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What Does Business Casual Really Mean in the 21st Century?

business casual

Dressing for success means dressing in a fashion that is commonly accepted for the type of position you occupy in business. Through the decades, the terminology has taken on several different forms, including "power dressing," "dressing for success, " and "business casual," just to name a few. What was once deemed appropriate attire is now often overdressing as some companies have relaxed their standards, while others have stepped up their game. It can be confusing if you're not spending time in the mainstream and observing the standard mode of dress for your chosen occupation.

What does business casual mean?

Powerwoe offers a few insights into the recent changes in professional dress codes. If you stepped into the future from 20 years ago, the changes in attire would be drastic. For example, there was a time not long ago that women were required to wear skirts and hosiery as a part of casual business attire. Gradually, these requirements changed over time with more relaxed fashions becoming the norm. While many companies have a loose set of requirements for professional attire, there are still many that require a business casual mode of dress. Business casual applies to both men and women. There are still specific parameters that define this mode of dress. Although the question of gender may not apply as clearly to people who are transgender and have not completed their transition to the desired sex, it's recommended that you dress with the gender you most closely identify with. Here is a gender-specific breakdown that is still frequently assigned to the term Business Casual.


Business casual for men includes dressing in trousers that are either Dockers or Khakis. It's also acceptable to wear a button-down shirt or a polo shirt. It's essential to wear a shirt that has a collar and avoid those that are collarless. Some businesses or organizations may issue their own branded work attire with company logos.


For women, business casual means choosing between skirts or slacks. It's accepted to wear blouses or sweaters with shoes that are comfortable, yet clean and in good condition. Women don't need to wear stockings or hosiery unless directed by the employer. A change that has taken place in casual business style over the years is that it is now okay for women to wear shoes with an open toe such as pumps or sandals.

Is this the only standard for a business casual style of dress?

This is one interpretation for business casual attire, but it's not the only definition you may encounter. It's the most common, but as suggested earlier, each organization may have its idea of how to define business casual. The thing about defining business casual in the 21st century is that social attitudes are still changing. You may have a company that holds to older modes of thought on the subject of business casual. It usually does not mean that you will need to wear a suit and tie, but your employer may have other ideas about what constitutes business casual. Some organizations require their staff to wear specific types of shoes, trousers, and shirts. They may ask you to wear certain colors to represent the company you work for. Some businesses allow for casual clothing, but they may ask that you wear black and white, to blend in with other members of the team and to be more easily identified as staff. This is common for many retailers for their sales force. According to Business Insider, each company has its own culture and climate. The expectation of the appearance of staff may be very different from one company to another.

How do you ensure that you dress appropriately?

The business world of today is in a state of flux in some sectors. While it may be difficult to define business casual without generalizing, there are a few things you can do to figure out what it means as you go. It's uncomfortable to arrive at work and find yourself underdressed, or overdressed. Striking a happy medium is the best place to be. It's always a good idea to observe people who work in comparable job descriptions at a company you are either applying for or have just been hired to work. You can usually get a good idea of how the majority of people in your job dress. Observation is one of the best ways to define what casual business means for specific organizations. Another approach is to do your research online. If you've just been hired for a new job, check out the company's website. Look for information about dress codes and policies. If you dress within the written parameters, you will likely fit in like one of the regulars. If you are still not comfortable about how to dress for a new job, contact the human resources department and ask. It shows that you want to make a good first impression. Bear in mind that some companies have a dress-down Friday, so it's important not to underdress or overdress on your first day.

Final thoughts

We're living in an age when change is happening at a rapid pace. Technologies are evolving and so are social attitudes. While most companies have relaxed their standards for business casual, some still adhere to less formal, but sharply stylish clothing requirements. Some companies define business casual more loosely than others. Most of the time, companies provide clear expectations that outline the types of business clothing that are permitted and those that are not. Even though it's not easy to pinpoint the proper way to dress for each job, you can learn a lot by knowing the loose definitions of casual business and observing people with comparable jobs within any organization. It shouldn't take long to figure out how an organization defines the term. Keep your eyes and ears open. Sometimes it's a good thing to follow the crowd.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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