The Essential Business Casual Details & Outfits

To me, business casual for men’s outfits is a loose definition, but it definitely has an upper and lower range of what’s appropriate. The only true way to determine what it means is by looking at it in relation to the current dress code of the company or function you’re dealing with.

Things to avoid in business casual

Ties

There are rare exceptions, but when in doubt, go without.

Shorts

These are too casual no matter how they’re worn and I’d argue that a man shouldn’t wear shorts in 95% of situations, anyways.

T-Shirts

While I love them, they have no place in a business casual outfit.

Not Tucking In Your Shirt

The sin of all sins for a business casual outfit, no matter your body type, is not tucking in your collared shirts. Polo shirts should only be worn untucked, but the exact opposite is true for collared shirts. It just looks sloppy.

Now let’s go over the typical outfits and when they’re appropriate to wear.

Standard Business Casual

For most companies, whether they require a suit (maybe no tie) or a blazer or collared shirt everyday, there are two types of business casual outfits. How close the dress code is to a full suit will determine whether you should wear a jacket or not. Also, depending on the time of year, you may go for lighter or heavier weighted fabrics for your jackets and pants. Hotter = lighter.

With A Jacket

If you are required to wear a suit and tie everyday, definitely go with this one.

Sport Coat/Blazer

Here’s another article I wrote about heavier sport coats/blazers for the Fall & Winter months. Please, whatever you do, don’t wear a suit jacket in place of this. The fabric is too thin and it won’t match the fabric weight of the pants you’ll be wearing.

Oxford Button Down Shirt or Semi-Spread Collared Shirt

Make sure either of these are tucked in to your pants. Definitely wear a belt that matches your shoe color, as well.

Wool trousers, Chino Pants or Dark Wash Jeans

The more formal the dress code, the more likely you should wear wool trousers. Chinos are a little less formal or more used during spring and summer, while jeans a little less so than chinos and typically used year-round. Never, ever – unless the suit pants are a very thick wool (similar to wool trouser weight) – should you wear suit pants without the accompanying jacket.

Oxford Dress Shoes, Monk straps, Brogues, WingtipsBoots (Dress or Chukka) or Loafers

The second you’re not wearing a full suit and tie, you can basically wear anything but sneakers with your business casual outfit. I’d default to Oxfords, Monk Straps or Loafers – either in suede or leather, but any of the options above are acceptable.

Without a jacket

If the dress code or occasion is slightly more casual, you can forgo the jacket and wear this business casual outfit, instead. There’s a few small points to consider.

V-neck sweater

If the weather is too warm, then definitely swap out the sweater for a blazer from the previous section, or, if it can be more casual, go to the next outfit, instead.

Shirt

Same as the previous outfit. You can wear a tie, like in the above picture, but it’s not necessary at all.

Pants

Wool trousers or dark wash jeans. Chino pants have a fabric weight that is too light to go well with v-neck sweaters.

Shoes

Same as previous outfit.

 

Casual Business Casual

This type of business casual outfit is appropriate if there’s a pretty casual dress code normally, or the event is very informal. If you see “business casual” as a requirement anywhere, this is the least formal outfit you can wear that is still appropriate for the dress code. Anything less than this is not business casual.

Harrington Jacket 

This is one of my favorite jackets of all time and fits this outfit perfectly. Obviously, only wear this if the weather is requiring a jacket.

Polo Shirt or Oxford Button Down

I’d probably default to a polo shirt unless you knew for a fact you were going to wear the Harrington Jacket or the weather is cooler. Unless you’re a slimmer guy, an Oxford Button Down worn without a jacket on top of it doesn’t look too good. No matter what, though, make sure the polo shirt fits like a glove or you’re going to look like a goofball and if you wear the oxford, please tuck it in.

Chino Pants or Dark Wash Jeans

Chino pants are the default in an outfit like this, but dark wash jeans are just as appropriate. I’d let the time of year or weather dictate whether I went with chinos or dark wash jeans. The colder it is, the more I’d lean toward wearing the jeans over the chinos.

Sneakers, Loafers, Dress Shoes or Chukka Boots

The more classy you want to make this casual outfit, the more I’d learn toward dressy shoes.

 

That’s it! Hope this is helpful!

How Should Dress Shoes Fit?

This article is part of my Men’s Clothing Fit Guide.

I’ve seen so many articles and videos taking how to get the proper dress shoe fit that are completely unnecessary and just create more useless work and steps for the poor readers. Of course, if you ask a shoemaker or shoe salesperson about what goes into fitting for a pair of dress shoes, they’ll tell you about the painstaking process you must endure as they pull out their Brannock device and start measuring the length of every toe hair in relation to the current barometric pressure. As someone who dresses and fits men for shoes as part of my career, it’s all hogwash.

