In the dog-eat-dog world of business, stay a cut above the crowd with the perfect ‘business casual look’.

Business fashion has changed. Long gone are the days of uniform shiny suits and block-coloured ties. Today, it’s all about ‘business casual’, a dangerously ambiguous and difficult-to-get-right dress code. Combining the contradictory style statements — business and casual — the corporate version of smart-casual is accompanied by the same bewilderment. So, how do you stay looking fresh at work? Without any clear styling parameters, business casual has made the job of achieving professional dress harder than ever.

When it comes to business, fashion is more than a frivolity. Research shows that what we wear has a significant impact both on ourselves and those around us. Not only are we more likely to put our faith in someone who looks the part, but we are also more likely to have confidence in our own abilities when we wear the right clothes. Turns out that ‘dress for success’ is far more than an empty slogan and is more a bonafide fact.

So, don’t fall foul to fashion. Stay a cut above the crowd with our fail-safe tips for nailing the tricky business casual dress code.

What Is Business Casual? a Brief Sartorial History

Alongside Google, Facebook and Twitter, we have the tech boom of the 80s to thank for the new standards of professional style. The digital innovators of Silicon valley envisioned a new way of doing business — flashy, corporate bravado was out and a laid-back, inclusive and transparent approach was in. Spearheaded by the now iconic style of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, the new age of business also dawned a new age of professional dress. Today, business casual extends far beyond the tech industry. Did you know that, in 2017, members of Parliament at the House of Commons were told to wear ‘business-like attire,’ while the leaders of the G8 summit were told to don ‘smart casual’?  Everyone is getting in on the action.

Business fashion, like business itself, is now less invested in uniformity and professionalism and more in ‘branding the self’. Like your Facebook status, Instagram posts and Twitter feed, what you wear to work is a way of expressing your own personal brand. As a result, the boundaries of style have expanded. Jeans, hoodies and sliders — Why not go the full Zuckerberg? But what about bold colours, clashing prints and flamboyant accessorising? Well, hold your horses. While business fashion has become more diverse and creative, some of the old rules still apply. In the current age of business style, where flip-flops in the office have become the norm, it’s the sharply dressed man who stands out from the crowd.

Here’s everything you need to know to hit that sartorial sweet spot between creative casual and business professional.

Invest in Foundational Style: The Suit

What’s the most versatile and classic menswear statement around? You guessed it — it’s the humble suit. With a sartorial legacy reaching back centuries, you really can’t go wrong. Whether business formal or business casual, a sharp, well-fitted suit will keep you a cut above the rest. There are only two factors to consider when picking your suit — the fabric and the fit.

Business suits have developed a bad reputation, partly thanks to the often poor-quality, thin and shiny fabrics used. Don’t make the mistake of choosing suits made from these; instead, opt for breathable and classic fabrics. Tweed is a great choice for a more casual look. Tweed was the OG look for casual Fridays in 19th century England, when gents donned their tweeds to work, before whizzing off to their country estates in time for the weekend. Universally loved for its durability and elegance, a tweed suit offers a timeless ‘off-duty’ look. But a great fabric is only as good as the cut of the suit. A baggy, poor-fitted suit is impossible to pull off. Invest in a tailored suit and get your very own perfect fit. There are hundreds of online tailoring services that provide cost-effective, hand-made suits delivered directly to your door. A couple of these custom-made suits are all you need to create the foundation of your business casual look.

Loosen Up: The Jacket

Pairing a tailored jacket with a casual outfit is a great way of adding an edge to your look. But not all jackets are made equal when it comes to business casual. A double-breasted, gold-buttoned blazer with a t-shirt and jeans will make you look more private school kid than savvy professional.

When choosing your jacket, you need something a little more unstructured and relaxed. Ditch the shoulder pads and large lapels, and opt for minimalist lines and slim-fit cuts. Your jacket should fit perfectly and streamline your look, sitting square and snug and not peaking at the shoulders. Anything too structured gives off a formal vibe. To really rock the jacket, keep the fit short, so that it ends just above your cuff line and below your hips.

Try layering a tweed jacket over a jumper and chinos for a sharp casual look. If you’re going full casual, a cardigan is a good alternative. Just stick to cashmere and steer clear of chunky knits, folky designs and outdoorsy toggles. You’re at work after all, not living it up on a ski holiday.

Button-up the Right Way: The Shirt

Shirts are the easiest and most cost-effective way of transforming your outfit. Don’t get stuck in a rut with your shirts — it doesn’t have to be all stiff collars and sparkling whites. Switching up your shirt colour is one of the easiest ways to mix things up: think pastel blues, pinks, greens and purples — these great alternatives add a dash of colour to keep you looking both cool and smart.

Mixing up fabrics and cuts are also easy ways of dressing down your business look. Keep away from shiny poplin fabrics and go for Oxford cloth or chambray to give your look a casual twist. For an effortlessly modern vibe, ditch the standard white button-down for Mandarin and collarless shirts. Not only are these shirt styles incredibly on trend, they’re also easy to wear without a tie.

Polo shirts are a great alternative for times when you need to look more casual. Paired with tailored trousers and jacket, the humble polo hits the sweet spot between business formal and casual dress codes.

Keep It Simple: The Trousers

When it comes to your trouser choice, there are a couple of rules to heed. Business casual doesn’t mean you can get away distressed denim, leather, three-quarter length trousers or ripped knees. Keep your trouser choice simple and classic. Denims should be dark blue or black with a slim fit. Avoid skinny jeans, baggy jeans and anything that shows your underwear beneath, and add a well-made belt to secure the fit.

Chinos should be muted. Bold and garish colours belong on a yacht, not in the office. Opt for front flaps and roll-ups for a more casual look, and choose pleats and creases for when you need to look slightly more formal. It’s as simple as that!

Strike a Balance

If you take away just one lesson from this post, let it be this: Business casual is a delicate balancing act. Tip too far into casual mode and you’ll have a hard time convincing your colleagues and clients that you’re a serious professional. Err on the side of formality and you’ll end up looking out of touch and out of place. Stay harmonised by ensuring that every item is balanced with the rest of the ensemble. If you’re wearing a polo shirt and loafers, add a pair of tailored trousers to keep you looking business-ready. If you don a blazer, shirt and brogues, tone it down with chinos.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and be sure to showcase your own unique style. Business casual is nothing to be afraid of — it’s something to embrace, so have fun with your style.