What IS Business Casual?

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I just received an invite to a special event and at the bottom in bold letters was the announcement: Attire: Business casual. Business casual, that used to be easy for me.

It meant a blue blazer, khaki pants and a blue shirt. Noooo problem.

Even though most events are business casual, my definition of it is no longer automatic. I showed up at an event at a startup company with my usual business casual on and everyone looked at me like I was the crazy college professor. Everyone else was wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt.

I think we need new categories that outline a little more than just plain business casual. More specific categories would take all the guessing out of what to wear. Here are a few suggestions that I would like to see at the bottom of an invitation:

  • Dress like Steve Jobs did – Blue jeans, mock black turtleneck and hip eyeglasses. Works in most places.
  • Dress as if you are going to the gym – Sweatpants, hoodie and cool Nike shoes. Good with very early stage start-ups.
  • Business attire – Sometimes business casual really means business attire which still means wearing a tie and wingtips. Good at banks and oil companies.
  • Dress like you are meeting Ralph Lauren for lunch – Wear the best clothes you have (no polyester) and no tie.
  • Dress like you are a game developer – Wear a T-shirt with an old Atari logo, ripped out jeans and Converse hi-tops.
  • Dress like you are not sure of the definition of business casual – Khaki pants and a golf shirt will be the default outfit.

All of the above can be categorized as business casual depending on where you are and who you work with. New York City dress is different than Silicon Valley dress. Bottom line is to know where you are going and wear what makes you feel comfortable, whatever that might be. Even in a crowd of “business casuals” what you wear will make you either stand out or blend in. You can make the choice. In the meantime, I will hold onto my khakis but keep the blazer in the trunk of the car, just in case.

For women business casual is even more difficult. Comments on that one are certainly welcome.

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