The Secret Code of Men’s Business Casual

By: Lynne Marks | 30 May 2017

Your company has now adopted casual wear for their everyday dress code. According to many men there are subtle unwritten do’s and don’ts in their culture and a few minefields to avoid if you want to get ahead. When in doubt, copy the executive, invest in quality casual items (on sale) and never forget good grooming.


Dark premium denim or black jeans are a must for the professional world when jeans are allowed. However trendy it is to show bare knees out of work, the jeans must fit well minus the holes and rips. Avoid pale blue jeans, slouchy farmer jeans, baggy- bottom jeans and low-slung jeans showing underwear.


Socks are now “important” in the fashion world. However, bright orange stripes and polka dots demonstrating your sartorial creativity are distracting in client meetings or in conservative professional settings. You want people to concentrate on your facial expressions, upper body movements and hand gestures that enhance the spoken message and help people read you like a book. On such occasions, avoid sockless, white socks, bright socks and highly patterned socks.

There is a definite hierarchy in business casual shirts. Top and most formal of the informal dress codes is the tucked-in dress shirt with tie worn with a leather belt and sleeves rolled back. This is a good choice when the client is in casual, but jackets are not expected. Next down in formality would be a tieless version of the same look and one level below that is the tucked-in Polo shirt, along with dress shirts in darker colors and wider stripes, also tucked in. The bottom level in formality and most casual are casual fabrics, darker colors and larger patterns tucked or untucked. If in doubt about the casual over-shirt, leave it for company retreats. In your company it may be a workday look only if the hem is squared off and every man in sight is wearing one, including the boss.


Shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops and Hawaiian beachwear at work definitely communicate that you have no idea that the message you are sending is clueless and sloppy. A terrible idea if you intend to get ahead when messages from appearance silently communicate your performance in other areas.


Avoid skin-tight clothing. The fashion of slim-fit clothing does not mean wearing skimpy and ridiculously short jackets, above- the -ankle pant hems and fabric pulling across the crotch. Good fit communicates that you have attention to detail in other areas. Clothing should fit on the shoulders and skim over the body, not pull and tug over the muscles and across the waist.


Facial hair and head hair need to be clean, well maintained and cut or trimmed regularly. Avoid straggly and bushy beards which hide the features and cut down the communication cues. White and pepper and salt beards are quite aging which isn’t useful after “a certain age” in our youth-addicted culture. If you are bald, shave it off; trim nose hair, ear hairs and low neck hair. Studies have shown that sloppy grooming communicates lack of attention to detail in other areas.

Footwear. Bear in mind several things: the situation, the state you work in and the audience. The polished slip-on, tassel and Gucci loafer are the most formal of informal footwear. The moccasin or slip-on match slacks and jeans; and a black leather trainer or sports shoe is the most informal with slacks and jeans. Unless allowed, avoid white or colorful trainers, cowboy or other boots, ultra fashionable dress shoes, thick soled and heavy shoes for indoor wear. You never know who notices what.


Poor personal hygiene is unpleasant in the workplace and people are afraid to tell you. Bad breath, body odors, overpowering aftershave and bad teeth are always out of style. Dental professionals recommend swishing coconut oil daily for halitosis (chronic bad breath) and say that it’s more effective than Listerine, (It works!) Check your nails are clean and tattoos covered when a conservative audience would take a dim view.


A versatile semi-formal item for every man’s casual dress code is the navy blazer. Worn with dark dress jeans or dress pants and a tucked-in dress shirt, you can’t go wrong with or without the tie. A pocket square is a dressy option and leather belt, slip-on shoes and good quality accessories complete the look. For important meetings avoid the bomber, leather, linen and seersucker jackets or cosy cardigans.

See also April 13, 2017, Wall Steet Journal
Seven Office Menswear Dilemmas- and How toManage Them. By Nandini D’Souza Wolfe.

Write a comment