It can sometimes be hard to tell if dresses are considered business casual, and if so which dresses fit the bill?
‘Business casual’ is an office dress code that can vary in definition, depending on the company’s write up of the rule. With that in mind, here is a quick guide on which dresses qualify as business casual, for different situations.
So, are dresses business casual?
Dresses are considered business casual when they are styled appropriately for an office environment, e.g. of a simple colour or pattern, knee length and of a conservative fit. Avoid short or revealing dresses, dresses intended for evening wear or dresses of a t-shirt material.
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In an office with this dress code an appropriate dress would be well tailored and smart looking, without faded colours or bobbles from excessive washing. Avoid anything too form fitting, short or low cut, and pair with ankle boots or heels if you want to appear a bit more ‘business’ than ‘casual’. Choose a mid length sleeve over spaghetti straps and pick simple pretty patterns over anything too flashy. Avoid any phrases or brand names printed on the dress, and stay away from neon or ‘beachy’ colours.
For a business event things may work differently, and business casual may mean something slightly more formal than when the dress code is applied to the office environment.
To be safe it’s best to choose a knee length dress of a simple colour (red, black, navy, grey, burgundy, deep green), without an overly eye catching pattern (polka dots or a simple floral pattern may work). Make sure the dress has a conservative neckline and avoid strappy straps. Choose a dress of a quality material, for example a tweed, a suit material or from more affordable yet polished looking nylon polyamide fibres. For extra points pair the dress with a tailored jacket and elegant jewellery.
Here is an example of how I would style a business casual dress for a work event or conference:
For an event I would perhaps switch the shoes to heels, and leave the ankle boots for the office version of this outfit.
You can see this outfit looks simple, yet professional, and is different to business professional, where I would wear a suit dress and matching blazer.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether your dress qualifies as business casual:
Style of dress – does it have an appropriate neckline and sleeve length? You should avoid strappy dresses, anything you would wear to a club or to the beach. Instead choose a dress you would wear to your well-to-do significant other’s family home, when you’re meeting them for the first time.
Length of dress – how long is your dress? Knee-length is a safe option, as it’s not too long or too short. A dress that falls to your mid calf would also work well. Avoid dresses that sweep the floor or fall to the ankle, as these can either look way to formal (like a ball gown), or too casual (like a beachy maxi dress).
Dress material – what is your dress made from? Always opt better quality materials where possible that don’t ‘bobble’ or fade after washing and remain looking smart. Wool, tweed, and polished nylon fibres will always look better than jersey, satin or t-shirt material for this dress code.
Colour of dress – how flashy is your dress? Avoid neon or overly flashy patterns, or anything with words or slogans, or brand names. Bright colours can work when paired with a more conservative jacket or blazer (see above the red dress I styled), but it can be safer to choose more muted or conservative colours if you are unsure.
Now you have an idea of which dresses qualify for this dress code, let’s delve into some individual styles of dresses to provide a deeper explanation for each.
Are maxi dresses business casual?
A maxi dress is not considered business casual as the length and fit is more appropriate for beach wear or casual wear. Instead opt for a knee-length or mid-calf length dress and a blazer, for a more polished look.
Maxi dress or full length dresses will be considered too long for an office environment. Anything that grazes the ankle, or sweeps the floor is a no-go.
Are sweater dresses business casual?
A sweater dress can be considered business casual, when paired with other business wear garments, such as heels, and a tailored jacket.
Pair your sweater dress with tights for warmth in the winter months, and add court heels. Finish off the look with a tweed jacket, or something similar, for an added touch of sophistication.
Are t-shirt dresses business casual?
A t-shirt dress can be considered business casual when worn with other smart items of clothing. You could style a t-shirt dress with heels, a blazer or a well tailored jacket for example, to elevate the look.
A t-shirt dress can be worn to the office as long as it is styled correctly. The dress will make up the ‘casual’ part of the outfit, so everything else you pair with it should be ‘business’. Smart heels and a blazer, a tweed jacket or tights and an expensive looking cardigan would work.
I would avoid wearing a t-shirt dress to a conference with this dress code however, and always choose something of a higher quality material and fit.
Are sleeveless dresses business casual?
Sleeveless dresses are considered business casual if they feature a conservative neckline and length. It’s best to choose a sleeveless dress of a good quality material and a tailored fit. Pair with a simple, smart jacket if you are in doubt.
There are many professional looking sleeveless dresses available, and they are a great option for summer. The key here is to ensure the dress isn’t strappy or strapless, as that does not adhere to the dress code. Choose a conservative neckline, length, pattern and colour and you should have no problem.
The red dress I styled above in the article is sleeveless, and it looks great with a tailored tweed style jacket.
If you are looking for a similar jacket, I bought mine from Amazon for a really affordable price (which shows how you can look smart on a budget!). Shop it here:
Are floral dresses business casual?
Floral dresses are considered business casual if they are of an appropriate colour, neckline, material and length. Pair a knee-length, conservatively coloured floral dress (no neon) with a tailored jacket or blazer and heels for an office appropriate look.
Floral dresses can look great as part of this dress code, as long as they are of an appropriate style. Make sure they aren’t too flashy or short and pair them with other smart items of clothing to elevate them further.
I have several floral pieces in my business wardrobe and I wear them often. I find the floral patterns that incorporate black or a darker colour transition really well between the seasons and they can be worn with black tights and a black blazer.
Are summer dresses/sundresses business casual?
Summer dresses and sundresses can be considered business casual if they are of an appropriate material (e.g. high grade cotton or linen), length, neckline and colour, and are paired with a business wear item such as a tailored jacket. Avoid overly strappy dresses and pair with conservative heels (no flip flops).
You can wear summery dresses to an office with this dress code as long as every other item of clothing you are wearing is more formal or smart. Make sure your dress is of a good quality material and is appropriately cut and you should have no problem pairing it with a nice jacket and heels.
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Thank you for reading this ‘dresses dress code guide’ article, and I hope you now feel more confident to head to the office in a dress of your choice that fits the bill! It’s always best to check the individual dress code requirements for any company or for any party or event, as definitions can vary according to specific situations.
The above is simply an overview, so you can get an idea of some outfit pairings and the traditional rules that go with them, but you should always make sure you are dressing correctly according to a specific dress code.
For more fashion tips, check out…
Lorna is a footwear geek and the founder of Wearably Weird. She created a YouTube channel in 2021 for fellow footwear fanatics, dedicated to detail-rich footwear reviews and info. She has a fashion media qualification (awarded in 2011).