Business Casual clothing is more comfortable than corporate workwear. It also makes an easier transition from day to night. But the exact meaning of "business casual" varies from one company to another, or even between departments in the same company.
Figuring out what to wear to a business casual office is so tricky that you may start missing the days when we all wore power suits and blouses with giant bows at the collar. But tying those stupid bows is so difficult that unraveling the mysteries of business casual is preferable.
What Isn't Business Casual
If you're coming from the corporate world, you may think that Business Casual means anything goes. That certainly sounds about right - until you see someone take things too far in one direction or the other.
Way back in the 90s, I ran into one of my neighbors at the bus stop on the way home from work. She was wearing (and I swear to Coco Chanel I am not making this up) a gray sweatsuit because it was casual Friday at the law firm she worked at. I'm talking gray, baggy sweats like what Rocky Balboa worked out in.
You know better than that, but let's state for the record that athleisure wear is out. Sneakers may be OK, but you'd do better to wear fashion sneakers and leave the gym shoes in your bag.
You can go too far in the other direction. A co-worker of mine once came to work in a dress that was better suited for a wedding reception. If someone asks if you have plans after work, that outfit is not business casual.
What Counts As Business Casual?
Pants or a skirt worn with a shirt. Which is still pretty broad, so let's break it down. Some prints are OK, but tees with words or an image on the front are too weekendy to be business casual. Jeans are OK in some business casual offices, but not others. Matching colors, as in a red skirt worn with a red shell and red jacket, are too similar to a business suit to be business casual. But mixing and matching colors and prints can bring those pieces into the realm of business casual.
For the office, I'd keep skirt hems at the knee or lower. It's about practicality as much as it is about professionalism. Spending all day worrying about keeping your knees closed and having to adjust your clothing every time you sit down or get up uses up energy and brain space that you could be using to advance your career.
Make It An Outfit
Two separates don't really make an outfit. They're just clothes. You want to wear outfits to work because they make you look more put together, which makes you look more competent.
An outfit requires a third piece. That's it. Add a jacket, a cardigan, a vest, a bold necklace, or a scarf and you've got an outfit. Just don't match the jacket to the pants or skirt because then you're wearing a suit and your colleagues will think you have a job interview.
It Takes Time to Build a Business Casual Wardrobe
You'd think that one big shopping spree would be all you need to have enough work clothes for the season. If you were slimmer (or a man), you'd be right. But too many plus size designers skew too casual (or too cute) for the office. Because you have to spend time searching for plus size business casual clothes, you want to pick pieces that will last a long time, and will stay in style. (We call 'em Vikki Vi Classics for a reason.)