Workin' It: The College Girl's Guide to Business Casual

Okay, so you nailed your interview with your bomb answer to the age-old question “Why should I hire you?” (Thankfully you thought of a better response than, “Because I need money!”). Now you’ve run into another roadblock: trying to find something to wear to your new job.

One of the reasons business casual is such a hard dress code to nail is because it varies from industry to industry. Some industries, law for example, lean more towards the business professional end of the spectrum where a suit is to be worn every day. Others, like the fashion industry, allow a more casual and creative style of dress for their employees. The best thing I can recommend to you, besides seeing what your future coworkers are wearing when you go in for your interview, is to research your industry and discover what their definition of business casual is.

Brian Nicholas, communications coordinator for VCU Career Services, recommends that you take inventory of what you have. You’d be surprised what you might find to fit your new dress code in the depths of your closet. Nicholas also recommended going on Pinterest to get inspired. Search business casual or any variation of those terms and see what you can find. You may discover that that black-skater skirt you still have from high school could be paired with a new printed blouse, tights and your favorite black booties to create a great ensemble. You also might discover that a lot of business casual outfits look the same as many of them revolve around some vital pieces. Here’s a list of pieces you may want to consider to get your business casual wardrobe started:

  • A pair of dress pants
  • Two or three blouses
  • A pair of flats or loafers
  • One or two pencil skirts
  • One or two other skirts: skater style are a good go-to because they aren’t super tight
  • Dresses that reach your knee or a little above
  • Cardigans and blazers
  • Two or three sweaters: a crew neck style is best because it keeps you covered up
  • A versatile carryall bag; I typically go for a nice black “leather” tote because it can match with every outfit I can possibly put together and hold all my office essentials
  • A pair of conservative heels: black or nude are your best options
  • Tights
  • (optional) Jewelry

Yes, that list seems extensive (and expensive) but the best tip I can give you is to update your wardrobe little by little. When you see an awesome pencil skirt or a great pair of black trousers on sale, snatch those puppies up and save ‘em for when you need to dress a little more professionally because trying to buy all these things at once is going to leave you and your bank account feeling very empty.

“You don’t have to spend a fortune to look nice at work,” Nicholas said.

He recommended college students shop at Second Debut, a high-end thrift store in Carytown, Ross, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx for these new wardrobe essentials. The Career Services office also has a clothing closet, called Suit Yourself, from which VCU students can take a number of items fitting your new wardrobe guidelines.

Now that we’ve covered where to buy these clothes and what items are essential to your new wardrobe, here are some do's and don'ts that could really help:

DO

  • Keep your makeup fairly conservative. A cat eye or a cute lipstick color is about as out there as you should go.

  • Remember that neutrals are your best friend, but don’t be afraid to pair more fun colors with them. For example, navy goes great with yellow or magenta. White looks nice with chartreuse and rose gold accessories. 

  • Wash and iron your clothes. I mean, this should go without saying. But you never know!

  • Wear closed-toe shoes. And just because I say closed-toe shoes doesn't mean you can pull out your comfortable workout shoes. Depending on the season and your workplace, you may be able to get away with peep toes or sandals (that does NOT mean flip flops). 

DON’T

  • Wear anything that shows off your cleavage, (too much) legs, is too tight or resembles lingerie.

  • Wear jeans unless otherwise stated (i.e. casual Friday)

  • Wear anything metallic, neon, or sparkly EVER. Basically anything that you’d wear to a rave should not see the light of day. That might seem obvious to some of you, but trust me, there’s a girl out there that was reaching for her metallic gold mini skirt to wear to work today and thanks to me, she just put it back.

  • Think that just by throwing a blazer or cardigan over something makes it acceptable. If that top falls under any of the other above don’t’s, a blazer’s not gonna make it any better. Trust me.

Okay, so now that we’ve taken care of business, let’s get into the outfit inspiration. I’ve created some looks out of pieces that many college girls already have in their wardrobes to give you an idea of how you can dress them up. The great thing about business casual is that it’s somewhat of a hybrid between business attire and streetwear so you can get creative with it and incorporate everyday pieces.​