A Little Less Casual, A Lot More Business

Happy Almost-Fourth! I hope you are celebrating with barbeque and beer, rather than frantically shoving things in boxes, scrubbing your bathroom, and trying to remember where you packed your clean underwear. Hey, did I mention that I’m moving this weekend?

Planning a cross-state move is not exactly conducive to a relaxed state of mind, so I have been treating my stress with a heavy dose of retail therapy. I mean, what girl could resist using business school as an excuse to update her wardrobe? Certainly not this one. So imagine my delight when I got a request to blog about that very topic. (Thanks Kristina!)

I was wondering about Orientation outfits. My orientation, like most, is business-casual.

I was hoping you could do a post about what you’re planning on wearing, what’s appropriate and what’s not, and highlight how to dress business-casual in the heat!

Oh, the dreaded “business casual”! Sufficiently vague to ensure that no one knows exactly what to wear. At Admit Weekend I saw many variations on this theme, from trousers and button-downs to sundresses. Women everywhere seem to be confused about what’s appropriate for a business casual setting, and it’s no wonder when all the dressing guidelines were created with men in mind. For guys: dress pants and a collared shirt. Period. If you want to mix it up, throw in a nicely pressed pair of khakis (which should help you stay cooler in the summer heat). Women have a little more flexibility to show off their personal style, but that freedom can lead to confusion and questionable choices.

To clarify things a bit, here are some guidelines I follow when choosing a business casual outfit:

  • Always err on the conservative side (see title of blog). If it’s something you would wear to go out with friends, it’s probably too casual. That means sundresses, shorts, sandals, and spaghetti straps are out.
  • No cleavage. The last thing you want while chatting up a business contact is to catch him sneaking a peak down your blouse. To paraphrase Stacy London – sheathe the girls!
  • Skirts should hit just above or just below the knee.
  • Nothing too tight or clingy. Would you wear it to meet your significant other’s parents?
  • No open-toed shoes, no matter how cute your pedicure is.
  • For jewelry and prints alike: Nothing too big or too gaudy.
  • Buy trousers and skirts in neutral colors so they can be mixed and matched with more colorful tops.
  • Dresses are a great choice for summer, but it can be tricky to find ones that are conservative enough for a business setting. Mind the first four bullet points and stick to solid, neutral colors. Look for small details like belts or trims to keep it fun.

Mixing business casual with the heat of summer can be tricky since a lot of skin area needs to be covered, but it is doable. Swap out your dark trousers for lighter colors like grey or tan. Choose natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and rayon for greater breathability. If you’re concerned about sweating, go with a sleeveless top and tuck a sweater in your purse for use in heavily air-conditioned classrooms.

Check out some ideas below, then go forth and shop!


6 thoughts on “A Little Less Casual, A Lot More Business

  1. cavegirlmba says:

    Nice choice of photos. Dress code does depend on the industry however – in fashion, you would almost be expected to flaunt some statement jewellery this season. One can bend the rules, but it takes more preparation and more guts than playing it safe.

    • bschoolgirl says:

      Hi Cavegirl! Excellent point…once you have a feel for the culture of your workplace and how often people break the rules, it’s fine to go nuts. But I think for MBA students who are busy meeting potential employers, it’s best to choose an outfit that looks clean, sharp, and doesn’t draw too much attention. And you’re right…breaking the rules takes a lot more energy!

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