Professional Clothing in a Casual Marketplace

Reader Mel and Blogger from I’m Not Kidding asked:

By the way FB, I have somewhat of a fashion dilemma. I’m starting my new job and the dress is apparently VERY casual, like jeans everyday. When I interviewed I was definitely overdressed in a suit (better overdressed than underdressed though) and everyone interviewing me had on jeans and sweatshirts. My previous job was somewhere above business casual and right below having to wear a suit everyday. Any tips on how to be casual, but still look put-together and professional?

This struggle is an interesting angle on what is appropriate to wear in the workplace.

I’ve done some posts before on what to wear in an environment that is ‘business casual’ (definitely something dreamt up by HR to torture employees who agonize about what is appropriate and inappropriate and to provide a wonderful topic of gossip), but this is a new one for me.

So, the people at work wear jeans. About 90% you say? Or all? But yet you want to dress up a bit?

Personally, I’d go with just wearing jeans – mind you, I’m not talking about acid-washed, ripped, lightened, whiskered jeans; I’m talking about jeans that are dark rinse, bootleg or straight leg, one-rise, no whiskering, or to make it more casual (since it’s acceptable), wear those lighter, weekend jeans.

But if that isn’t your ‘thing’ and you kind of want to kick it up a notch, then may I suggest the trouser jean? It looks like a pair of trousers, but instead of the button being the standard “jeans” button, it’s usually a plastic black button so it doesn’t stand out. And instead of pockets in the back that don’t have any flaps, the pockets look well tailored, with a little button to hold them closed – just like trousers (or there aren’t any pockets at all).

At any rate, these dark rinse trouser jeans are my saviour for a business casual environment, but I can see it working for where you’re at as well.


Since your workplace is so casual with those light jeans that your old, comfortable ‘buddies’, I’d steer away from wearing blazers, or anything that reeks of business-like wear.

The key is to really stick to comfortable turtlenecks, casual sweaters, twinsets, long sleeved casual shirts, cute casual fabric tops and casual fabric pant/skirts. You could definitely get away with a tank top and a cute cardigan over top. (LUCKY!)belted

A couple of examples would be like this one found at Jacob. (I bought this one in Ivory!! And I am in LOVE with it… am thinking of buying the black one too, and replacing my old black version with this one)

And avoid those structured jackets (even if they aren’t blazers), or anything with a lapel on it.

And since the workplace is so casual, maybe with your shoes, instead of wearing low pointy-toed heels (which would actually be quite appropriate with those lighter, comfortable ‘weekend’ jeans), wear ballet slippers, or comfortable shoes that lend an air of casualness to your outfit.

If you’re still stuck, when in doubt, follow your manager’s example. If s(he) is in weekend casual jeans and a t-shirt, don’t try and overdress and follow the same kind of example, because it’ll just look like you’re trying to one-up ’em.

(By the way, don’t even THINK about wearing one of those free Beer/Disney/Promotional Giveaway t-shirts, you know what I’m talking about – 100% cotton, white, with sleeves that are too big on your arms and the entire fit is too baggy.

When I say t-shirt, I mean a fitted, comfortable, smooth, probably-not-100%-cotton t-shirt that fits your womanly body and curves, preferably in a solid colour, no stripes or weird floral patterns)

So, to recap, you have quite a number of options (but not as many as in a business casual environment):

1. Weekend jeans + low pointy toed heels + casual but chic shrug/sweater over a graphic/casual t-shirt or even a camisole (if you have a big chest, watch out for too much cleavage showing)

2. Trouser jeans + graphic/casual t-shirt + light casual shrug + Ballet slippers

3. A casual skirt (no pencil skirts, nothing too corporate-ish) + graphic/casual t-shirt or a camisole + light casual shrug/jean jacket + Ballet slippers

Recommended “Buys”:

– Dark rinse un-trendified straight leg jeans (not trouser jeans) and/or Trouser Jeans

– Casual wool/cotton shrug or wrap sweater (I am a FAN of wrap sweaters and business casual sweaters, I own many and want more.)

– For the summer, you could probably get away with trouser-like material capris (umm.. cute ones, no ties at the bottom, I’m not suggesting cargo capris or fleece capris), with ballet flats.

– Fitted, casual-material, solid coloured v-neck or scoop-neck t-shirts that fit your body and curves

– Cute, low-heeled strappy sandals (gladiators?) if you’re into that sort of thing.

– Skirts that are A-line, kind of casual, more flowy, even a jersey skirt is kind of cute

– Materials that are casual, like cotton, cotton blends, etc


– Anything too corporate-ish and that includes:
Blazers, Pencil skirts, Trousers-that-are-not-jeans-or-some-other-comfy-casual-material

– Actually, anything structured with lapels, collars, the whole bit unless you’re wearing a polo shirt.

– Fabrics that are too corporate-ish. You know what I’m saying – probably most pinstripes fall into this category.

– High heels: Stick to low heels, and only pair them with VERY casual attire

– High heeled-boots: I’m talking about those fuck-me boots you see on women sometimes. Nuh uh. Avoid. If you want to wear boots with your skirt, go for flat boots, or with a bit of a chunky heel (not a wedge), and not too pointy, more of a squared off toe or a rounded toe should do.

– Actually.. high-heeled anything.

– Flip flops: I dun’ care how casual your work environment is, flip flops are the devil. No one wants to look at your toes, and if they do, they best check into a clinic, cuz that’s just got ‘fetish’ written alls over it (See: Sex and the City Episode with Charlotte and the free shoes given to her by a freaky shoe-loving fetishist) They are too beachy, and not in the same category as strappy sandals.

– Free Beer/Disney/Promotional Giveaway T-Shirts: I will hunt you down if you wear ’em to work.

Last words

If you wear jeans, you can get away with a slightly more ‘dressy’ option up top like with that vest and blouse combo I showed above. But pair that with ballet flats, or something more casual on the footwear department. Or a very very low kitten heel.

If you wear trouser jeans or something more business-y than jeans (wow.. almost everything is more business-y), such as khakis then keep the top way more casual (no vest and blouse option), wear a fitted t-shirt with a little cardigan, and low heels.




And in either circumstance, assess whether or not wearing heels/ballet flats/cute Puma trainers would be too dressy for the outfit. You really can’t go wrong, as long as you don’t go too extreme in the dress end.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.