• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

What Is Business Casual? Work Clothing Ideas for 2024

If your office wardrobe is currently in less than working order, you’re not alone. The amorphous guideline of “business casual” attire feels more confusing than ever as many people work over Zoom (often in, let’s be honest, sweatpants). That’s why we consulted style experts to narrow down the most versatile styles for work, business travel and semi-formal events.

There’s no denying your sartorial decisions say something about who you are, says Los Angeles-based stylist Negar Ali Kline. In the office environment, “you’re dressing to present the way you want to be perceived in the world,” she explains, so you may want to think twice before showing up in a worn T-shirt or shorts like some have been doing, notes The Wall Street Journal newsroom.

Of course you still want to be comfortable. These picks and go-to brands from the pros will help you gear up for in-person meetings, business dinners, interviews and more.

Go for versatile pieces

Classic Comfort Five-Pocket Jeans, Men's
Premium Cotton Pants, Men's

Joseph Rosenfeld, a consultant who specializes in executive presence training and personal styling based in New York City and Silicon Valley, also looks for “hybrid” pieces. Zegna’s Comfort Classic Comfort Five-Pocket Jeans are a top pick that he frequently recommends to clients because they look sharp at the office but are still comfortable enough to wear at home. The brand’s Premium Cotton Pants are slightly dressier: “I personally own and find that they perform very well,” Rosenfeld says.

Crop Flare Pant, Women's

Flexibility is key when you want to look polished and professional but also stay as comfortable as we’ve been in our WFH lives, says Leslie J. Ghize, executive vice president of Doneger TOBE, an international fashion retail consulting service. She recommends Vince’s crop flare pants for hitting this balance; with their tailored cut and stretchy fabric and waistband, they look like trousers but fit more like leggings and, says Ghize, they look good with flats or heels.

Bow-Tie Blouse

For women, try tops with relaxed fits and “statement” details, Rosenfeld suggests, like this flowy Lilysilk bow-tie blouse. The breathable fabric has a smooth feel, and the shirt features a bow that can be tied up or let down for a more casual look. Choose from six colors, including Black, Blue Haze and Light Camel, and you can even add a monogram below the back collar or on the left cuff sleeve for an extra $9.


Choose stretchy material

Classic Fit Commuter Shirt

To help her clients dress comfortably for the workplace, Global Image Group stylist and executive image consultant Michelle T. Sterling sticks with streamlined silhouettes in performance fabrics like spandex or cotton-nylon blends. A favorite, Rhone’s wrinkle-resistant Commuter Shirt, comes in six different colors as well as classic and slim fits. “My clients tell me, ‘I feel like I’m wearing pajamas, but it’s a button-down shirt.”

Eden Sleeveless Tie-Front Dress

The phrase “business casual” may not even be the right way to think about dressing for the office anymore, according to Loretta Choy, chief merchandising officer of Stitch Fix. It’s more “business comfort,’” she says, which translates to “polished looks that feel good to wear, unlike pencil skirts and structured suiting of the past.” One of her standbys is a knit dress from Modern Citizen, which has a mock neck style and is made of a machine-washable viscose and spandex blend with an adjustable tie waist.

Edgartown Pique Polo

For men, collared yet comfortable polos are “the new button-downs,” Choy says—and the popular stretch-cotton versions from Vineyard Vines come in nine different hues to pair with everything from denim to dress pants.


Try a high-low balance

Travel Blazer
The Original Cashmere Sweater, Women's

You can’t go wrong if you hedge your bets with a casual-chic combination. That’s why Kline suggests anchoring your closet with a few timeless, high-end pieces that can easily be dressed down, such as a structured jacket. Her go-tos for male clients include Brunello Cucinelli’s travel blazer; she frequently pairs the lightweight silk and wool piece with relaxed styles of pants, like denim and chinos. Similarly, a cashmere crewneck, like this one from Naadam, is easy to dress up or down with trousers or jeans. For more options, see our list of the best cashmere sweaters for men and women.


Stock up on a works-with-anything staple

Signature Stripe Cuff Shirt
Tailored-Fit Shirt With Signature Stripe Double Cuff, Men's

White button-downs are a favorite of New York City–based stylist Avon Dorsey because they add instant polish. “It’s the easiest item to put on to denote professionalism, no matter your field,” he says, “and it pairs well with any style of bottom: jeans, khakis, dress pants or skirts.” He suggests Paul Smith’s versions for both men and women because they have a “slightly loose fit” that’s comfortable to move around in.


Try wide-leg pants

Wide-Leg Pleated Pants
Siena Wide-Leg Italian Wool Pant

For a comfortable pair of trousers that will go well with pretty much any blouse, button-up or T-shirt, try these Nic + Zoe Wide-Leg Pleated Pants, which we included on our list of the best work pants for women. They have an elastic waistband, which makes them easy to pull on and comfortable throughout the day. This pair is also machine-washable, saving you time and money at the dry cleaner. We also recommend these Banana Republic Siena Wide-Leg Italian Wool Pants thanks to their luxurious, lightweight wool fabrication and classic double pleated style. The $150 price tag isn’t so bad either.


6 can’t-go-wrong clothing brands

Save yourself time (and hassle!) by shopping these other stylist-favorite retailers.

Hugo Boss

This standby for slim fits offers plenty of suiting separates made of comfortable stretch materials. Sterling of Global Image Group says that, when she introduced one client to the brand, he told her the clothes made him feel “more confident, more secure, like he could tackle the world.”

Theory

A go-to for elevated essentials, Theory gets top marks from image consultant Rosenfeld as an “upscale, but still price-conscious” option. Sterling is a fan of the brand’s modern, slim fits across all clothing categories, and stylist Ali Kline says the hint of stretch in Theory’s shirts (thanks to a blend of cotton and elastane) make them “the perfect button-down.”

Uniqlo

Known for moderately priced, well-made basics, Japanese retailer Uniqlo is on stylist Dorsey’s list of workwear favorites, especially for their suiting separates, which come in relatively relaxed cuts and a range of colors for both men and women. Plus, the button-down shirts, he says, are “soft and comfy.”

Lafayette 148

Want to add prints or color to your basics? Rosenfeld recommends this New York City-based brand known for “beautiful and super expressive” patterns that don’t veer too out-there for the office.

Zegna

This Italian luxury brand is a favorite of both Rosenfeld and Ali Kline, particularly for its polished-looking men’s jackets—most notably Zegna’s “overshirt” style, which Rosenfeld likes for its structured collar and cuffs and roomy cut. “It has tailoring and easy elements all rolled into one,” he says.

J. Crew

The “Ludlow” collection makes a good-quality base for a men’s work wardrobe, says Ghize of Doneger TOBE. Its “Un-suit” styles—loosely structured pieces in casual materials, like a cotton-linen blend for summer—are available In classic and slim fit options and can be worn together or separately, and year-round.

Meet the contributor

Rebecca Daly
Rebecca Daly

Rebecca Daly is a contributor to Buy Side from WSJ.

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