The Civilian Uniform: How to Dress for 'Business Casual'

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A man in a business suit points. (Stock photo)

"Business casual" is a phrase that is used quite liberally throughout the country right now. The trend began during the last decade when corporate America came to a collective understanding that employees don't necessarily work better when they are dressed up. In fact, some companies probably found that comfortable clothing actually increased productivity.

Basically, the rule to remember is that business casual does not mean casual. It does not mean that you can dress however you want. It does not mean jeans and a T-shirt. You are still expected to look professional.

For men, a business casual wardrobe should consist of several long-sleeved, cotton Oxford shirts; a few cotton polo or golf shirts; chinos in acceptable colors (khaki, dark blue, olive green or stone); wool slacks; and a sport coat.

If defining business casual is difficult for men, it is much more difficult for women. An Oxford shirt and chinos can look very tailored and polished, but not necessarily feminine. Try experimenting with scarves or blouses with a bit of detailing. The addition of a blazer always projects authority and credibility.

Business Casual for Interviews

Whether to interview in business casual clothing is a question that must be answered on a case-by-case basis. Ask the human resources director or your interviewer, in advance, what attire is expected at the interview — professional or business casual.

If you do not receive a satisfactory answer, play it safe -- wear your tried-and-true suit.

Decoding "Civilian Uniforms"

Uniforms are not just for military service members, police officers, hospital professionals or mechanics. Just about every profession has a "uniform" or acceptable standard of dress. If you are unsure about the uniform of the company where you will interview, check it out in advance. Look at people as they enter and exit the building. Gauge for yourself what is appropriate.

As a rule, uniforms tend to break out in one of the following categories:

Executive Conservative, single-breasted suit; leather briefcase
Professional Conservative suit or business casual attire; leather briefcase or soft-side nylon briefcase
Sales Exec Fashionable, trendy or conservative suit; designer briefcase or handbag
Techie Business casual or casual; soft-side nylon computer case or backpack
Artists/Designers Can range from fashionably trendy to jeans and T-shirt; funky backpack or sling
Administrative Support

Style of dress emulates that of the boss, but on a less expensive scale

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