Never once, in all my years, with all my clients, have I ever needed to get an exact measurement of their feet – and this is because the brands and manufacturers don’t work this way. Their sizes aren’t universal and can vary wildly between brands. So a 9 in one brand might fit the same as a 10.5 in another brand. Each one is different, so it’s great that you know your right foot is 10.236 inches long by 4.789 inches wide, but that really doesn’t matter unless you’re getting custom made shoes.

So what you have to do is try on dress shoes and figure out how to get the best fit in that style/brand. Let me show you how.

Before Trying On Dress Shoes

You should know and do these few things before trying on dress shoes.

1. Know Your General Shoe Size

I’m assuming you’ve worn shoes before and have a general idea of your size? Great! That’s all you need. Like I said earlier, since each manufacturer has different fits and sizing for their shoes, it’ll all be trial and error anyways. The thing you want to do is get in the ballpark and use that as a starting point.

2. Dress shoes should fit perfectly the first time you try them on

If they don’t, they’ll never fit. Leather, especially in dress shoes, will stretch very, very little, so “working in” a pair of dress shoes is not going to happen and will be a waste of your time and money. One of the worst things ever is wearing a pair of uncomfortable shoes – as a woman, I know this all too well!

3. Your feet swell throughout the course of the day

So, if you can, try on shoes in the afternoon. This way, you’ll get the most realistic size and fit of the shoes.

4. Your feet are not the same size

Make sure the shoes fit your larger foot first, not the smaller one. Slightly too big is not uncomfortable, slightly too small is very uncomfortable.

How To Try on Shoes

When you’re trying on shoes, here’s the things to do and look out for.

Socks

Wear the type of socks that you will normally wear with these shoes. In other words, don’t wear your thick woolen socks, or your super thin ankle socks when trying on dress shoes.

Length

If you feel ANY bunching in the toes or feel the shoe pressing against any of your toenails, they’re too short. I see some places talking about your toes grazing the front of dress shoes – this is not correct.

Your feet shouldn’t be touching or grazing anything in the front. If they’re grazing, that means when you walk, your toes will be jammed into the front of the shoe, because your feet will shift slightly forward as you walk, which is very uncomfortable. Either go up a half size and if that doesn’t fix the problem, it might be a style or width issue. So try a different style or a different brand that makes the same style. Luckily, with dress shoes, they’re pretty darn similar, so you’ll find an equally great one, I promise.

Width

The shoe should not be putting any pressure or squeezing on the sides of your foot – anywhere. If you feel anything like that, you may need to go up half a size and see if that fixes the issue. If it doesn’t, you can see if they make a wider size in the same style. If they don’t, then try a different style or brand. Some brands are wider than others.

On the flip side side of that, you also shouldn’t have any room on either side of your foot that allows your foot to move left or right when it’s laced up. If this happens, go down half a size and see if that fixes the issue. If not, you can ask if they have a narrower width in this shoe. If not, you may need to try a different style or brand.

The average man has a medium width of D. If a brand doesn’t specify a width, which most of them don’t, this is probably the width they use. Again, though, a brand’s definition of a D width varies, so watch out for the differences. A narrow width is a B, a wide width is E and an x-wide width is 3E.

If your foot falls between a B and a D, go with the larger width.

I see some places saying that if they’re lace-up shoes, like an Oxford Dress Shoe (Which they almost always should be, if they’re dress shoes!), you should not be able to tie the laces so tightly that the two edges of the shoe meet. I don’t adhere to this advice because some of my clients just have less meat than others on the tops/profile of their feet and when this happens, it’s not a problem. As long as the shoe fits everywhere else, I wouldn’t about this part.

Heel

If you have the width and length in check, this shouldn’t be an issue, but just in case: You want a little bit of space between your heel and the shoe, but not too much. My one finger test for sneakers is not applicable here. They should fit a little snugger than tennis shoes do in the heel, but should not be pressing against your heel as to be uncomfortable.

Lace up both shoes and take a short walk in them. There should be little to no slippage in the heel. If there is, they’ll create blisters on your heel and that’s not fun.

Also, since I hear this complaint a lot from guys – If there’s anything like a seam or stitching rubbing against your heel, don’t get those shoes. This is mostly typical in cheaper shoes. This area will never “break in”, so if something is rubbing against your heel when trying them on, it’ll never go away, so stay far away from them unless you like blisters on your heels!

The Best Dress Shoes For Men

See my Men’s Wardrobe Essentials – The Oxford Dress Shoe for my picks.

