Building The Perfect Business Casual Wardrobe

Last updated: December 26, 2021

Dressing professionally doesn’t have to mean stiff. There are a plethora of looks you can draw upon to put together the perfect business casual outfit; you just have to strike the ideal balance between business formal and informal.

One thing is for sure, dressing in T-shirts and shorts is considered too casual. But walking in the office in a suit is too formal.

In practice, this phrase is vague because your wardrobe can change between offices.

Throughout your fashion journey, you’ll notice a change in attire everywhere you go- from suits and ties to oxford shirts and dark denim.

As a rule of thumb, ask around or observe what types of clothing are acceptable in the office, start by dressing towards the formal side.

Afterward, you can begin to lean more into what casual means for your wardrobe in your field.

It’s essential to create a budget that’s relative to your current living situation and income.

Casual Vs. Business Casual – BIG DIFFERENCE!

While there are options that tell you that you’ll need a minimum budget to get a “quality” wardrobe, finances are based on your current resources.

In reality, you must estimate how much you can afford, what is needed, and what’s most important.

How to Find Business Casual Clothes

Follow these three steps if you need help finding the right clothes according to your size and preferences.

1) First, don’t be afraid to look to those with similar features, skin tone, and body type for what would work for you.  This can mean going to the Banana Republic, H&M, whatever you have at your disposal online or in-person, and finding visual representatives for what might look good on you.

Each brand has different sizing requirements, mainly depending on where they chiefly operate or sell to, meaning that you’ll have to find the correct size for your clothes.

2) Second, prioritize knowing the concept of fit and hire a tailor to get it set. Tailors are resourceful and can help with improving the fit and finer elements of your clothes.

3) Third, try out made-to-measure options. Made-to-measure clothing is a process where clothes can be tailored to fit your specific measurements. While this might be a more expensive option, this is a surefire way to get clothes your size.

Button-Up Shirts

Button-up shirts will be the main staple in your wardrobe except for offices that have a relaxed definition of what is casual.

Button-up shirts can range between dress shirts (Can be paired with suits, slacks, or sports coats) or casual shirts (pairs well with casual pants like chinos)

Formal dress shirts are sized by the sleeve length and the neck size. The next time you’re out shopping, ask the attendants if they can measure your size before trying out the shirt.

Casual shirts use letter sizing (S, M, L), have a shorter length, and use more casual fabrics to help complete the look. 

Prioritize getting the correct shoulder fit (having the shoulder seams of the shirt line up with the end of your shoulder) and your arm width – Slim the body of the shirt if the width is too wide for you. On the other hand, get it tailored if the length is taller than you.

Shop around! Every clothing brand is different, meaning that shirts can vary in body width and length. If a brand is too wide, try another brand until you find a shirt that fits your body.

Make sure that your shirt fits your shoulder correctly (where the shirt’s shoulder seams align with your shoulders) and has proper arm width. If the shirt length is too long, you can have it tailored, while the shirt body can be slimmed if it’s too broad.

When selecting shirts, pay attention to its fabric, collar,  pattern (which can determine how the shirt looks with or without ties). Button-down collars are viewed as casual. In more formal settings, you should avoid wearing buttoned or flap pockets.

Start by creating a rotation of simple colors (Red, Blue, Black, etc.) with seven days worth of shirts. Once you start to feel comfortable, start branching out your shirt collection with newer shirts.

Dress Shirts

While Semi-Spread Collars in Poplar/Poplin/Twill is a good staple, we suggest wearing no buttons on the collar. When picking out dress shirts, you’ll find yourself wearing ties more often – it’s better to have a spare tie nearby instead of rubbing out food during your next event.

  • Twill/Poplin/Pinpoint, semi-spread (Light Blue)
  • Large or small gingham
  • White base with a basic stripe pattern
  • Casual Shirts
  • Thick Stripes
  • Button-down shirts in light blue or white
  • Check or Plaid Pattern

Additional Topics

Collar Stays – Collar stays are good for wearing tucked in shirts and give more spotlight to your collar.

