts, crop tops, and flip-flops — really anything that shows a lot of skin. Although Masterclass suggests muted tones (blacks, whites, tans, and grays), look to your colleagues for guidance. If they're wearing color, spice it up yourself with something like these bold purple pants from Banana Republic or even statement earrings from an Etsy small business. After all, bright colors have been linked to boosted moods (via Vogue).

Stay comfortable all day in flats

When it comes to footwear, keep it comfy. According to Samantha Spica, communications director at Fairygodyboss, "you can easily skip the heels, and go with the flats" (via Refinery29). Alternatively, opt for a shiny pair of leather loafers like this pair from Madewell, or, in the fall and winter months, wear your favorite pair of booties. As noted by The Muse's director of people and talent, Lillian Landrum, you can even use shoes to dress up a casual base. "If you're going to wear jeans and a trendy blazer with a tee, I would still suggest wearing polished shoes to pull the look together," she told Refinery29.

Blazers are getting bigger

As Stitch Fix predicts, structured blazers will soon evolve into a thing of the past when it comes to business casual dress codes. Today, styles are trending towards oversized like Everlane's plaid design. Simply layer with a white tee, and you're ready to go. Other blazers — such as this style from Athleta — are collarless and stretchy for maximum comfort. You can even incorporate a little edge to your outfit with oversized pleather or introduce a pop of color with this patterned look from Wildfang.