Business Casual Attire for Men and Women (With Examples)
Updated 16 June 2023
Dressing in business casual clothes allows you to keep a professional but relaxed look at work. Considering that the customary dress code for most Singapore companies is casual, many people can find it challenging to choose the best business casual outfits. Because of this, it is important to learn what business casual is and how to choose appropriate clothing for the workplace. In this article, we discuss business casual attire for men and women to help you look smart at work without being too formal.
What is business casual?
Business casual is a dress code that is smart enough for professional settings but not as strict and traditional as formal wear. The country's warm climate encourages many businesses to adopt a flexible dress code. Here in Singapore, it is acceptable to dress casually, even for important formal events. However, it is still essential to look professional and appropriate for an office environment.
It is typical for men to wear long-sleeved shirts and ties for business environments, though you may be able to forgo the tie. Women can wear lightweight outfits, which combine a variety of tops with matching bottoms fit for professionals. The business casual dress for women is typically not as strict as the code for men. Men can wear a nice T-shirt, blazer and jeans, and women can combine a simple blouse with slacks or trousers.
When to wear business casual
Business casual dress codes are the norm for companies that have no strict office dress code, which could be start-ups and other informal businesses. For much of the banking industry and the broader financial sector, the dress code is usually business formal unless otherwise specified. However, if your company dresses formally for most of the week but has casual Fridays, you can often get away with wearing something business casual on those days. Business casual is also a popular choice for interviews if you are not sure about the employer's dress code.
If you're not sure how you should dress for a specific situation, it's good to wear business casual attire that looks more professional and less relaxed. That way, you still look clean and tidy without being too overly formal.
Business casual dress differs from industry to industry. If you work in a field like technology, your standard attire might be short-sleeved T-shirts with casual trousers. In contrast, you might wear more elaborate outfits in the fashion and entertainment industry. Before deciding on what would be appropriate for business casual wear, it's beneficial to check your company's official dress code. You also need to observe the dress style of your managers and coworkers to determine what they typically wear.
Advantages of business casual dress code
Dressing in business casual attire has its advantages, including:
Since business casual clothes are less formal, it costs less to dress professionally for work because most casual garments are more affordable overall. With business casual outfits, you don't have to wear jackets, suits, ties, socks or expensive shoes. They are also easier to maintain and can be washed at home. Since they are appropriate for more than just going to work, you're also likely to get more wear out of your business casual clothes in your everyday life.
Makes you more comfortable
Many employers use a business casual dress code to allow their employees to look professional while also feeling comfortable. The tropical climate of Singapore can make people uncomfortable in formal clothing. In comparison, business casual outfits are simpler and less restricting, so they make daily activities and demanding tasks easier to accomplish.
Boosts sense of freedom
Official dress codes create a monotonous work environment in uniforms. In many organisations, strict dress codes have come to be viewed as a controlling rule that curbs an individual's dressing freedom. With business casual, however, companies give their employees the freedom to choose their clothing while still retaining a professional and appropriate appearance.
Examples of business casual dressing
Here are some examples of business casual clothes for men and women:
Business casual for men
Some examples of business casual choices for men include:
Tops: In Singapore, the go-to male business casual wear for many occasions is a jacket and T-shirt. Many people prefer a navy T-shirt for its versatility. Jackets are also easy to pull off if the office gets too warm. Oxford button-up shirts are also simple. You can roll up your sleeves for a smart and relaxed look. Short-sleeve polo shirts are especially common among banking executives in Singapore. If you are going with a polo T-shirt, pair it with more formal shoes and tailored trousers so that you don't appear too casual.
Bottoms: Chinos and dress trousers are ideal. If you are wearing jeans, go for darker colours and stay away from ripped styles. Many people prefer slim-cut to straight-cut trousers. If you are wearing chinos and tailored trousers, combine them with more casual shoes and tops for a good balance of formal and casual.
Shoes: Leather shoes look great on chinos and jeans, especially if they are dressy. You can also combine suede shoes with chinos, tailored trousers and jeans. For a more casual look, you can go for leather or canvas sneakers with tailored trousers or chinos.
Business casual for women
Some examples of business casual choices for women include:
Tops: Most working women in Singapore look graceful in a business casual look with well-fitted shirts without ties. You can also pair a mid-length dress or sleeveless blouse with a tuxedo blazer, cardigan or jacket. Polo shirts, sweaters and lightweight dresses are acceptable as well. You can add jewellery, belts, scarves and other accessories to your outfit to complete the business casual look. Women have much more freedom with their attire, but it's important to ensure that your outfit is acceptable for the workplace.
Bottoms: The general dressing style in Singapore is casual. You can try knee-length skirts, trouser leggings and jeans combined with tailored blazers for a business casual look. It is also common to wear flare skirts.
Shoes: You can wear formal shoes like pumps, Oxfords, heeled boots and loafers. For a more professional look, choose closed-toe shoes, although some companies allow open-toe footwear as well.
Things to consider when choosing business casual attire
Not every outfit you wear will pass as business casual. Do the following when choosing your attire:
Consult your company's office dress code
Compared to Hong Kong and Tokyo, the dress code in most offices in Singapore is business casual. In fact, many companies encourage their employees to conduct business operations in their casual attire. However, in some workplaces, only formal outfits are allowed, so you still need to be careful.
Before you decide what to wear, ask your manager what the official dress code is. In cases where male employees are allowed to wear short-sleeved T-shirts, there may still be restrictions in terms of colour. It is better to understand the official dress code beforehand so that you don't violate office rules and annoy the management.
Observe your colleagues
If you are new to an office where business casual is the dress style, observe what other employees do to learn what is permissible and what is not.
Check your company's casual Friday policy
Some employers in Singapore have a relaxed dress code for Fridays. However, you may still need to adhere to certain types of colours, footwear and clothing styles. To understand the casual Friday dress code, talk to your manager to learn about what is and isn't allowed. Otherwise, you may accidentally dress too casually.
Prohibited items in business casual outfits
Despite Singapore's lax fashion culture, many companies do not allow their employees to wear certain clothes, even on casual Fridays. Here are examples of clothes to avoid wearing to work:
Unbuttoned shirts: Avoid unbuttoning your shirts.
Yoga pants: Even though the heat can be suffocating, don't wear yoga pants or any other super-tight trousers to work as business casual attire.
Strapless: While you can wear sleeveless shirts, don't go to the office with strapless dresses or tube tops. If you do, cover them with a cardigan or blazer.
Shorts: Shorts and mini skirts that reveal too much skin are inappropriate for professional environments.
Bare midriffs: Barring the fashion industry, it is inappropriate to wear crop tops to the office that expose your midriff.
Tank tops: Other than wearing them as an undergarment, many workplaces in Singapore consider tank tops, halters and camisoles inappropriate.
Ripped clothing: Ripped clothes, especially those that show too much skin, are not workplace-friendly. Wear smart denim instead.
Swimwear: Avoid wearing anything you bought for the beach to the office.
Flip-flops and sandals with socks: Regardless of how laid-back your office culture is, wearing flip-flops or socks with your sandals is not the most professional way to dress.
Light clothing: It can be risky to wear light clothing because of the possibility of it being see-through, which is frowned upon. While women can wear lightweight attire, it shouldn't be transparent.
Related: A Guide to Singapore Work Culture
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