Business casual might be one of the most complicated dress codes to decipher ever, and it definitely depends on your individual workplace. For instance, in some companies shorts and hoodies might be totally acceptable (not that we recommend this). In other companies, business casual might mean basically business formal, but one step down from an actual suit. Instead, the business dress code for women may allow for dressier pants, blouses and blazers.
What Is Business Casual for Women?
The concept or definition of what business casual looks like, in general, can be confusing. Are jeans okay? Can you wear sneakers? Or, should you really be wearing blazers and pencil skirts, but not suits? It’s all up in the air and depends on where you work, the industry itself and, in many cases, what your clients do and wear. Business Insider some of that, but we have some recommendations more specific for women over 40.
Of course, you know what is acceptable in your own office, but developing a business casual uniform can be your saving grace on busy days. Figuring out what silhouettes work for you, whether you really prefer dresses versus pants, and more can all be helpful. Think about what makes you feel the most capable and ready to get things done – this is not what makes you feel the skinniest or most attractive, necessarily, although it can be!
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For example, if you are a dress person, picking a silhouette (and sticking with that style in a variety of colors might work. Sheath or a slight a-line tend to work for most business casual office environments, but you might be able to get away with whatever in a more casual workplace. Or, if you’re really more of a pants person, skinny pants with a blouse or dressy tee and a third piece might be better. Wide leg pants with a button down or similar office-appropriate top that is tucked in might be another good personal uniform.
Lastly, there’s always the question of whether or not business casual jeans are a thing in your office. It is okay in many places, especially if they are darker denim with no embellishments or rips. The same goes for sneakers: In some workplaces, clean and well-styled sneakers are acceptable, as well. But, of course, when in doubt, err on the side of more formal, at least until you know your office and the actual dress code that is followed. (This is often different from what’s written in the employee handbook, in our experience, but that’s a whole other post).
We love a classic blazer (who doesn’t?) but sometimes you don’t want to be that dressed up. There are all kinds of sweater-style blazers, knit blazers, vests and other toppers that you can use as a third piece to make a basic outfit look business casual cool. We’re major fans of this Ann Demeulemeester vest as a “third piece” or top layer, along with this much more affordable TDC drape front vest from Nordstrom.
We know that many offices are overly air-conditioned (why!) so you may need an extra layer even in the summer. Something like this gray Madewell sweater coat can be a good thing to keep around – it looks perfect over nearly everything!
Whether or not you love the newer wide leg silhouettes, there’s no denying that a good pair of skinny pants like Uniqlo leggings pants always works with more formal footwear and a great top or jacket. Plus they come in a ton of colors that are updated with the season and are super affordable. For something a bit more similar to trousers, Theory’s skinny pants are pretty exceptional. Throw on a button down and a bold necklace, and you’re sorted.
Wide Leg Pants
On the other hand, a great pair of wide leg pants gives you that timeless Katharine Hepburn look. These ivory Something Navy pants are just about perfect, especially with summer coming up for those of us in the northern hemisphere. These wide leg linen pants from Vince might be perfect for business summer days as well. Pair them with a black button-down or silk tee, and you’re all set.
We all love a good basic tee, and it’s easy enough to make them work for business casual by finding versions done in silk or similarly upscale materials with special details. Cuyana does amazing basic silk tees, and we also love this tiered sleeveless option from Chelsea28. Add a cardigan if you don’t want to show your upper arms or if you work in the aforementioned freezing air-conditioned offices.
A classic button down (or button up, depending on your preferred nomenclature) is key to most work wardrobes. While there is always something to be said for crisp cotton like the Brooks Brothers classic shirting options, something drapey and rayon like the standard Uniqlo button downs work much better for those of us who are more blessed in the bust department.
Unusual or unique jewelry can really become a signature and a way to show off your personality at work. It doesn’t need to be a big glamorous statement piece – although it can be of course – but rather something personal to you. It may be earrings you got on a fabulous vacation or a watch that you splurged on like a Tag Heuer or a Shinola. We’re fans of men’s watches for women, especially at work. You can get some links taken out or a different band if you need something smaller! Or you can always just buy something you love. These gemstone studs like these by Gorjana are easy to wear and will add a special touch to any outfit.
On the same note, interesting scarves can be your third piece or just a way to add visual interest to your look, and they are easy and fun to collect. Go big and bold with something like this colorful Hermes Vintage scarf. Hermes is always a worthwhile investment in our opinion. Or go cheap and chic with this ombre Amazon option (we love the lavender for this summer).
The Little Black Dress
We’ve covered cocktail dresses, but having a little black business casual might be a life saver as well. This Ali & Jay dress is just about perfect. It’s ponte so there are some serious comfort points there, but it’s structured enough for a big meeting. This J.Crew sheath might be perfect for winter or if you just prefer long sleeves. And, of course, M.M. LaFleur and their Etsuko dress is a perennial work classic.
How do you handle business casual? Do you have a business casual uniform or are you still trying to figure one out? Is your “business casual” office full of athleisure wear or is it basically business formal without the actual suit? Let us know!
– Jacqueline Zenn
You may also like to read more styling tips for women over 40: How To Wear The Paper Bag Pants Trend When You’re Over 40 and 5 Best Investment Shoes for Women Over 40.
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