Tips on dressing ‘business casual’ for women

Tips on dressing ‘business casual’ for women
SEEK content teamupdated on 07 December, 2023
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It may be your first day at a new job or perhaps you’ve been invited to a work event; the attire is business casual. But what exactly does that mean? 

It can be a tricky dress code to figure out. It’s professional, but not formal. It’s relaxed, but not too laid-back. The balance of ‘casual’ and ‘business’ means it’s polished, but not . You’ll often see business casual as the dress code for more relaxed workplaces and professional occasions, like networking events and conferences. 

So how exactly do you make sure your outfit suits? In this article, we show you how to master casual business attire for women, and provide examples of what you might wear.

What is business casual for women?

Business casual for women is a more relaxed and versatile dress code than standard business attire. It allows for a balance between professionalism and comfort. Think of it as a blend of tailored ‘office’ clothing and streetwear like blouses, dresses, skirts and jeans. 

More relaxed workplaces typically lean towards business casual clothing. It’s also the go-to dress code for corporate employees travelling for work and attending conferences. If you’re opting for business casual for a job interview, lean towards the more ‘business’ end of the spectrum for office jobs and roles in education, healthcare or high-end hospitality. For trades, retail and casual hospitality or customer-service roles, your outfit can be more relaxed.

Key elements of casual business attire for women

Casual business attire for women gives you plenty of options for your work wardrobe. You can get the balance right by pairing a casual piece with something more tailored. Wear a dress with a blazer or a blouse with dress pants and a knitted cardigan. Overall, your look should be neat and polished, without being too buttoned up. Here are some different options to explore if you’re looking to expand your selection of business casual outfits.

Blouses and tops

Business casual tops and blouses are relatively conservative in style and cut, typically with sleeves and modest necklines. In a more traditional corporate setting, colours tend to be muted, though this depends on the individual workplace. Types of blouses and tops that fit into a business casual dress code include:

  • Long- and short-sleeved blouses 
  • Plain t-shirts (paired with dress pants and/or a blazer)
  • Knitted jumpers/sweaters
  • Polo shirts
  • Turtlenecks
  • Button-down shirts and tops

As for fabrics, cotton and linen are breathable and comfortable textiles that usually layer well. Silk and cashmere are good options if you’re looking to add a touch of elegance to your outfit. Polyester blends are best if you want to avoid creasing and wrinkling throughout the day.  

Pants

You’ve got a wide range of pants styles to choose from in women’s business casual. You can opt to stay on the ‘business’ side by going for tailored styles in dark colours. Or, you can make more of a statement, with trendier styles and brighter colours, as long as you balance your look with a tailored top.  

Wool, cotton, linen and gabardine are popular pants materials, ideal for comfortable and low-maintenance business casual outfits. Polyester is also an easy-wearing, stretchy material that holds its shape. For a more casual setting, jeans are perfectly fine as long as they are dark coloured, rip-free and in a straight- or boot-cut style. Any business casual pants you choose should be clean and neat (no holes in jeans!).

Skirts

Generally speaking, skirts in business casual outfits should be around knee-length. Of course, this is up to the individual workplace and company culture. Most types of tailored skirts will be acceptable in a business casual dress code. Some popular styles include pencil skirts, pleat skirts and a-line skirts.

There’s no need to wear hosiery in a business casual environment, though unpatterned stockings and tights are both appropriate in colours that are darker and/or match your skin tone.

Dresses

Dresses can make getting ready for work quick and easy. Plus, they’re a versatile option if you need to dress up or down for an after-work event. When choosing a dress, opt for one with a hemline at or below the knee. For business casual, you’ll also want a more conservative neckline. Avoid tropical patterns, spaghetti straps and floor-length hemlines.

Cotton blends and polyester are the most common dress fabrics – they wear well without creasing and require low-maintenance cleaning. Linen is a more upmarket look, but creases easily. Wool is great for everyday business casual wear as it’s classy, durable and breathable. 

Blazers

Blazers are a great business-casual staple as they can make any outfit look more professional. If you suspect your outfit isn’t dressy enough, you can always bring a blazer with you, just in case – or keep one at your workplace.

Adding a blazer to your outfit is also a good way to add a pop of colour. If you already own a lot of clothes in neutral colours, adding a bright or patterned blazer can instantly liven up your outfits and add personality. As a rule, however, black, blue, grey and white blazers are more traditional in an office setting, and can help you feel more confident amongst your peers.

