The Seven Enemies of Business Casual Wear

“It is both delusional and stupid to think that clothes don’t really matter and we should all wear whatever we want. Most people don’t take clothing seriously enough, but whether we should or not, clothes do talk to us and we make decisions based on people’s appearances.”

– G. Bruce Boyer


For work, a few weeks ago, I threw on a pair of black Banana Republic loafers.  I hadn’t worn these loafers in a while so I thought I’d switch my shoes up.  I didn’t think anything of them until my co-workers started cracking on them:

“Nice slippers.  You should have worn your pajamas too.”
“Dude, are those suede shoes?”  And the dagger…

“My Mom has a pair just like those…”

I can give (and take) a good ribbing.  I like it.  Although I’ll probably never wear those shoes to work again.

I am definitely no fashionista when it comes to work clothes.  I generally wear the standard corporate casual uniform of slacks/khakis, nice shirt and black dress shoes.  If I’m feeling really GQ, I’ll mix in a sweater or colorful patterned shirt.  The loafer jokes made me think though.  We used to be the stereotypical “stuffed shirt and tie” insurance company. However, since we moved to “business casual” about ten years ago, I have definitely seen some crazy gear at work.  From assorted liquor bottle Hawaiian shirts to football jerseys, people have definitely taken advantage of the “casual” in business casual.

You don’t have to be Bradley Cooper or Daniel Craig on the cover of GQ; but like it or not, your work fashion matters. Not only are your peers and higher-ups judging you (consciously or unconsciously), but what you throw on for work affects how people perceive and think about you.  I’m also in the camp of “what you wear affects how you feel.”  There’s just something about being nicely dressed that boosts your confidence.  So the next time you drag yourself out of bed and sleepily head to the closet to grab your clothes for the day, keep the following seven things in mind:

OK, so maybe they do look a little like house slippers…but your Mom’s shoes?

Wrinkled/Rumpled: There are actually some guys who are really good at ironing (I’m not one of them).  The next time you’re in a meeting, look around the room and see who looks like they just crawled out of a suitcase.  It’s actually kind of distracting – like the wavy lines on your old-school tube TV when the picture wasn’t coming in.  Nothing screams “I just grabbed this shirt out of the laundry hamper” like an un-ironed shirt.  I know you’re tired, but maybe spend a few minutes the night before or on the weekend and iron your shirts (and pants).

Cross Trainers/Running/Rubber Shoes: New Balance shoes at work?  Seriously?  How about the rounded rubber walking-type shoe?  Shoes are actually one of the first things people notice when it comes to your work gear.  Nice, clean looking professional shoes say “I care.”  Leave your Nike cross-trainers and walking shoes for the gym or your family day at the park (no matter how dark or “clean-looking” they are).

Too Big: If you lost weight and leaned out, congratulations.  Reward yourself (and show off) with some nice, athletic-cut business gear.  The big gear actually makes you look sloppy.  When you tuck your shirt in, the sides flap all over.  Your pants sag.  Think Tom Hanks in “Big.”

Too Tight: If I had to choose, I think I’d go too big.  Too tight (especially if you’re carrying a little – or a lot – of extra weight) is not a good look.  The hangover (not the movie) above your belt and sides is not flattering.  And why would you want your clothes too tight anyway?  Isn’t that a little uncomfortable – especially after a big lunch?

Dress Your Age: I had a friend rock some Sean John gear a few years back on a night out. There was something just not right about his age and the Diddy-designed shirt he was wearing.  I’m a big fan of hip-hop, but that doesn’t mean I want to look (or dress) like 50, Diddy or Nelly.  And I shouldn’t.  This also goes for anything with dragons, skulls, oversized old English lettering or bikini-clad women on the front.

Everyday Work Logo Day: Unless you work for UPS or deliver Domino’s Pizza, you should limit the number of times per week you wear work-adorned logo clothing. There’s always that one guy who has every type of work-logo shirt: polo, white dress shirt and even the yee-haw country denim shirt.  This does not make you look like Mr. Company Man.  It makes you look like you’re either too lazy to wear anything else (hence the work shirt rotation) or you don’t want to spend money on buying any work clothes.

Outdated: Your Z. Cavaricci pants…unless I’m mistaken, that style hasn’t come back around (yet).  Same with those 50’s-style bowling shirts with the big vertical stripes.  When you look at your clothes and say, “I remember I bought these on our trip to Napa…eight years ago,” it’s probably time to spend a little money on some new gear.  Same if you catch an old movie on TV and say, “Man, I have a shirt just like that…and I’m wearing it to work tomorrow.”

I’m not saying you should go out and blow a load of cash on a whole new work wardrobe (although that might not be a bad idea).  But maybe it’s time we hit the reset button on what business casual should actually look like.  Take some time this weekend and assess what your work wardrobe looks like.  Read a few fashion dos and don’ts.  Talk to your sharp-looking co-worker.  Go out and get some new shoes, pants, or shirts.  Pretty soon people will be saying, “Now that’s what business casual looks like!”

What kind of clothes do you wear to work?