Wondering what to wear back to the office? Here are the basics of a stylish business casual wardrobe for working women, recent graduates, and aspiring boss ladies.
Like many of you, I've been working from home for the better part of 2020, which means my wardrobe transitioned to more casual than business. At least from the waist up. Taking meetings virtually means a blouse on top and sweatpants on the bottom. But as of this week, I'm back in the office part-time and I must say, I have missed getting dressed. How I look is closely linked to how I feel and while I have certainly been taking care of business in comfy clothes over the last several months, there's just something empowering about putting on a blazer, ya know? For those of you going back to the office in 2021, here are the business casual basics that always help me look and feel put together in a corporate setting.
What is Women's Business Casual Attire, Anyway?
When I started interning, I remember being quite annoyed at internet search results that defaulted to men's clothing when defining business casual attire. So I thought I'd kick this off with the essentials of business casual for women. Here are the pillars with which to build your business casual wardrobe:
- Dresses (up to two inches above the knee)
- Heels (up to four inches high)
- Skirts (up to two inches above the knee)
Don't worry if this seems restrictive or stuffy. There's lots of room to play with and personalize these business casual basics to your own boss lady style. Office wear is also more flexible and comfy these days now that we've been in the pandemic for a while. You can even pick from each category to create a 2021 business casual capsule wardrobe. Let's break it down.
Women's Business Casual Style Guide
No item of clothing makes me feel as bossy as a good blazer. I wear them both at work and at play. The structure (hello shoulder pads) and fit somehow make you look like you're about to do something big and important. A black blazer is a staple. And in my book, so is a pink blazer--or whatever your power color is.
Business Casual Tops aren't limited to the blouses and button-ups noted above. They can be short or long sleeved, made of anything from chambray to silk, and mixed and matched with slacks, skirts, and even jeans--more on that below. Tailored tees and tanks work too and are perfect to slip on under a blazer or cardigan. I gravitate toward breathable fabrics and am especially selective with button-up tops because it can be hard to find nice ones that fit both the waist and bust well.
And cardigans are necessary because most every office environment is freezing. I don't know why that is but I keep a cardigan draped over my desk chair.
Dresses are key to my work style. Even in 2021. Even when working from home. I love them because they're so easy to throw on and instantly feel pulled together and feminine. I just add a blazer if I'm presenting that day and am good to go. Form-fitting sheath dresses are my favorite and I highly recommend wrap style dresses because they flatter every. single. figure.
Skirts & Slacks include lots of options. Pencil skirts are classic business casual and you can have a little fun with A-line, wrap, and asymmetrical skirts, too. For pants, I'm partial to modern ankle trousers. And to answer the question of can you wear jeans in business casual, check to see if your organization has a casual Friday practice. On casual Fridays, I love to wear wide-leg or mom jeans with a tee, blazer and either sneakers or flats. So there's that.
Business Casual Women's Shoes
At the beginning of my career in business, I thought I would be climbing the corporate ladder in stilettos but everyday life actually looks and feels a bit different. On a regular basis, I wear a combination of polished pumps, flats and sneakers to the office. I prefer block heels over stilettos for comfort and have rounded up a few at different price points below so there's something for every salary band.
Business casual shoes don't need to be bland, by the way. I love adding a pop of color into an outfit via my flats. It's also easy to incorporate trendy colors and styles this way.
If you're asking Can you wear sneakers in business casual? the answer is probably yes depending on your office dress code and company culture. We have casual Fridays and I typically slip on a pair of sleek sneaks or flats with jeans and a fitted t-shirt or blouse. Here are my favorite office-appropriate women's sneakers.
One last component of women's work wear that is often overlooked is the handbag. Take everything you'd normally carry in a purse plus a laptop, work phone, and portfolio, and you'll realize you need a sturdy work handbag. But it doesn't have to be a boring afterthought. These work bags are cute and functional.
Where to Shop for Women's Work Clothes
- Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Factory, and LOFT
- ASOS Don't sleep on their office dresses.
- Banana Republic
- Boohoo (I love their unique blazers!)
- DSW for polished shoes at budget prices
- J.Crew & J.Crew Factory
- Kate Spade makes great work bags that last.
- Nordstrom & Nordstrom Rack
- MM LaFleur
- Nasty Gal (Great for blazers and graphic tees to wear on casual Fridays.)
- Sam Edelman is my go-to for cute pumps.
- Target is great for when you're just starting to build your work wardrobe.
- Wolf & Badger has unique finds from a variety of designers all in one place that will have your work friends asking Where'd you get that, girl?!
I hope you find wear to work inspo to step into your next meeting with big boss lady energy. And in case you were wondering, is natural hair professional? the photos included here should clearly answer YES. Sharing is caring to be sure to pin this business causal style guide on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
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