Essential wardrobe peices for women's business casual attire in the workplace
I’ve stood in front of my closet and dresser too many times to count when contemplating the words women’s business casual attire.
Whether I’m wearing a nice dress, a skirt or a pair of slacks, I tend to have the thoughts, “Am I dressed appropriately/correctly for this event?” It can be for an awards presentation, a conference I’m called on to photograph, or just a regular day at the office behind my desk, but it doesn’t mean I might have to be flexible and attend an event last minute.
No matter the priorities throughout the day, it’s nice to know that I can put my best foot forward in the office with even business casual attire. Business casual attire is seen as the lowest tier of wardrobe options for either gender.
My work at the university level usually involves many of my colleagues and myself to blend in with university students, so wearing a business casual attire or mainstream casual attire is expected of us. However, that does not mean we are not prepared or regularly see faculty and staff alike in more professional attire throughout the day or week. Seeing the dean in a boardroom or traditional business attire is normal when in the office and we usually see him in executive casual or traditional business attire when at more relaxed events.
In a place of business and depending on your level of seniority, you might see yourself among different levels of attire. Business casual attire is usually associated with the lowest tier of the business attire. That being said, it is one of the trickier tiers of professional business attire to navigate for women, with many more options to choose from.
Here are a few of my suggestions:
Black Pencil Skirt
Nothing beats a black pencil skirt. You’re able to pair this with women’s business casual attire or women’s boardroom attire. It is a staple piece for any woman.
When pairing a black pencil skirt into business casual attire, I’d suggest a printed, flow-y blouse, or a solid shirt, either short or long sleeve based on the wearer’s preference. I choose a printed, flow-y blouse to offset the classic black and allow for some personality to come through in your wardrobe. The classic solid shirt, either tucked or untucked based on your body shape or preference, is pretty plain but not very fussy when you want to be a bit more comfortable.
When choosing a black pencil skirt, be conscious of the length especially and of any embellishments. The length should be around the knees and should be long enough when sitting down as well. Embellishments should be noted in case there are distinct flairs to the skirt, such as sequins, buttons, bows, etc. that could make wearing the skirt uncomfortable or distracting.
While finding a plain, black pencil skirt is ideal, also use this time to find your own style, as a little flair is expected in a woman’s business casual attire. With a business casual attire, it is also acceptable to experiment with various colors. So grab the purple, yellow or hounds-tooth styles while you’re grabbing the black pencil skirt for your wardrobe too.
I tend to stick to a more classic style in business casual attire as with my personal style outside the workplace. Including basic solid shirts, especially of the grayscale variety, tends to be favorable for making a professional business casual outfit for women.
I tend to prefer long sleeves, but having an array of short- and long-sleeved shirts are great to have depending on the time of year. Either tends to be a great outfit pairing piece. Pairing solid shirts can work well with either traditional colors of navy, gray or black but can also blend with various colors, if selected properly.
As to the neckline, that also tends to be a personal preference. If you do have a larger chest, I would suggest finding a lace or solid camisole to wear underneath, depending on the depth of the cut. I would be conscious of knowing where the neckline sits with your body type and make sure you remain modest as possible.
For business casual attire, women are certainly able to display a bit more personality in this wardrobe choice. Choosing your favorite color with your black pencil skirt or black slacks will always be a classic choice for a professional business casual outfit in the workplace.
Black slacks are another staple item for women’s business casual attire. They can be used in so many different professional business outfits but still be versatile as well.
Black slacks go with just about everything. Whether you pair them with a printed blouse, a solid-colored shirt, or a blazer and button-down, you really can rarely go wrong for a professional business outfit when paired with a pair of classic black slacks
Like the black pencil skirt, black slacks might be a staple but it’s important to notice the embellishments and fit. You want to make sure the black slacks are tailored to fit, even if that means only a slight hem, along with not being too tight. Slacks should be comfortable but not as tight as your favorite jeggings or yoga pants back at home. As far as embellishments, try to keep them to a minimum on slacks, preferable sticking to buttons and waistband styles and avoiding sequins and embroidery.
For women’s business casual attire, color is on your side for black slacks. If you find a great fit of black slacks and find that they’re in a few different styles, whether that be a print, color, or texture, try them out and see where you can express a bit more of your personality in your professional business wardrobe.
