“Business casual” for men can be interpreted in different ways and it’s therefore a little controversial. In my previous experience, business casual consisted of professional separates that were worn without tie or jacket. This is often not the case in America. What I’d refer to as unprofessional clothing is regarded as business casual appropriate because many companies accept khakis and knitted polo shirts as business casual attire.

The resulting business casual dress code has three acceptable looks with increasing levels of smartness:

  • Level 1 – Khakis + polo-shirt + chunky leather shoes + belt
  • Level 2 – Khakis + button-down shirt + chunky or refined shoes + belt
  • Level 3 – Dress pants + button-down shirt + refined leather shoes + belt

The caveat here is that khakis come in all sorts. They can be ultra-casual, or smart. A casual pair of khakis worn with an un-tucked knitted polo shirt is not a professional look. It’s casual and there is nothing business-like about it. Pop a bloke into sleek dark denims, a sharp button-down shirt and fabulous shoes and that’s much more professional. Unfortunately, smart denim is not part of the business casual dress code. Denim still carries a stigma. And the wrong style of jeans can look very sloppy, which is what companies try to prevent.

So here is my opinion: Despite what the dress code allows, knitted polo shirts are strictly casual and khakis are debatable. Stick to dress pants, button-down shirts and refined leather shoes. This will ensure a polished, professional, business casual ensemble.

Business Casual - Level 1Business Casual - Level 2Business Casual - Level 3

Business casual dress code Levels 1, 2 and 3. I’m not partial to the first, lukewarm about the second and advocate the third even though this particular Banana Republic ensemble is a bit conservative.