How to dress business casual

Good business casual women’s outfits are a balance of unstructured and structured pieces together in one look. If your pants are tailored, then your top can be more casual. If your top is a button-down shirt, you can match it with something more relaxed, like a pair of jeans or chinos.

The business casual dress code is also quite flexible, so you can match your outfit to the individual occasion. For instance, for everyday office wear more structured pieces and high-heel shoes are fine. For work travel, comfortable pants, a loose blouse and flat shoes would be more practical. Remember that it’s the overall look – professional but relaxed – that is important. 

Business casual clothes

If you’re looking to build a collection of staples for your business casual wardrobe, there are some key pieces that will serve you well. Start with a base of dark-coloured bottoms: tailored pants and skirts that can be dressed up in different ways. For tops, invest in a selection of button-down shirts and blouses with long and short sleeves, in different colours. Outerwear can include a blazer, wool coat, trench coat and suit jacket. Knee- and mid-length dresses are also versatile and easy to style for business casual. 

Business casual accessories

If you ever feel like your business casual outfit doesn’t look polished or cohesive, perhaps accessories can help. For example, adding a belt to your outfit can pull it together. A scarf or a statement necklace can liven up a plain dress. Here are some accessories to consider:

  • Bags: it’s worth investing in a good bag that fits everything you need in it and looks good with a wide range of outfits. Leather and leather-look bags are durable and timeless while canvas totes are a good option for carrying laptops and peripherals.  
  • Jewellery: appropriate jewellery for business casual depends on your role and your workplace. An office intern might want to keep it minimal with a pair of silver or gold earrings, a single chain and a watch. Women in more creative and casual fields have more flexibility to be expressive with their business casual accessories.
  • Hair accessories: for business casual, it’s best to keep hair accessories to a minimum. If you’ll be tying your hair back, use a neutral shade hair tie or clip and hide bobby pins, to look as polished as possible. Hair should be well-groomed, no matter what style it’s in. 

Business casual shoes for women

Business casual shoes women typically wear cover a range of different styles. In a more conservative office, they should have an enclosed toe and a low or flat heel. In more laid-back business casual environments in Australia, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear sneakers, as long the overall outfit is neat and polished. It all depends on the situation and the workplace. Shoes to avoid for business casual attire include thongs/flip-flops, sandals, slides, slippers and dirty sneakers

Business casual outerwear

We’ve already covered blazers, but what about business casual coats, jumpers and jackets? Almost any type of standard winter coat will be appropriate, as will long and short trench coats in neutral colours. Knitted jumpers and cardigans should not be overly long or loudly patterned. Puffer jackets and vests, hoodies, sports jackets, sweatshirts and windcheaters would all be considered too casual for business casual wear. However, if you work in an office and take your coat off when you’re inside, it doesn’t matter what you wear to and from work. 

Seasonal business casual outfits for women

The weather has a big impact on clothing, including business casual womenswear. With the right basic pieces, you’ll be able to pick outfits to look the part and stay comfortable no matter the season. 

Summer business casual

During the warmer months, dresses and short-sleeved tops are popular business casual options. In some workplaces, it’s acceptable to wear a t-shirt or a sleeveless top with a high neckline, paired with light-weight tailored pants. Regardless of the weather, business casual will still typically dictate knee-length-or-below skirts, dresses and shorts. Long bermuda-style shorts and culottes can look professional, as long as the rest of your outfit is nicely tailored. 

Autumn business casual

Autumn is that awkward time of year where you could potentially be faced with hot and cold extremes in one day. Be prepared for fluctuating temperatures by wearing thin, removable layers with a blazer or coat for outside. A scarf or shawl over a more summery outfit can also keep you warm on those in-between days – and also come in handy in cold offices. Corduroy pants, denims, wool-blend dresses and ankle boots are all popular pieces for business casual looks in autumn. 

Winter business casual

Layers are also the secret to success for business casual in winter. If you want to wear skirts and dresses, thick tights are a reliable staple to keep your legs warm. Layer with a woolly scarf, knit cardigan and a blazer for cold commutes. Wool-blend pants are a smart option for winter, especially if your workplace is on the colder side. You can keep wearing your button-down shirts and blouses in winter if you invest in some thermal undershirts, or wear a knit vest over the top. 

Spring business casual

Spring is traditionally the season for floral prints, and is a fitting time to wear patterns and bright colours. As the weather gets warmer, you might add a floral skirt or dress to your wardrobe rotation, or add a splash of colour with your shoes or accessories. Lighter colours tend to dominate spring womens business casual, replacing the darker colours of winter. Scarfs and shawls in light and flowy fabrics will likely come in handy during spring. 

