What Does "Business Casual" Mean in 2019?

A workplace fashion expert and Keaton customers weigh in on how they dress for work today.

Answering e-mails at 11pm, working from home on Fridays, and wearing jeans to work--all signs are pointing to a muddier line between work life and “real” life. Even Goldman Sachs recently adopted a more relaxed dress code policy! For young professional women, this can make it difficult to figure out what is actually okay to wear to work--and what the notoriously vague “business casual” dress code looks like in practice. 

Jen, the founder of MBA Chic and expert in workplace fashion, says that as workplaces are becoming increasingly casual, it gets harder and harder to navigate office dressing. Striking an appropriate balance can be tough. You don’t want to be too casual at work (your Lululemon leggings are probably better left for the gym--though Olga Khazan at The Atlantic recently argued to the contrary). On the other hand, you also want to avoid the perception that you're overdressed. According to Jen, it’s certainly possible to strike the right balance. 

Jen has built work wardrobes for formal environments such as banking and casual offices like startups, real estate, and contracting. She says, “the key to all of this is that you never lose yourself.” In other words, find a way to stay true to your unique personality and style, all within the boundaries of appropriate office attire.

Let’s see how some women from the Keaton community approach their daily business casual uniform: 

Valerie V., Sustainability Professional: 

For Valerie, business casual means having the ability to dress up or down as the situation demands. As she works in the chemical industry, the wardrobe tends to be more casual than professional. She keeps a blazer at her desk and can put it on for meetings to appear more formal. Usually her wardrobe involves a pair of slacks or skirt and a blouse, and sweater if it’s cold.

Valerie's go-to look: 

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Trouser: Keaton | Blouse: Milumia | Blazer: Alice+Olivia | Bag: Kate Spade | Shoes: Zara

Julie M., Management Consultant: 

Julie's work has a "dress for you day" policy, so she has a fair amount of freedom in how she chooses to interpret "business casual". On days where she meets with clients, she opts for a more formal look - donning a blazer, silk top, dress pants, and a pair of stilettos. On days where she works from the office, they have total freedom. Julie likes to wear formal pants with a funky pair of boots and a top with a pop of color or a silk blouse with a pair of higher-waisted jeans and heels. Fashion is a way for her to showcase her personality and she uses fun accessories and details to do so. 

Julie's go-to look:

Trouser: Keaton | Blazer: Gibson | Heels: Ally Shoes (Keaton favorite!) | Blouse: Banana Republic | Lunch Bag: Modern Picnic (Keaton favorite!)

Anna V., Textile Designer: 

For Anna, business casual typically involves slacks and nice top or a blazer and a dress. In Anna’s industry, she sees a lot of slacks with loose blouses or t-shirts. If it isn’t pants, they often wear A-line dresses and tights. Rarely is there a full suit or anything too formal. In a creative industry, Anna opts for fashion-forward pieces but keeps it work-appropriate with structured blazers, formal shoes, and tasteful jewelry. 

Anna's go-to look:

Dress: J.Crew | Tights: Amazon | Tote: Dagne Dover (Keaton favorite!) | Earrings: Amazon

When in doubt, Jen has 5 business casual style tips:

  1. A simple blazer with straight leg pants or jeans, paired with chic flats works in many contexts. 
  2. Depending on your office, try to play around with colors and texture in your wardrobe. A little bit goes a long way.
  3. Animal print is everywhere this year, try it in your accessories (e.g. belts, scarves, jewelry). It’s basically a neutral!
  4. Dress to impress in the first couple of weeks at a new job as you’re still making your first impression on your new team. It’s better to be more put-together than vice versa. Whether you’re the new hire or the hiring manager, your style plays a role in how people see you and your potential. Who doesn’t like dressing up for a fresh new role or project?
  5. To guide your style, find a woman in your office or industry, senior to yourself, whose style you admire. Start by wearing pieces that emulate her look. Until you’ve nailed your own style, use her style lens for evaluating each piece as you shop. 

Jen prefers to dress up. She says she’s comfortable when she’s in a polished dress or pencil skirt and collared shirt, or a blazer and straight leg pants - “it's like putting those clothes on signals to my brain that it's time to get to work”. In a more casual environment, she’ll play with knits like sweaters and cardigans to round out her look. However, she usually favors a more polished look when choosing what to wear. 

Either way, Jen finds empowerment in how she dresses regardless of any challenges her day has in store.  

“It's important to wear what makes me feel chic, confident and ready to take on whatever challenges the day will throw my way,'' Jen says.

We couldn’t agree more! 

We want to see what “business casual” looks like for you at work! Please share your looks with us and tag @wear.keaton on Instagram using the hashtag #SheWearsThePants.