How to build a business casual wardrobe
It can be tough to find those pieces striking the perfect balance between looking put together without going overboard. You want to look nice, yeah, but you don’t want to overdo it. Maybe you’re not a suit guy. Or, a suit and tie could be too formal for your workplace. It’s definitely too dressed up for a simple date.
I’ve compiled a 15-piece business casual capsule wardrobe along with 10 different styling options to help you get started.
What Is Business Casual?
You’ve probably heard terms like smart casual and sharp casual. For me, while there might be subtle distinctions between those and business casual, I’m not one to get caught up in strict definitions. I think in any case whether you’re talking business casual, smart casual, or sharp casual, the bottom line is the dress code means looking put together without appearing too formal. These 15 pieces could fit in any one of those three categories.
1. Navy Hopsack Suit
Although you’ll sometimes hear ‘no suits in business casual’, I am including one in this list. A suit doesn’t have to be formal, and that’s especially true when it’s in hopsack. Regular readers will know hopsack is extremely versatile, and because of the weave and texture of the fabric it comes off as a more casual suit option. It also offers you a great standalone jacket as well. Also contributing to the casual feel, I recommend a jacket with patch pockets.
2. Light Grey Sport Coat
Next, we’re going to add in another jacket-a light grey sport coat. I chose a second jacket in a solid color instead of a pattern because I wanted this wardrobe to be as versatile and simple as possible to style. This is especially true if you’re just starting in your style journey and a little uncomfortable with bolder plaids or patterns.
3. Blue Oxford Shirt
Onto shirts now. We have an ice blue oxford cloth shirt with a versatile collar shape and size- not too pointed or spread or small or large. Light blue works really well with both blue and grey jackets because it offers enough contrast.
4. Striped Shirt
A striped shirt adds a little visual interest to your looks, especially as we’re working with relatively subtle jackets. In the interest of versatility, keep the stripes in a pretty plain color and resist the urge to go ultra-wide with them.
5. Denim Shirt
A denim shirt is, in my opinion, one of the best shirts for this kind of capsule wardrobe. It looks great with an informal tie and plays really well with textured jackets. A lighter shade of denim is a touch more versatile than a darker shade, but as long as you stay away from extremes you can’t go wrong.
6. Navy Cotton Pants
A cotton fabric is exceptionally comfortable and is a great bridge between casual jeans and more formal trousers. Navy and khaki are pretty interchangeable, but do try to use other items in your outfits to create enough contrast between your upper and lower half.
7. Khaki Cotton Pants
Khaki cotton pants are some of the most versatile pants out there, especially in a business casual scenario The oversized fits of the early 2000’s and PGA Tour players have, thankfully, come and gone, and khaki chinos have been restored to good standing. Keep them slim, but not tight, and you’ll be good shape in a variety of situations.
8. Dark Denim Jeans
We featured dark denim during business casual month on the site some years back, and it’s certainly still relevant today. Darker denim is more formal than lighter denim, and a little more versatile as well. As with the chinos, keep it fitted, but certainly not tight.
9. Navy V-Neck Sweater
Layering pieces now. Up first is a navy v-neck sweater. You’ll want something thinner and in a lighter weight fabric like merino wool, as it’s easy to slip under a jacket for proper layering. And, the v-neck helps a collared shirt-with or without a tie-to sit a little better.
10. Tan Crew Neck Sweater
Keeping in our basic menswear color palette of blues, greys, and browns, we’ve got a tan crew sweater. The medium tan is a good contrast for the darker blues elsewhere in this list, and the crewneck makes it a touch *more* casual.
11. Medallion Print Silk Tie
Ties are optional in business casual, but I’m featuring two here. Up first is a medallion print silk tie. This works really well with any of the shirts and jackets in this list, while still allowing for some playfulness.