The Oxford Dress Shoe

This article is part of my Men’s Wardrobe Essentials series.
These are the best mens dress shoes, no questions asked. Anything else pales in comparison. Every man should have at least 2 pairs of Oxford dress shoes in his closet. Not only are they one of the most versatile shoes a gentleman can own – which will work for nearly all formal occasions from business casual to formal – but they’re the de-facto standard shoes to wear with a suit. On top of that, they’ll also work very well with 99% of the items in your Essential Wardrobe. They’re that good.

When you imagine a well-dressed man in a suit, I guarantee he’s wearing a pair of these.

Black & Leather ≠ Oxford Dress Shoes

Don’t think that if a shoe is black and leather, it’s an Oxford dress shoe. I shudder at the thought of those square-toed and/or slip-on monstrosities I see men wearing in place of a proper, lace up, round-toed dress shoe.

Also, if you can see your reflection in your black leather shoes, those are not a proper dress shoe. Those are tuxedo shoes. As the name implies, they should only be worn with a tuxedo. I’ve seen quite a few guys wearing these shoes with jeans. It’s not a good look. Your Oxfords shouldn’t look like mirrors, they should be a little more matte finished. Go to a department store and ask to see their tuxedo shoes so you can see the difference in person.

The image below from RealMenRealStyle highlights exactly what I see a lot of men wearing in place of Oxford dress shoes:

Wrong-Square-Toe-Shoes

To Cap-Toe or Not?

My opinion about whether you should have a cap toe Oxford or not changes with the wind, so I’ll leave it up to you. There’s not a single scenario when you’d wear a cap-toe over a non-cap toe, so this is entirely up to your preference. 

My clients are split 50/50 on this, too. You won’t go wrong with either, so choose whichever you think looks great and fits your style best.

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Should I go for Quality or Value?

For foundational pieces such as these, I’d say go for quality. However, there is a caveat:

How Often Will You Be Wearing Your Oxford Dress Shoes?

  • If you’ll be wearing them more than a handful of times a month, definitely grab a nice, high quality pair. They’ll give you many good years of use and look great the whole time.
  • If you’ll be wearing them once a month or less, go for value. They’ll definitely get the job done and look “good enough”. What’s the use of having a high quality pair of dress shoes sitting in your closet most of the time? I’d take that money and spend it on other pieces you might wear more often](link).

Which Shoes Should I Get?

Since you’ve decided whether you like cap-toe or non cap-toe shoes, now it just comes down to color.

Every guy should have these two pairs of Oxfords in their wardrobe to cover every outfit choice:

  1. A solid black pair
  2. A brown/cognac pair

Anything outside of those two colors will have more specific uses and occasions and definitely falls outside the domain of an Essential Wardrobe item.

The Best Mens Dress Shoes

These are my go-to Oxfords for clients:

Designer Options

Giorgio Armani Plain-Toe Patent Leather Bluchers
Allen Edmonds Park Avenue Cap-Toe Oxfords
Allen Edmonds Carlyle
Prada Plain Toe Blutchers

Budget-Friendly Options

Aldo Craosa 
Jack Erwin Joe Cap-Toe Oxford
Johnston & Murphy Hyde Park ll Cap-toe

2 Ways to Wear

For other ways to wear your Oxford dress shoes, check out my Gray Notch Lapel Suit article, Dark Wash JeanSemi-Spread Collar Dress Shirt & Leather Jacket articles.

BlackOxfordDressShoeLook1640-Ashley-Weston-Mens-Wardrobe-Essentials

Model: Tommy Mckeown

Fred Perry Reissues Harrington Jacket
Brooks Brothers 3-D Knit Fine-Gauge Merino Wool Crewneck Sweater
Brooks Brothers Non-Iron Milano Fit Button-Down Collared Dress Shirt
Burberry Straight Fit Japanese Selvedge Denim Jeans
True Vintage Revival Glasses
Allen Edmonds Poplar Dress Belt
Daniel Wellington Classic Sheffield 36mm
Allen Edmonds Carlyle Plain-Toe Oxfords

BlackOxfordDressShoeLook2640-Ashley-Weston-Mens-Wardrobe-Essentials

Brooks Brothers Red Fleece Topcoat
Brooks Brothers 3-D Knit Fine-Gauge Merino Wool Crewneck Sweater
Brooks Brothers Non-Iron Milano Fit Button Down Collar Shirt
Brooks Brothers Fitzgerald Fit Wool Dress Trousers 
Allen Edmonds Poplar Dress Belt 
Daniel Wellington Classic Sheffield 36mm
Allen Edmonds Carlyle Plain-toe Oxfords

Outfit Inspiration