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Business casual can be a confusing term, as it will tend to vary from one workplace to another. Ultimately though, as the savvy and style-conscious employee you are, erring on the side of business over casual is the way to go. Following are four items and accessories that highlight your professionalism while also leaving you looking cool and feeling comfortable for the day’s work ahead.

1. Pants – Wool, Khakis, and Denim

Image via Flickr by make65

For men, pants are essential for the business casual wardrobe. It may sound obvious, but yours truly showed up to my first ever job interview wearing a pair of shorts. I ended up getting the job, but the hiring manager informed me “don’t ever wear shorts to a job interview again.” Lesson learned.

When it comes to pants, wool and khaki are generally a good choice for business casual workplaces. Wool pants come in a variety of colors and styles, and they can really button down the professional end of the business casual look. Khakis are more on the casual side but are still generally considered a go-to in business casual workplace environments. Jeans, on the other hand, lie on the cusp between business casual and plain old casual. If you are going to wear jeans, go with dark wash and save the “distressed look” (store-bought or naturally acquired) for the weekends.

2. Button-Down Shirts

A button-down shirt will get you by in just about any workplace, but not all button-down shirts are created equal. Stay away from patterns that are too loud or designs that are overly trendy. Instead, stick with classic colors such as white or light blue, in either solid or subtle patterns. You can get away with other colors, but don’t go too big. Think light green or lavender. Keep in mind that your goal is to look professional, not necessarily to make a bold fashion statement.

3. To Tie or Not to Tie

One of the perceived benefits of the business casual wardrobe is the fact that you aren’t required to wear a tie. This doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate the tie into your more casual outfits to lend them a more professional look. For example, if your workplace allows jeans as part of your business casual wardrobe, combining a neat pair of dark-washed jeans with a sharp button-down shirt and tie, and adding a pullover sweater, can create a sophisticated, professional looking style.

4. Getting the Right Fit and Style

All the style elements in the world won’t create a sophisticated look if your clothing doesn’t fit properly. Working with a stylist can save you a ton of time putting together your wardrobe, and there are a number of websites that feature articles on seasonal and regional styles. Once a stylist understands your fashion sense and knows your measurements, they can put together new outfits for you with ease, and they can field questions you might have about the best way to rock a given look.

Putting together the right wardrobe might seem like a hassle, but once you’ve got it dialed in, understanding how to dress business casual for work will help you feel more professional, comfortable, and ready to dive in to the day’s work ahead.