Why “I Can Just Throw On…” Isn’t an Effective Business Casual Wardrobe Strategy for Successful Business Women


More and more professional women are finding themselves in a business casual office. That can lead to the dilemma of presenting a professional appearance that works in an informal workplace. In this post I’m going to share with you five tips that will keep you looking like a boss, even in a relaxed environment.

I call Business Casual “The Wardrobe Boogeyman” because it is ambiguous and requires more interpretation than a classic suit in a classically formal office. We all know boogeymen disappear when you turn the light on. These tips are designed to help you turn the light on when it comes to your Business Casual wardrobe, and show you how to make the right impression even in an informal setting.

Last week when I wrote about Business Casual for men in The Male Equivalent of the “I Give Up Dress” , I reminded the men that the term is BUSINESS Casual. Business comes first, and remembering that can keep you from going too informal. That means, “Athleisure Wear” (workout wear that should only be worn to workout, but sometimes isn’t),  flip-flops (even cute ones), and your favorite pair of comfy pants are not legitimate Business Casual clothing. A good rule of thumb is if you might wear it to lounge in bed or at the pool on your day off, it shouldn’t make an appearance at the office.

That said, here are five tips to keep you looking like a boss in an informal business setting:



Be Intentional

Wearing a more casual work wardrobe doesn’t mean your attitude about it can be casual. Business Casual is a more complex visual language than more formal business wear because you have to communicate both sides — business and casual— through your appearance. If your wardrobe planning for a more informal office or business event begins with, “I can just throw on…”, then you are missing the opportunity to market yourself as a business woman through your appearance. Be intentional and really give your Business Casual wardrobe some thought.



Casual Doesn’t Mean Bland

Many women tend to forego accessories when they try to adapt to a more casual work environment. The result is they lose their visual personality.

The last thing you want to do in business is appear generic.

Outside the window where I’m writing this, there is a lovely woman in white ankle pants and a navy knit shirt that could be appropriate in the more casual end of Business Casual. Both pieces are plain. It’s what she puts with them that makes her look special: sophisticated suede espadrilles, a woven leather belt, hoop earrings and a simple knot bangle bracelet. Those touches bring refinement and flavor to her appearance.

If you are going casual, use your accessories to bring interest and a touch of who you are  to what you are wearing.



Watch Your Necklines & Hemlines

It is imperative for you as a business woman to keep your hemlines and your necklines consistent with more formal work wear. That signals that you are there to conduct business. Before you start thinking that statement is reflective of a misogynistic society, the tip is equally relevant for men.

Unless you are Magnum P.I., an unbuttoned shirt and short shorts aren’t appropriate business wear for either a man, or a woman.

Casual clothing for women tends to play the elevator game (necklines go down and hemlines go up) more than casual clothing for men, so women have to be more careful as they choose less formal work wear to underscore they mean business.



Show Your Polish in the Details

Scuffed shoes, cracked belts, worn purses, loose buttons, wrinkles, staining or other wear can cancel out all your hard work on your appearance even if it’s just on one part of what you are wearing. When you don’t have the powerful voice of a suit speaking for you, it’s the details that help you communicate your professionalism.

Remember, if you say to yourself, “No one will notice”, about some flaw in your ensemble, someone already has.

Don’t relax your standards for your clothing and accessories just because your style is more relaxed.



Make Sure You Have the Right Foundation

I have seen more women’s Business Casual looks destroyed by saggy bras, lack of shapewear where needed, and pantylines than any other thing. Many Business Casual choices for women are softer in their construction, so you have to provide your own structure underneath. Don’t skip this step, or everyone will know that you have.


Invest in quality pieces for your Business Casual wardrobe. Just because you can find more casual pieces for less money doesn’t mean that you should skimp on quality construction. You can find higher quality pieces at outlet stores and on sale, for what you might spend on lesser quality items at big box stores.

I recently outfitted a client in a $10,000 primarily designer wardrobe for a quarter of the price, and I did it by shopping sales and outlets. It was a significant savings for him and all of it was quality and on trend. A little extra effort when you’re shopping can make a huge difference in the quality and appearance of your Business Casual wardrobe.




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