Dressing in business casual for job interviews

Business casual is what most people will wear for a job interview. You’ll typically want to skew more ‘business’ for office jobs, while smart casual is usually fine for trades and customer-facing roles. If you’re unsure, wearing a more professional style of business casual is a safe choice. It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Before you start getting dressed for your job interview, look at the company’s social media to see if they have photos of their team and how they typically dress. Try to match their level of formality and professionalism. If you can’t find anything helpful online, stick with neutral colours, tailored pants (or mid-length skirt), a blouse or shirt, and a blazer. Your shoes should be close-toed, either flat or with a low heel, and your accessories should be kept to a minimum so as not to distract.

Examples of business casual for women

Pants versus skirts. Dresses versus separates. There are so many options, and if you’re not accustomed to dressing in business casual attire womenswear, you may feel a little overwhelmed. Here are some example outfits you can use as inspiration the next time you need a business-casual look.

Business casual outfit with pants example

  • Pants: tailored black or navy dress pants
  • Top: a light-coloured, button-down shirt or a blouse in a neutral tone
  • Blazer: a well-fitting blazer that complements the pants, preferably in a matching or subtly contrasting colour 
  • Shoes: closed-toe heels or flats in black or a complementary neutral colour.
  • Accessories: minimal jewellery, such as stud earrings or a simple pendant necklace or chain, along with a handbag or tote.

Business casual outfit with a skirt example

  • Skirt: a knee-length pencil skirt in a classic colour like black, grey or navy
  • Top: a blouse or a tailored top in a complementary colour to the skirt
  • Cardigan or blazer: a cardigan or a blazer that coordinates with the outfit
  • Shoes: closed-toe low heels or flats that match the colour scheme
  • Accessories: a watch and/or bracelet, along with a structured handbag

Business casual outfit with a dress example

  • Dress: a knee-length, tailored sheath dress in a solid colour or subtle pattern
  • Layering piece: a blazer or cardigan that complements the dress 
  • Shoes: closed-toe leather or leather-look heels or flats in a neutral colour
  • Accessories: minimalist jewellery like stud earrings and a pendant necklace, along with a structured handbag

Cultural variations

Business casual can vary significantly depending on cultural norms and geographic location. What's considered appropriate in one country or culture might differ from another, impacting what’s considered acceptable attire in a professional setting.

For example, in Middle Eastern countries, women’s attire may be more conservative, covering shoulders, arms and knees. Asian workplaces may also place emphasis on formality and modesty. In most Western countries, wearing jeans and sleeveless tops is considered fine in more laid-back work environments. 

Adapting business casual for different cultures

Business casual attire for female professionals can be adapted to suit different cultural norms. Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts is acceptable in most places. Before you assemble your outfit:

  • Research local dress codes
  • Err on the side of conservatism
  • Layer, to help you easily adapt your outfit
  • Get guidance from someone at your company

Business casual is a flexible dress code used for everyday office wear and many different work-related occasions. It's a style that balances professionalism with personality and comfort. Since business casual can cover a wide range of clothing and accessories, always adapt your outfit to where you’re going and what you’re doing. 

FAQs

What is the difference between business dress and business casual?

Business dress and business casual are two of the most common dress codes for corporate settings. Business dress is more formal, and the latter more relaxed. Standard business attire is typically worn in government and legal environments and in offices for high-level meetings and events. 

What is the difference between smart casual and business casual?

Just as business casual is more relaxed than business dress, smart casual is a little more relaxed again. Smart casual more closely resembles streetwear, and doesn’t necessitate any formal elements, like blazers or closed shoes. Smart casual is still a polished and office-appropriate look, requiring you to look neat and well-groomed. 

What shoes are not business casual?

Shoes that typically are not considered business casual for women include sandals, athletic shoes (like runners), thongs, slides, clogs, strappy high heels or overly embellished flats. When choosing business casual shoes, opt for a pair that are comfortable, clean and professional, like a closed-in flat shoe or lower heel. 

Are jeans business casual?

Jeans can be considered business casual – depending on the environment and type of jeans. In more relaxed settings, dark, tailored and un-distressed jeans are typically acceptable. Avoid overly tight, baggy, embellished or ripped jeans. If you’re unsure, it’s best to go with tailored dress pants. 

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