November 4, 2012

The Dapper Man: Getting Down to Business-Casual

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There aren’t many expressions in fashion that have as much ambiguity as the term “business-casual.” Paradoxically, despite its confusing nature, it’s one of the most ubiquitous, overarching terms to describe attire. What qualifies as business-casual? Should I be more business or more casual?

Business-casual, above all, encompasses the gray area between a full-fledged suit and a lackadaisical T-shirt and jeans. But that gray area is just as massive as it is confusing. Here are some tips to cut down on all the uncertainty:

Tip #1: Collared tops are largely the safest bet. Dress shirts and polos are both viable, but polos should be reserved for more relaxed events. Flannels are too nonchalant, but dress shirts are excellent for every occasion. Flexible and versatile, collared shirts are always acceptable and always in a fashionably favorable position. They look good with a tie or on their own. If you are wearing a dress shirt with a tie, you can unbutton the top button and loosen the tie a bit so that your Adam’s apple can breathe. Jim Halpert from The Office sports this look very effectively. If you are wearing a dress shirt alone, unbutton either the top one or the top two buttons. Please don’t unbutton more buttons than two. Please. Nobody wants to see chest hair poking out from underneath your clothes.

Tip #2: Business-casual doesn’t constitute a three-piece suit, but suit components (tie, blazer, vest) can be mixed well to provide a more easygoing outfit. For example, vests or blazers can be worn with a dress shirt, but a vest, blazer AND a dress shirt shouldn’t be worn all together. Blazers are great because they can be worn over only a dress shirt, over a sweater or even over a cardigan. To make blazers more laid-back, opt for a tweed or corduroy blazer. Color-wise, try to go for navy, light gray or tan.

Tip #3: Layer with sweaters! Sweaters have the godly power of toning down any professional look with coziness and warmth. A V-neck sweater pulled over a dress shirt and tie is always a classy, classic look. If you don’t mind looking a little nerdy or a little Chandler-esque (from F.R.I.E.N.D.S.), sweater vests are a perfect blend of casual and professional. To keep the sweater business-y, don’t make it too outrageous; leave the bright colors, crazy native prints and Christmas designs at home. Express has a fine collection of business-casual argyles and basics.

Tip #4: No blue jeans. Actually, dark blue jeans are permissible. But please, no blue, stereotypical denim jeans. If possible, go with black jeans. In this day and age, black slim/skinny pants are the new fashion staple. Black universally makes figures look slimmer, and black bottoms accent and complement outfits very, very nicely. Remember that for a more professional look, no holes, no patches and no color gradients on the pants. For business-casual attire, dark pants are essential with dark blue, black or dark gray being the best.

Tip #5: Step up your shoe game. Tennis shoes and sneakers are not permitted in business-casual places. Yes, your Supras look good, but not in this setting. Oxfords and boat shoes are more the way to go. Outfits need to be consistent, so keep the shoes as stylish as the rest of your attire. Really dressy shoes can be a little bit over the top, especially if they are the shiny, robust ones that are really only passable when meeting the President of the United States.

Original Author: Eric Ding