Sunday, November 19, 2006

Decoding Business Casual, Part 1 (Pants/Skirts)

Few phrases inspire more confusion than "business casual attire." Most people have a vague idea of what this means (not formal, but not casual) but are unclear about what exactly they can and cannot wear under the guideline of business casual. Add in the fact that business casual can mean totally different things depending on the kind of company or event you're attending and you can end up staring at your closet for hours wondering if you have anything appropriate to wear.

Fear this phrase no longer, because I've come up with some guidelines for dressing business casual that will keep you looking smart, sophisticated and profession but allow you to retain some individual style and personality. For more information on business casual, check out this guide.

Before you start picking out your outfit, consider the event you're attending and the company or group putting it on. How traditional or creative is the industry? What kind of people will you be interacting with at this event? If the industry encourages more conservative attire (finance, law, consulting) stick to a more conservative outfit. If it's more creative (marketing, film/tv, PR, anything artsy), you can try something a little more adventurous. If you're going to be mingling with your superiors or anyone who you want to impress professionally, stay more conservative.

If you are totally lost and unsure about what is appropriate for your specific event, you can't go wrong with the staples of business casual: a button-down dress shirt and a pencil skirt. This is also the best option for anyone in more conservative industries. Don't be afraid of a colorful top; as long as it's not neon or has a print, adding some color to your outfit will keep it from being boring. Another way to make the outfit a little more interesting is by wearing a high-waisted skirt, a very flattering style that's in this season. You want both the shirt and skirt to be fitted and flattering but not tight, and the skirt should hit around your knee, no more than 2-3 inches above. Here are examples of a great basic top and skirt that will never let you down.

Pants are also acceptable for conservative and creative industries, but make sure they're made of a more "professional-looking" material, like wool or flannel. Linen, denim and corduroy would not be appropriate. Here's a pair that would flatter all body types and work in any industry or situation.

Don't be afraid to wear a skirt with interesting details, like this bow pencil skirt, this tweed skirt with a ruffled bottom or this flannel skirt with cutout detailing. All three are polished-looking but still feminine and interesting.

Come back tomorrow for the second part of my business casual post, where I'll talk about tops and accessories.

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