So let me offer what small advice I can for properly calibrating your formality for Business Casual. I divide Business Casual into three ranges, and below I offer some descriptions of what your peers may be wearing and what you could choose to wear among them instead without going beyond their range of formality. While you want to stay within the basic range of what all of your peers are wearing, you can dress at the top of that range. Before I discuss my examples for each range, let me first define the terms I will be using and give some historical background to them:
Cardigan Sweaters. These can serve as jacket training for your comfort level and for the eyes of those around you. You can most easily get away with wearing one your first few times (if you have any nerves about venturing into layers) on a particularly cold day. However, sweaters come in a range of materials from very warm wool to rather cool cotton/linen blends. You can really wear sweaters throughout the year during all but the hottest weeks in many regions.
Now that we are clear on the terms, let me explain how you can really dress your best in a Business Casual environment without breaking the formality barrier of the group you find yourself in. Every group of men you will inhabit will fall into a range of formality though usually not a large one. Feel free to dress at the top of that range, but do not go beyond it. Here are the three ranges I would divide Business Casual into:
Most of your peers wear: polos, jeans, trainers
You can wear up to: oxfords, casual chinos, boat shoes or classic sneakers
Most of your peers wear: polos or sports shirts, chinos, dark trainers
You can wear up to: oxfords, chinos (perhaps pressed), derbies or loafers, crewneck sweaters
Most of your peers wear: sports or dress shirts, ties, chinos, dark trainers or derbies
You can wear up to: dress shirts, ties, pressed chinos, derbies or loafers, cardigan sweaters
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Your task is always to figure out the formality range of any occasion and to wear what will make you look best within it, which can usually mean dressing at the top of it. As you encounter different outfits when you visit the links offered below, read the suggested titles and watch the movies I recommend, always think of what could be appropriate to the occasions of your actual life. You can learn to dress very well in in any occasion without ever over- or under-dressing.
Should your work or leisure peers only wear t-shirts with shorts or jeans, they are stuck in Private Attire and this limits your choices considerably. You could probably get away with the bottom range of Business Casual around them, but I would not suggest pushing any further than that. Wearing a coat and tie to a BBQ where your friends are in shorts and flip-flops is never a good idea, though taking your special lady out and dressing for a restaurant where men wear coats and ties is. You can be ambitious without making your friends uncomfortable. Do not force your clothes onto your social spheres, use your clothes to fit into and enhance them. If you do not like your options, then you need to move into spheres that give you more possibilities. To paraphrase Nilsson, you need to go where the weather suits your clothes.
Once your Business Casual wardrobe is established, an easy way to convert it into a very basic Smart Casual wardrobe is to add a navy blazer and/or a brown or grey tweed sports coat. If you want pants up a step from dress chinos, try a pair of grey flannels.
Here are some classic examples of Business Casual starting off with one of JFK dipping below Business Casual into Private Attire to demonstrate the versatility of Oxfords:
|Polo, Chinos, and Plimsolls|
|Harrington Jacket, V-Neck, and Oxford|