Wednesday, June 24, 2009

{reader request} the business casual question...

Hooray! It worked! Just yesterday I received both a tweet and an email asking for a little sartorial guidance. Conveniently enough, both were in regards to the concept of "business casual" dressing. Behold:

Lverrilli: Dear @shutupilovethat can you help me find some inexpensive but classy business casual? xoxo"

"Dear SUILTSOY, I actually do have a very important question- I'm starting a new job in two weeks and have to switch from my veryyyyy casual office to "business casual"- yikes. Tell me what to do/ wear!!"

Sweet, huh? So, here's the deal: according to Wikipedia, the idea of business casual developed in the 1970s in response to the energy crisis of said decade. Apparently, there were government mandates for companies to raise thermostat temperatures in offices - hence - away with the jackets and ties. says this about it: "In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed yet neat and pulled together."

So for the men, this is easy. A button-down oxford or polo, nicely pressed, perhaps sleeves rolled up, tucked into some nice fitting, not pleated, slacks. And some loafers. And comb your hair and shave. Done.

For us ladies, it can be a bit more of a challenge - but also - much more fun. Think of this dress code as an exercise in restrained creativity.

Step 1: Pants. Every career-savvy gal should have a pair of black pants that fit perfectly. Trends come and go, but a pair of pants with a wide waistband, belt loops, and a slightly flared or boot-cut leg will always look professional. You definitely should feel comfortable spending more on these than you will on the other elements of your work wardrobe. A comfortable, great fitting, great looking pair of black pants is worth it's weight in gold. If it were me, I would choose something like these, Theory 'Max C - Tailor' Pants, $245.00 at Nordstrom. Yikes, I know. If that is outrageous, I have a pair of Billy Blues black pants that get the job done, which I also found at Nordstrom, for around $70. The great thing about this office staple is you can jazz them up with a more trendy, colorful top and/or a cardigan. Also, don't skimp on tailoring; a sloppy hem is a friend to no one. Once you have this essential piece, you can add grey, brown, khaki or white (in the summer only) pants; but no denim.

Step 2: Tops. Once you have a basic pair of pants that are professional and fit great, you can show more of your fashion prowess and personal taste. There is something to be said for a crisp white button-down shirt, but I would jazz it up with a long strand of pearls or a funky broach. In the summer, a short sleeved cardigan in a light-weight fabric or a blouse with a tuxedo ruffle. As a rule, avoid anything sleeveless (unless you wear a sweater over it) or anything too low-cut. The look on the right, if you were to add black pants and maybe tuck in the top, is totally appropriate.The Short-sleeve fine cotton cardigan is $59.50 at J.Crew.

Step 3. Shoes. Comfortable shoes for work are a must. Whether you have to treck half a mile to the bus stop or just skip down the hall to deliver an expense report, these are the shoes you will log the most hours in, besides your flip flops this summer. In my experience at various office jobs, I have always been happiest in flats. However, I also happen to love a good ballet flat for any occasion, so I may be biased. Anyway, an eight-hour work day in heels sounds hellacious to me, but that may be par-for-the-course at your office. If you're required to go that extra half-an-inch, take your time in picking out a pair or two. Only you can know for sure how comfortable you will be in any style, so I can't make a truly all-encompassing suggestion. But keep it low, stay away from square toes, stick with neutral colors, and get some of those Foot Pedal things. (I have these Kobraa flats by Steve Madden in two colors and they are quite comfortable. $59.95 at Steve Madden)

Step 4. Dresses and skirts. When you need a break from the routine of plain black pants (especially in the summer heat), a dress or skirt is a great way to change things up. To keep the "professional" part of business casual intact, opt for a smart little shift dress or something equally crisp. Be sure the hem is at least below your fingertips when you hang your arms at your sides. If it's a sleeveless dress, don't forget to top it with a cute cardigan. Throw on your ballet flats and you're out the door. For skirts, have the same ideas in mind. Keep the hemline low and the fit sharp. Nothing says "I don't take this, or myself, seriously" like a flippy little miniskirt at the office. A high waisted skirt (perhaps with sailor-button detailing) and a crisp tucked-in top strikes the perfect note of stylish yet perfectly appropriate. I like this City Stretch Sailor Pencil Skirtwhich is $25.86 at New York & Co.

Step 5. Personality. Let's be honest. There are few more boring words together than business and casual. Don't they just scream "lost in a sea of navy blue and white"? I think so. And here's the deal. No matter how stuffy and generically your coworkers dress, and how awful your dress code may be, there is always room to show a little sparkle. Especially when you have a job that might not be particularly creative, your wardrobe is a great way to let your personality shine.

...In no particular order, here's a list of ways you can play around with your work wardrobe and still look professional: add a vest; pin a cluster of vintage broaches to your shirt or lapel; wear a giant cocktail ring; loop in a cool belt; pin your hair back with pretty clips; wear animal-print ballet flats; tie your cardigan around your shoulders; try a pair of skinny trousers; try t-strap heels; let a statement necklace peek out from under your collar; try a skinny belt over your cardigan; wear a blazer over a very clean, very fitted t-shirt (tucked in); tie on a scarf; sport tights with open-toe shoes...


  1. @Shutupilove that where can I get purple dress?! I LOVE THAT.

  2. Hey! Most of those pictures are clickable, but I guess that dress isn't! So, its the Short Sleeved Purple Day Dresses by ecoSkin, and its on sale for $128.00 at!