Casual Office? What to Wear and What to Avoid

When I entered the workforce at the beginning of last year, I had no idea what to expect. While in school, I was expected to dress a certain way for big events, presentations, and luncheons – nice shirt, slacks or a knee-length (or longer) skirt, and closed toe shoes. This is what would be considered business casual to some, as there was no suit required. But business casual can also be more relaxed. My school had prepared me for the more conservative work environment, but when I began looking for jobs, there were tons of different work cultures. In my line of work, some companies expect formal business attire, while others are far more casual. When I finally secured a job, one of my first thoughts was, “What do I wear to work?”

Of course, to be sure I followed my company’s expectations, I reached out to my HR rep before my first day to clarify a few things, including dress code. The answer I got seemed more like a riddle: “We are a happy medium between business casual and casual – you can wear slacks or jeans, t-shirts or blouses.” This was certainly a dilemma for someone who likes some boundaries so I don’t tip the scale too far.

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When I first started, I erred on the side of business casual. Overtime, however, I started getting more comfortable, and I like to think I’ve got the hang of a casual work appropriate style.

To save people from the same dilemma I faced, I wanted to share a few quick tips which I’ve found help define what to wear and what not to wear in the casual work place.

What Not to Wear:

Casual work environments are great, but there is a line of what is considered appropriate and inappropriate, and you don’t want to cross that line. Here are a few items to keep out of the office.

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  • Leggings
  • Uggs or slippers
  • Flip flops
  • Very high heels
  • Workout attire
  • Torn jeans
  • Graphic t-shirts
  • Thin-strapped tank tops
  • Short or tight skirts or dresses
What to Wear:

While there are a few things that should not be worn to the office, you do have a lot of wiggle room for what you can wear. Here are a few things that are must-haves in any casual-work-wardrobe.

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  • Blazer
  • Cardigan
  • Denim Jacket
  • Dark-wash jeans
  • Mid-thigh/knee-length skirts or dresses
  • Heels
  • Flats
  • Booties
  • Sandals
  • Button-up blouses
  • Basic T-shirts (plain or simple design)

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There are plenty of things not listed here that are either unsuitable or perfect to wear to work, but this gives a good place to start for anyone unsure of what a casual office dress code really means.

Every office is different and I would encourage anyone with doubts about work attire to ask your superior or an HR representative ahead of time in case there are very specific parameters. If you don’t have those resources right away, err on the side of business dress for the first week or so and assess what your coworkers are wearing. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything too tight or too leisurely and to have fun with the casual items you can easily integrate into any outfit.

While it’s important to be sure you’re in line with the company’s expectations, remember to stay true to your personal style and play around with fun combinations to find the sweet spot between business and casual.