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How to Nail the "Business Casual" Dress Code

Published: Jun 22, 2021

Topics: Law  

As we quickly return to an almost pre-2020 normal, many of us have received announcements that in-person work days are about to resume. For some, it may be more than just a bummer to think about trading in the comfort of yoga pants; you may also be struggling to figure out what clothes you’re trading them in for—especially if your office has a business casual dress code. That’s because “business casual” is hard to define. Even pre-COVID, striking the balance between “nice weekend brunch” and “important work presentation” was an elusive task. But don’t worry: We’ve got some tips to help you arrive at the office appropriately dressed.

What is Business Casual?

A loose definition of business casual for women is either slacks or a skirt with a blouse and sweater or casual jacket. While comfort is an important consideration, it’s still important to maintain a certain level of decorum. This is especially true in the legal industry, which still leans conservative when it comes to workplace attire. Skirts and dresses should not be above the knee, and you should avoid clothing that is too tight or revealing. Layers can help you adapt to various office climates, and while neutral colors are always appropriate, business casual gives you some freedom to add fun pops of color.

For men, the dress code is more straightforward. A simple business casual outfit includes dress pants with a button-down shirt and a belt that matches the shoes. Menswear retailer Jos. A. Bank has some helpful guidance that lays out the differences between men’s styles. The retail giant reminds men that “[t]he overall goal [for business casual] is to look neat and professional while also maintaining comfort.”

For both men and women, the best rule of thumb is to consult your organization’s dress code policy, if one exists. If you can’t find one, reach out to HR or the recruiting department and ask for guidelines for your attire.

And don’t forget—even if your firm or organization is business casual, you should always keep a blazer in your office for court appearances or last-minute client meetings. (It’s always a good idea to be prepared for more formal events.)

Additional food for thought: Consider how you’ll feel if your boss calls you in for an unplanned meeting or drops by your office. While business casual allows you to drop some of the stuffiness of “professional attire,” the dress code is still intended to be professional. Does your outfit make you feel confident and competent? If not, it might need re-evaluating. 

Where to Shop?

After a year of leggings and tie-dye sweat suits, you might be struggling to remember where you even used to shop for work clothes. (Dressing rooms—remember those?) It might be worth reaching out to a personal stylist to get some professional assistance. Some retailers, such as J.Crew and Banana Republic, offer styling services for free. They’ll curate a look for you using the clothes available at these stores. An alternative is utilizing a clothing subscription service such as Stitch Fix or Nordstrom’s Trunk Club. At these companies, stylists assess your needs before sending a personalized box of clothes for you to try on.

Don’t have the budget for a whole new wardrobe? You may want to consider clothing rental, which allows you to select office-appropriate outfits at a low price without the commitment of keeping them in your closet. The rental route is also a great way to experiment with new styles as you settle into your post-pandemic groove. A popular rental service for women is Rent the Runway, which has different membership options that allow you to find a plan that works best for you. Men can rent clothing with The Mr. Collection, which also offers monthly membership plans.

For extra inspiration, we also recommend checking out lawyers who blog about fashionable workplace finds and show off their #OOTDs. Some great places to start include The Docket, Lawyers’ Fashion and Corporette.

And hey, when in doubt, ask yourself: What would fellow attorney Amal Clooney wear?

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