Sweaters come in a lot of various shapes, sizes, and styles. You make them fit just right and button them up with a button-down collared-shirt or make it long and oversized over a solid colored shirt. There are many different styles and outfit pairings in store with this women’s business casual piece.
I love pairing sweaters in the winter when I’m more likely to done them with my business casual attire. You can also invoke a bit of your personality into which sweaters you choose with your professional outfits. Try choosing a few solid colors to start with and then branch into other prints, sizes and shapes.
In a business casual attire wardrobe, sweaters are a bit more lenient in the fit. Having an oversized sweater would not be unprofessional if paired with the right outfit and maintained properly. I think the main thing you need to be concerned with in regards to sweaters is if the print is professional and it is not distracting for you or your colleagues. If you find yourself a little too comfortable and falling asleep at work, maybe switch out the sweater or pair it with a skirt or dress to make it more professional compared to slacks or jeans.
As noted, color and prints are encouraged in women’s business casual attire and sweaters are great to show some personality. Sweaters tend to be versatile and you can pair it with a wide number of professional business pieces.
I’ve worn out my fair share of black flats over the years. You can find them in many styles, shapes, and fabrics that suit your personality and preference.
Black Flats tend to go with most things regarding women’s business casual outfits. If you pair black with a pair of black flats, chances are that it will pair together nicely, same going for most grayscale focused outfits.
Despite their classic appeal, black flats tend to have many embellishments depending on the trends and creator of the shoe. I tend to favor nothing shiny on my flats, black or otherwise, and a pointed toe. For others, you might prefer a leather, round toe flat. Black flats are no different in preference in style and fashion depending on the preferences of the wearer. As far as professionalism, closed heel tends to be the best, but open-toes, if modestly done, can be acceptable.
I’ve gone back and forth over the years with leather, felt, cotton and more fabrics for my black flats. I tend to always seek them out when shoe shopping and know I will wear them out maybe 6-months to a year after buying them depending on their durability and quality. As far as other colors, I’d stay traditional, or black, tan, and white. Other colors are acceptable, however they might be a bit difficult to find outfits to pair them with.
Little Black Dress
Nothing stays in style like the little black dress. I tend to keep a few for various occasions, one or two for work specifically.
While a little black dress may seem a bit much for women’s business casual wardrobe, it can be dressed down with many of the wardrobe pieces on this list. Pairing it with an oversized sweater is a great way to make a little black dress into a woman’s professional business casual outfit.
Professionally speaking, a little black dress can be many different things for a woman’s wardrobe. Knee-length is the best length, if not longer, and having straps is also preferred. If paired with a sweater, sleeves are not necessarily needed but having short-sleeves never hurt either in case you want to remove the sweater throughout the day. As far as neckline, as with the solid colored shirts, v-neck or crew cuts are dependent on the wearer. Keep in mind to be modest and a bit more conservative when choosing a little black dress for a professional business outfit.
Once you find a flattering and professional dress, this is also an item that you can choose an array of colors to express your personality. Whether you pick a color, print, or texture, if it fits similar to your favorite little black dress, you should make for great business casual attire.
Call it a trend or a style, button-down shirts are great to pair with a woman’s business casual wardrobe.
Usually paired with blazers and jeans or under a sweater, button-down shirts are a great way to upscale a professional outfit. You can also wear a button-down shirt on it’s own, without another piece over it, along with a pair of slacks, jeans or a skirt. A classic button-down shirt classes up any professional business casual outfit.
You can find many different types of button-down shirts for women. Some might be ruffled, short sleeved, while others may be more traditional straight and long sleeved. You might have to try a few options to see which work well with your body shape and personal style. On a professional note, if you are heavier in the chest, you need to make sure the buttons are not tugging across and, instead, lie flat against your chest. If the shirt is otherwise baggy in other areas, you might consider taking it to a tailor or learning how to dart certain areas of the shirt yourself to make it more fitted.
Colorize your wardrobe with this piece as well! Button-down shirts are great to add subtle doses of colors or prints to your business casual wardrobe. Try a bold color or pinstripe against a sweater or add some polka dots against a black pencil skirt.
No matter your style preferences or your personality, you should be able to select a few options from a women’s business casual attire from this list.
If you want more women’s business casual attire tips or outfits pairings, follow me on Pinterest to get current and trending outfit ideas for all tiers of the professional wardrobe hierarchy.