12. Striped Grenadine Tie
A variant on one of the most versatile ties you can own, I’ve thrown in a striped grenadine tie. Grenadine has a cool texture to it you only see up close, and the striped model also complements any of the shirts and ties.
And then finally, footwear. A pair of suede oxford lace-ups is perfect for a business casual capsule wardrobe. The closed, Oxford-style lacing system lends a touch of formality, but the suede keeps them from going too far. And, since we are going for versatility here, brown will serve you better than black will.
Tassel loafers are another great blend of formal and casual footwear. Since we’ve got a suede pair in the oxfords, consider smooth leather in the loafers. Most shades of brown will work here, but burgundy is a wildcard that’s more versatile than you might think.
To really throw a sartorial curveball, we’ve got a pair of boots in here. You’ll probably want to go darker on the color, though. That way, they’re suitable for both dressed and dressed down situations.
So, those are my picks for the ultimate business casual capsule wardrobe. Down below, I’ve put together 10 outfits for any situation.
1. Easy & Relaxed
First look here–very simple, very classic and laid back. Grey jacket, navy cotton trousers, and the denim shirt really showing the way that it is able to temper the formality of a jacket and pants outfit. And this look I finished off with the suede oxfords.
2. The Classic Approach
With the second look, I’m really taking what I would call a very classic business casual approach. We’ve got the navy v-neck sweater over the striped Oxford shirt paired with the khaki cotton trousers and finished off with the suede oxfords once again. Super easy outfit that is not fussy at all.
3. Elevated Simplicity
Third look, dressing it up a little bit more by adding in the tie. I do think that there is a place for ties in business casual but they should be less formal in nature either with a texture or a pattern like we’ve got here. And the pattern mixing between the shirt and tie also makes it less formal.
4. Classic Colors
Another very classic, super easy, kind of what I would call textbook business casual look here. Crew neck sweater over the ice blue Oxford cloth shirt paired with some navy cotton trousers. I think this look just really shows you how simple business casual can be. You don’t have to overthink it. Three solid basics and a pair of suede lace ups and you’re done.
5. “Relaxed” Menswear Uniform
Here, we’ve got more or less, a classic menswear uniform. Navy jacket. Ice blue oxford cloth shirt. Khaki cotton trousers. This is such an easy look. You could add a tie–I think the medallion tie would look good with this too–but I wanted to keep it on the more casual side so I went without. And loafers are a nice casual touch as well to finish it off.
I know that this one is dressed up and maybe on the line of fitting within business casual but there are enough casual kind of elements that I’m going to point out to try and justify this. It’s a hopsack suit, with the texture and patch pockets contributing to that casual feel. A grenadine tie, again, a textural element, And then the tassel loafers taking some formality out of the suit as well.
7. Dark Denim Days
This is a more casual approach, obviously, with the addition of dark denim. But there really is that range that you’ll find within business casual. Dressing it up with some simple layering of the tan crew neck sweater over the striped shirt. And the boots also kind of elevating the denim and giving them a little more polish.
8. Sport Coat & Jeans
A sport coat with dark denim is definitely acceptable for business casual in my book. But you gotta make sure that your sport coat fabric pairs well with the denim. Hopsack works well. And flannel like we have here–also a great option. I like the denim shirt because of the way it bridges the gap between the casual and dressy elements. And then the boots dressing up the jeans just a bit more.
9. Navy Blues
Another look with jeans here with a very laid back and casual approach. One of the things that I think makes this look work as a business casual outfit even with the jeans is that the two big blue elements we have are very dark AND it’s a monochromatic look so I think it gives it just a little more quote unquote seriousness. And I went with suede shoes instead of the boots this time.
10. Light Tones
This look has a little bit more of a lighter and brighter feel. It’s not easy, I would say, to kind of match lighter tan colors like this–and it might not be for everyone but I like it here. I think there’s enough contrast between the crew neck and the khaki cotton pants to make it work. All basic pieces incredibly versatile.
Which look was your favorite? Chime in below!