Business casual is a puzzle that confronts each of us from time to time. We worry most when dressing for an interview but the question also arises with regard to restaurants, networking events, parties, business meetings, or sales calls.
Know before you go. Call and ask. The reservationist at the hot new restaurant will tell you what most patrons wear and if there are specific requirements like a collared shirt or jacket. Interview? Call your contacts or the secretary of the interviewer and ask. If there is any doubt, look at the social media of the company, restaurant, your contacts there and any publicity shots. Here are a few cues….
There is a rule of thumb that states that when making an impression you should be slightly more polished than, say, an interviewer. Show respect for the person, her job, the opportunity. Dress for the position you want, not the one you have.
Is it OK to wear denim? Yes, if its dark washed and paired with a blouse, shirt, sweater or other nice top and covered with a jacket, nice jewelry, and good shoes for women. Men also wear denim pants with a button-down shirt, shirt and sweater combo, or perhaps a sport coat; include a nice watch and appropriate shoes.
Khaki and soft cotton are also good fabrics for trousers, dresses or skirts. Linen is OK, too, although it wrinkles quickly. Add a blazer and you will be good to go. Under a jacket or dressy sweater, silk or up-scale T shirts pass muster; a crisp white cotton T from a designer or JCrew is acceptable unless this is a first impression situation, (please, no Hanes underwear out of the bag).
Give sneakers a rest and in a business setting leave sandals at home. I’m not in favor of open toe (or back) shoes for women unless they’ve had a pedicure the day before. Its too easy to shove calloused feet with dry skin or chipped polish into sandals or backless shoes, a sight that says you are lazy and unaware.
Shoes should be appropriate for the outfit, clean, polished, and free of mud or street debris.
Update on footwear: an interviewer was asked what makes a LAST impression on interviewers. The backs of the candidate’s shoes! Polish out scuffs. Check for worn down soles/heels and sinking sox!
No matter what you wear, it must be clean, ironed, and fit properly. No loose threads, missing buttons, uneven hems, lining extending out of jacket sleeves. If you are layering, be certain that the top layer is big enough to cover what’s underneath without turning you into a sausage.
How do you build a wardrobe? Set a budget and shop sales. Begin before you are ready to network or job hunt. Begin with a few pieces that can be worn in different ways with various other pieces. A blazer, a couple of tops and bottoms that coordinate is a good place to start your casual wardrobe. You might choose a color pallet at the beginning and build around that. Navy is good and coordinates with khaki, red, green, white, cream, yellow and light blue. Consider pieces that can carry you through 3 seasons: fall, winter spring or spring, summer, fall. Add one or two pieces each season. Buy what you can afford; shop sales to stretch your dollars. Avoid trendy pieces and impulse buying.
Accessories no longer need to match. A smallish hand bag and a portfolio in which to carry your resume, business cards or other papers is just right. Add a couple of statement pieces of jewelry, a pocket square, professional looking watch, clean well fitting glasses, to complete your look.
Below are two articles from The Muse on business casual for interviews. Knowing how to dress before you leave high school will add confidence and polish to your college and internship interviews.
Want to talk about how to carry off the suggestions above? I have great ideas that will help you pull together you own style. firstname.lastname@example.org 610-212-6679.