The words “business casual” can send some of my friends into a confused panic as much as seeing the words “shabby chic“ would to me. Ditto the phrases relaxed business and smart casual. And getting it wrong can be awkward especially since at a business event no matter how casual it is - there is usually a superior (usually a boss or a client) to impress. I once witnessed as business colleague got subtly snubbed by a potential client as she showed up at a “smart casual” cocktail party in mid-town Manhattan dressed in a cotton sundress and Ipanema sandals … while everyone else was dressed in flowy summer dresses and open-toed heels. Later on in private she bursts out, “How am I supposed to know they don’t really mean casual?!”.
Well, below I’ve outlined some tips for dressing appropriately to this tricky phrase.
Also look at the venue for clues. An outdoor event at a beachfront 5-star hotel would call for something a bit different than cocktails at a conference room in an office building. I love accessories - but do remember that less is more at a business event and opt for understated elegance. Casual doesn’t mean you can break out the Lakers baseball cap or the or your limited edition Hunger Games lapel-pin.
Finally, look to your boss or host for an estimate of how casual to go (I would even go to Google or research more about the event host on social media if needed.). If she’s likely to show up in a dress and heels, then you can’t stroll in wearing jeans and a t-shirt. That’s clearly not the meaning of business-casual in that office. If you’re your own boss – kudos to you BTW – consider your clients or anyone else you come into contact with at casual business times. And one final word about fabric - pick fabrics of good quality. A great outfit is never about labels or cost. It’s about picking well-made fabrics and not wearing frayed pieces of clothing. E.g I’d rather pick a brand new white t-shirt to wear underneath my jacket rather than a well-worn blouse from 15 years ago.
The idea behind business casual is a good one – sometimes we need to shake things up, change our perspective, and taking on a more relaxed feeling can help a lot of people do this. All in all its important to remember its about showing a slightly more relaxed version of our business or professional self, not baring our (at-home) selves. Do safe that for your family and closest friends or, in my case, my cats.
Photography by Bibo Aswan | Makeup by Anna Sherie Taken at E&O Residences Kuala Lumpur Malaysia