Defining the dress code: Business casual

By: Abby Cousineau

Check out this list of business casual essentials to help guide you in building your professional wardrobe.

As a junior in college, I have been thinking a lot about the future. Pretty soon, I will be graduating and hopefully moving on to a professional job in public relations or a related field. Because I have been so focused on the future, I have also taken a hard look at my closet. I noticed I don’t have much of a professional wardrobe, something I will definitely need as I enter the workforce after graduation. I know I need to start looking into getting more professional clothing, and it is my personal opinion that doing this gradually over the next couple of years is better than going on one huge shopping spree a year from now. So, how do I go about doing this? What am I supposed to look for when I go shopping? What are employers going to expect of me in terms of my dress?

Well, let me start out by saying it is my own observation that many offices require a business casual wardrobe. According to Oxford Dictionaries, business casual is defined as “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.” After some Pinterest browsing, I have put together this list of business casual essentials that may help guide you in building your own professional wardrobe.

So, without further ado, here is my list of business casual essentials:

A variety of dress pants.

Black, navy and gray are vital, but try to mix it up by adding a colored or simple-printed pant like stripes or gingham. A combination of fitted and flowy bottoms is ideal, but go with what fits your body best.


A black blazer is a necessary element of your business casual closet. Cream, gray or tan blazers are also versatile and can be worn with nearly any color.

Blouses and button-down shirts.

A white button-down shirt is a classic must-have, but try to mix in brighter colors and patterns with your shirts. Colors or patterns can easily be subdued by adding a neutral blazer or sweater and solid bottoms. Pinstriped and neutral-colored tops are also good to have on hand.

Sweaters and cardigans.

Especially with Michigan’s unpredictable weather, sweaters and cardigans are a necessity for any work wardrobe. Neutral is the way to go when it comes to top additions. A black or cream sweater can be worn any day and paired with a colored bottom or accessory for a bit more interest. With that being said, a colored sweater or cardigan is never out of the question, just make sure your outfit as a whole is not overflowing with colors, patterns and textures.

Skirts and dresses.

Make an impression by trying colored or simple-patterned skirts and dresses. Avoid neon colors and complex patterns in the workplace, as they might be more of a distraction than an upbeat statement.


A watch is a staple that can be worn every day if it is the right style. Go for a classic gold watch or try more of a minimalistic look. As a general rule, jewelry should be kept to a minimum. If your outfit doesn’t have much texture to it, add a bit with a staple necklace. But if your outfit has bright colors, layers, patterns or multiple textures, keep your accessories to a minimum. Try stud earrings or a simple necklace or bracelet.


Stand out with your shoes! Bright colors and leopard print can actually be classy and work appropriate when subtle. Neutral-colored heels and flats, however, are the base of any good shoe collection. Black and tan shoes can be worn with pretty much any outfit. If you like wearing heels, one thing to keep in mind is to make sure they are not too high or gaudy.

Pro Tip: Pops of color! Try to incorporate some color into your work wardrobe. A drab, gray and black closet will not cut it in a PR agency.

Of course, these are just some suggestions to kick-start your wardrobe-building process. You should always wear what makes you feel confident, to work and beyond.

Check out Harvard Office of Career Services’ Pinterest page for more inspiration.

Abby Cousineau is a junior at EMU majoring in public relations and minoring in graphic design and marketing. Abby is currently serving her first year on EMU PRSSA E-board as Social Media Director. She was drawn to social media because it allows her to merge her passions of writing and design. You can usually find her outside any time the weather is nice, or exploring the Ann Arbor restaurant scene. Connect with Abby on Instagram @abcattt.


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