13 Easy Ways to Uplevel Your Business Casual Outfits
It’s come to our attention that there’s a rumor circulating that business casual means boring. Given the fact that your new job demands this dress code at the office, you might resign yourself to years of basic black pants, white button-down shirts, and not-too-dressy dresses. You’ll just keep it simple… and, yes, maybe even a little boring sometimes.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We’re killing it at work, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t look and feel our best in the process, even if the company dress code is the nebulous business casual. We spoke with female executives and entrepreneurs about how they make their workwear look anything but basic on a daily basis — and how you can too. Keep scrolling for all of their savvy and stylish (yet totally accessible!) tips.
1. Try a white sneaker. Whitney Casey, CEO and co-founder of Finery, an app that provides styling suggestions for the clothes you already own, worries that many professionals are getting a little too casual with their business casual. She says this dress code should be “a twist on what you would normally wear,” and one of her favorite ways to achieve this twist is with clean, white canvas sneakers. Pair these kicks with a dress or skirt to keep things professional and fresh. Tina Wilson, CEO and founder of matchmaker app Wingman, says she often feels overdone in heels, and prefers to wear a suit with a “smart sneaker and a pop of red lipstick.”
2. Add a third piece. Jeans and a T-shirt might be an acceptable business casual look around your office, but you can take it to the next level by adding a blazer or leather jacket. “It’s a small move, but it makes the look feel pulled together and sets you apart in a subtle, chic way,” says Brooke Cundiff, chief merchandising officer and co-founder at plus fashion site CoEdition.
3. Go monochrome. News flash: There’s actually nothing boring about pairing a top and bottom of the same color. Amory Wooden, vice president of brand at unique storage solutions company MakeSpace, goes monochromatic any time she’s in a style rut, and she tells us she’s found the look to be “incredibly chic.”
4. Mix high and low. It’s nice to be able to spend money on those high-quality investment pieces when you can afford it, but the truth is that most of us don’t have the budget to stock our full work wardrobe with expensive items. Alix Greenberg, founder and CEO of curated e-commerce art site ArtSugar, recommends investing in pricier bags, belts, shoes, and neutral staples, while shopping at more affordable stores to round out your day-to-day options each season.
5. Invest in a pair of gray shoes. “The conventional wisdom is that shoes for work should be black or navy,” says Elizabeth Young, VIP stylist at professional womenswear company MM.LaFleur. “However, gray shoes go with most colors and often look even better with your black and navy workwear staples, without pushing the envelope too much.” We have a sneaking suspicion that before long the whole office will be wearing gray shoes!
6. When in doubt, rock a blazer and heels. Keep a classic blazer and simple heels in your workspace so you can add them as finishing touches anytime you’re feeling like your business casual might be lacking. Abbey Ashley, founder of The Virtual Savvy, a company that helps virtual assistants launch and grow their businesses, keeps a simple black blazer on her at all times. And Rachel Blumenthal, founder and CEO of Rockets of Awesome, a service that curates and delivers boxes of clothes for kids, notes that the iconic blazer-and-heels combo can make a polished office look out of even the most questionable outfit.
7. Buy a statement coat. Katherine Watts, Stitch Fix Women‘s divisional merchandise manager, is a fan of investing in a few key statement pieces to upgrade her wardrobe, and a good coat is one of them. Well-tailored outerwear, she says, can “elevate any head-to-toe look” and is “a foundation piece for your business-casual closet.”
8. Don’t be afraid to overdress a bit. If you work in an office where people lean toward the “casual” end of “business casual,” it can be tempting to seriously dress down. We would never want you to feel too fancy or uncomfortable, but David’s Bridal CMO Liz Crystal is a big believer in overdressing just a bit to boost your confidence. “No matter your look, being polished is always a win,” she says.
9. Find one-of-a-kind accessories. After years of trying to crack the code on the perfect business casual uniform that would be appropriate for her wide range of clients, negotiation consultant and speaker Devon Smiley finally realized that a unique necklace was just what she needed to feel her best in any outfit. Collect some statement jewelry pieces of your own and prepare to add lots of variety to your wardrobe rotation.
10. Be smart with black leggings. Get yourself a pair of thick, well-made black leggings that could never be mistaken for workout pants. Social media strategist Andréa Jones likes to wear them with a dark knit blazer, a flowy top, and a mid-calf boot. It’s a comfortable — but put-together — look for fall.
11. Do denim right. “Depending on your work environment, you may be able to get away with wearing jeans,” Rori Sassoon, owner of high-end matchmaking service Platinum Poire, says. “Elevate your denim with a classy blouse, blazer, and heels.” A look like this also moves easily from the office to happy hour. If you’re going to wear jeans to work, you should make sure they’re simple and tailored. Elite matchmaking service LastFirst founder Emily Holmes Hahn recommends a basic skinny jean in whatever rise is most flattering and comfortable for you.
12. Add pops of color. More often than not, business casual staples are black and neutral. Purchase these items, of course, but then style your workwear with brighter accessories to add some personality. “If you walk into the room in a bold, bright color, you’ve declared that you have something to say,” Cindy Eckert, founder and CEO of The Pink Ceiling, an incubator for female entrepreneurs, tells us. “For me, it’s hot pink and a final swipe of lipstick. Subtlety isn’t the goal, ladies.”
13. Try a jumpsuit. Who says a one-piece has to be all play and no work? Marlies Verhoeven, co-founder and CEO of The Cultivist, a company that offers inside access to the art world, says a jumpsuit “always looks impressive and effortless at the same time.” It doesn’t hurt that they’re easy to put on if you’re running out the door in the morning!
(Photos via Getty)