Business casual, according to Oxford Dictionary, means a type of outfit that is “relating to or denoting a style of clothing that is less formal than traditional business wear, but is still intended to give a professional and businesslike impression.” Apply that definition to real life, however, and you start to realize how vague it actually is. When navigating the often unfamiliar territory of workplace dress as an intern, it can be nearly impossible to know how to walk the line between overly formal attire and an ensemble that’s too casual for the office—especially when you want to show off your sartorial chops, too. So with internship season rapidly approaching, we set out to figure out what this phrase actually means and how to apply it to your life.
According to Business Insider, this type of dress code encourages employees to give off a “professional, business-like image while enjoying the advantage of more casual and relaxed clothing.” In terms of what you can pull from your closet, the website states that “slacks or khakis, dress shirt or blouse, open-collar or polo shirt, optional tie or seasonal sport coat, a dress or skirt at knee-length or below, a tailored blazer, knit shirt or sweater, and loafers or dress shoes that cover all or most of the foot,” are all appropriate choices. Our takeaway? Lean toward a more “formal” look than casual, because it’s definitely more acceptable to look too professional than not enough. And while you should still infuse some “business” into your ensembles, don’t be afraid to have some fun, too. Ahead, we’ve decoded the dress code even further with some examples of what to wear to five different types of professional settings so you never have to wonder what “business casual” means again.
The Occasion: A Day On the Job
Wear: A Midi Dress With a Structured Jacket
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to wear a sundress every day of the week. If you love your summer staple as much as we do, make it internship-ready with a structured jacket on top and sleek (but fun) loafers on the bottom. Not only does it check the “business casual attire” box, but it’s comfy to boot.
The Occasion: A Business Meeting
Wear: A White Blouse and Pencil Skirt
While a blouse-and-pencil-skirt combo is always a classic, we love the way Rahma Ly updated this go-to look by tying her blouse and pairing it with sporty bottoms (peep that athletic stripe). Make it more polished with a structured bag and refined flats or heels.
The Occasion: An Important Presentation
Wear: A Clean Blazer and Pleated Midi Skirt
So you have to impress your boss with a big presentation? You’ll want to dress the part, too. Err on the side of formal for this type of occasion with a sleek blazer, a midi skirt, and matching heels or flats. Add a grommet belt to keep it from being too simple—and while you can definitely wear the hat and sunnies on your way to the office, skip them for the actual presentation.
The Occasion: An Interview
Wear: A Wrap Blouse and Trousers
Like we said—just because you have to wear business casual attire doesn’t mean you have to look boring. Opt for your basic separates, like a wrap blouse and trousers, but go with a few different (but still minimal) prints to keep things interesting. Add some funky shoes to add to the fun and show off your pattern-mixing finesse.
The Occasion: A Networking Event
Wear: A Dress Over Culottes
Since a networking event will require you to impress a lot of people (who may also be total strangers), this is another setting where it’s best to go with a look that’s more formal. Instead of just wearing the typical top-and-pants combination, layer your favorite dress over a pair of culottes for an unexpected play on proportions. And since you’re sure to be on your feet for a while, throw on a simple pair of slides you can wear all night.
What’s your go-to business casual attire? Show us your internship #OOTD on Instagram by tagging @cfashionista!
Opening image by Kelly Rogowski.