Senior Steps: Business Casual

Nancy Dudak

Based on the number of questions we hear in Career Services, we know that seniors are concerned with making a good impression with employers. You want to look as if you understand what is required of you, and that you can manage this all on a student budget!

Business casual is probably one of the least understood descriptions of appropriate attire, and it is subject to a broad spectrum of interpretation. It was meant to provide an opportunity to work in a more relaxed, yet still professional, type of clothing.

With so many choices, it’s easier than ever to commit a fashion faux pas that’s not only embarrassing but could be detrimental to your career.

While many businesses accept a more relaxed style, a significant number have tightened their reins.

Too many associates come to work as though going to a ballgame or the beach, and employers have become frustrated by having to correct behavior and don’t want to take on the role of fashion police.

What it is:

Pants or slacks (for men and women)

Tailored long or knee-length skirts

Tailored sweaters

Open collared shirts (plain colors or conservative patterns)

Sport coats or jackets

Polo shirts if you are outdoors or in a warm environment

Polished Leather shoes

What it’s not:

Blue jeans

Thigh-high skirts or short shorts

Sheer or low-cut blouses

Tight sweaters

Tank tops


Athletic clothing, including sneakers

Baseball hats


Strappy sandals leaving a lot of bare foot

Guidelines for business casual attire in interviewing activities:

n Consider the type of organization, its work and its clients. Accounting and financial firms might have a more formal definition of business casual than an engineering firm. Men might always wear jackets in an accounting firm, but rarely in a technical environment. Dress like you would if you worked there.

n It’s better to be more formal or conservative than less. If you are “overdressed,” the employer will know that you are taking the employment process seriously and not make a negative judgment. You will always be judged negatively if you are too casual.

n You still need a suit for the actual interview. Business casual is appropriate for the pre-recruiting activities like receptions, information sessions and career fairs.

n Summer or warm weather can be particularly tricky. Shoulders and feet should always be covered.

n Don’t worry about wearing the same things all of the time. Buy a few coordinating tops and bottoms that can be interchanged.

n Ask for advice the first time you are invited to a business casual event. Ask the staff in Career Services, or someone working in the profession.

Good luck!