Non-Iron versus Regular – I suggest going regular because non-iron shirts will have to be ironed after laundry day.

Recommended Brands

  • H&M
  • Ratio
  • Proper Cloth
  • J Crew
  • Brioni
  • Charvet
  • Kiton

Polos

Polos do still have a place in the “business casual” workplace and don’t have to be reserved for “bros” or uptight managers only.

However, I prefer wearing casual button-up shirts due to their accessibility and because they fit in my size.

Recommended Brands:

  • Target
  • Lacoste
  • Vineyard Vines
  • Uniqlo
  • Sunspel

Pants

With pants, you’ll want to have a small rotation of pants that can be worn regularly. However, color coordination and styling are key when creating a business casual wardrobe.

Considerations:

  • ChinosChinos are great for more “casual” settings when worn in the right shades. Always make sure that your chinos match properly with your shoes!
  • Slacks – Slacks have a more formal reputation than chinos and work better in a wardrobe that involves sports coats and ties.

Alternatives:

Summer weight Chinos – For warmer areas, summer weight chinos are a great option. 

Summer wool trousers – This is a good summer weight chino alternative that can be used for hot days.

Colors – Navy, Medium Gray, Charcoal, Olive, and Khaki

Flannel wool trousers – For colder seasons, flannel wool trousers are a great option.

Notes:

You might have a hard time finding wool trousers under $100: For a better deal, try shopping during the winter/fall seasons. If its too cold, and you know your measurements, feel free to shop online.

While some workplaces view dark denim in black or navy to be acceptable – don’t assume this is always the case. Ask around to see what pants colors are acceptable in the office.

Recommended Brands:

  • Land’s End
  • Taylor Stitch
  • Uniqlo
  • Howard Yout
  • Epaulet

Shoes

Besides dress-shirts and pants, shoes are an essential part of your wardrobe.

  • Light brown brogues
  • Derbys
  • Brown cap toes
  • Leather or suede  brown blucher/chukka

Notes:

  • When dressing formally, maintain your shoe’s appearance through a good polish and shine.
  • Avoid wearing shoes that are square-toed, as their foot shape is different than the accepted chiseled toe shoes.

Ties

Depending on your workplace, you’ll either wear ties daily or occasionally. If ties are common in your office, try to get a handful of ties in simple patterns. This gives them more versatility and makes them easier to match with your clothes.

You’ll only need two to three ties in your wardrobe. Don’t fall into the trap of getting more quantity over quality. Build your tie wardrobe over time, and you’ll experience the rewards each time someone compliments your outfit.

You can choose the length and width (Measurement suggestion: +/- 0.5″ lapel width. Make sure that it matches the width of the jacket for a proper fit).

Recommended Beginner Options:

  • Navy Dot – Use smaller dots in more formal settings
  • Prince of Wales/Glen Plaid in grey
  • Knit – For more casual clothing, but can be used to dress up or down if needed.
  • Repp Stripe – A navy tie with dark red stripes
  • Grenadine (dark green, navy, or burgundy)

Materials

Start with silk because it works year-round. Once you build a collection, look into linen and cotton seasonal ties. For those shopping on a tight budget, don’t go for ties made out of satin or synthetic fiber. There are thousands of stores available that sell cheap ties, and artificial fibers just have a “tacky” look.

Recommended Brands:

  • Chipp Neckwear
  • Brook’s Brothers
  • Suit Supply
  • Tom Ford
  • Hermes
  • Canali
  • The Knottery
  • Ralph Lauren Polo

Sports Coat / Blazer

Jacket Styling

  • Get lapels at 2.5-3” on the widest points. Wide lapels should be used for large builds while slimmer lapels go for smaller builds.
  • Length: Have preference, but make sure it covers your rump.
  • Show at least a ¼ or ½ of your shirt cuff.

Try the “Shoulder Into Wall Trick:” Start by placing your shoulder near a wall and lean against it. If your shoulder pads strike first and become scrunched up before your shoulder is there, it’s way too big.

Charcoal and Navy make great colors for beginners. Navy is a good starter choice and can be paired with a grey sports coat.