Six Biggest Mistakes of Business Casual Attire

Dressing ‘business casual’ can be confusing because there is so much variability in the interpretation of what’s appropriate. If you are in a ‘business casual’ office, satisfied with your current position, and have no desire to move ahead, then just being ‘appropriate’ may be good enough for you. If, however, you do have aspirations to further your career, paying attention to your clothes – your outward image – is a simple tool to making the right impressions.

After many years of observing others in the workplace, I have seen many unfortunate choices that could be greatly – and easily –  improved.  In no particular order, here are the six biggest mistakes:

  1. Ballet Flats – Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course you want to be comfortable. There are many other options for flats where you can be comfortable and project the right image. Regardless of the brand/designer, ballet flats strongly convey a girlish lack of authority. If you like them, save them for after workFor work, if you prefer flats, go for a pointed toe and a shoe that has a higher vamp (the part of the shoe that covers the top of your foot.) As crazy as it may sound, this style conveys a much more serious look. Even better, find shoes with a 1 or 2 inch heel.

    Better than a ballet flat; has pointed toe and a higher vamp
  2. Dressing Too Casual – Is your go-to outfit a loose unconstructed cardigan with black pants and flats? That outfit says casual way more than business.  It also says you really don’t take the time to look your best. Easy fix: keep the cardigan, but instead of the black pants and flats, wear a pencil skirt and a loafer style shoe with a two inch heel. OR: keep the black pants with flats, but instead of the cardigan wear a fitted blazer. The lesson here is you need at least one piece in your outfit that is strictly business.  Makes a huge difference.

    Keep the black pants and flats – add a blazer!
  3. Forgeting To Visit Your Tailor – Why, you say? To hem your pants so they aren’t dragging on the ground. To hem your skirts to a flattering and professional length (just above or below the knee.). To alter the cuffs on your blazer so you don’t look sloppy. You don’t have a tailor? No problem! Many dry cleaners offer alteration services at reasonable prices, so no excuse. For trousers that have a flair or wide leg at the bottom, remember to take the shoe you will wear with them when you have them altered. For a straight leg or a skirt, no need to do this.
  4. Going Without Any Makeup –  Not everyone likes an obvious full face of makeup like I do. That’s fine, no need.  However!  Taking a few minutes to apply mascara, a tinted moisturizer, and a light lipstick or gloss shows you take pride in your appearance. It shows you are detail oriented. It adds a touch of sophistication.  It makes you look more put together.  If you are under 40, you appear more ‘grown up’.   And heck, you will look more attractive!  Why wouldn’t you???  Some of my favorite basics that are good for those that prefer a natural look:  Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer, MAC nude lipstick in Mocha, Laura Mercier mascara.
  5. Too Much Jewelry – Especially if you are over 40, you probably have accumulated lots of earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings over the years – some costume, some fine jewelry.  While you may be tempted to pile ’em on for business attire, please hold back.  Keep it simple. Less sparkle, less dangle, less is always best.  My personal rule of thumb is one ‘fun’ piece at a time for work.  If I choose to wear a bold necklace, my earring and bracelet choice will be understated.  I actually have a small basic collection of ‘serious’ jewelry that I wear to work on a regular basis.  Accessories should be conservative, never distracting.
  6. Dressing Too Sexy –  You work out hard at the gym and are proud of your fit body.  You love your cute new blouse with the cut-out shoulders, and you can’t wait to wear those high stilettos with your body-con skirt.  Wear ’em!   Just not to work.  Sure, you look great, but unless you work in a creative environment, such as in fashion or the like, you will hamper your ability to be taken seriously. Remember the movie ‘Working Girl’ with Melanie Griffith?  The movie may be old, but the lesson still holds true.                                                                                                                                                            WHAT YOU WEAR EVERY SINGLE DAY SENDS A MESSAGE.  MAKE SURE THE MESSAGE IS ONE YOU WANT. From Pinterest, here’s a nice variety of Business Casual attire…

Glad to answer questions about your work outfit challenges!

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  • I agree with all of your tips. It is funny that you mention ballet flats as too casual. Lately I became aware of women making a shuffling sound when walking and this is happening when they are wearing ballet flats or other lightly constructed ones. Never noticed this before.

  • Hmm… this one makes me think. While I agree with your opinions fashion-wise, it bothers me that in order to be more successful in the workplace, women have to dress more masculine to appear more “professional”. Too feminine? “A girlish lack of authority”. Too sexy? “Inappropriate”. Power blazer and high vamp shoes (both traditionally menswear)? Perfect.

    It’s just… weird.

    • Interesting comment! Historically speaking, women have always had more options for dress, and were more valued for youth and beauty…thinking of the corsets and elaborate garments of years gone by. Men were the ‘hunters’, the providers, so it wasn’t so much about appearance as it was on productivity. I love that we as women have so many options, but it only makes sense to make choices based on the situation, to send a message that you are credible and serious. (Obviously you will need to be smart too, clothes only get you so far.) And if you follow my blog, you see that my choices are not extreme – I will wear form fitting clothes that may be considered sexy, but in a way that is balanced for an overall ‘professional’ look.

  • I work in a casual setting (an elementary school). My favorite shoe is a loafer. But no matter what I wear, someone always comments on how dressed up I am. I don’t consider it dressing up to take pride in your appearance.

    • Don’t you hate it when people say that? Check out this old post, you should get a kick out of it.

      Thanks for commenting!


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