Whether an office shindig or event with friends asks for business casual attire, you probably have something that fits the part. Don't be fooled by the word casual in business casual attire. You're still expected to look polished. Consider business casual a notch down from cocktail attire. You aren't required to wear a frilly dress or heels, but you do want to look your best.
For business casual attire, men should have a collared shirt. This shirt can range from a cotton polo-style shirt or an oxford button-up. A sports coat is a nice touch but is not necessary. A woman can also wear a dressy blouse or a simple top and tailored jacket. Women should refrain from showing too much cleavage, which can add a casual feel to an otherwise upscale outfit. Ideally, arms should be covered, but for a party with close friends or during warm weather, a silk shell or sleeveless button-up blouse is acceptable.
Pants for men should be khaki or twill cotton, and dressier slacks will work, too. Shirts should always be tucked in. Men should never wear shorts of any type or jeans to a business casual party. For women, a skirt that reaches the knee is appropriate for an office party. Never go with anything too short or constricting that will be difficult to manage as you mingle and network. Slacks are an option for those who do not like skirts or dresses, as long as they have a mid-rise and boast a clean look, free of trouser-like pockets.
Dresses are a go-to garment for women dressing for a business casual party. Like with blouses and tops, you want the dress to be fairly conservative for a party that will take place with co-workers. For a party with friends or family, a slightly more revealing dress or one with a trendy look is acceptable. Keep the hemline at the knees, just as you would with a skirt. A lightweight cardigan or pashmina can add color to your outfit and cover your arms without looking fussy.
Men should always wear a belt that coordinates with their shoes. This doesn't mean the belt and shoes have to be an exact match, but just in the same color family such as a true brown belt and a chocolate brown pair of shoes. Women can accessorize simple pieces such as a sheath dress or satin blouse and wool-blend slacks with a statement necklace or a large cuff bracelet. If wearing hair in a chignon or low ponytail, a woman can wear chandelier-style earrings to make the outfit dressy without going over the top.
Men should wear oxford shoes, dressy boots or wingtip shoes. Basic colors such as black and chocolate work with most items in a man's wardrobe. Men should never wear tennis shoes or very casual shoes such as hiking boots. Simple pumps are versatile for a woman, but more whimsical shoes with embellishment or bright colors will work with a refined outfit. Flats are acceptable as long as they are nice enough to wear to work such as patent leather, plain leather and with a covered toe. Refrain from wearing sandals or any type of open toe shoe aside from a pair of peep-toe pumps.
Samantha Cabrera is a freelance editor and writer, covering fashion and beauty. She currently serves as the Fashion Director of Papierdoll.net, and writes Style-television.com, a blog of b5 media. Cabrera also serves as the National Women's Fashion Examiner for Examiner.com and has written for About.com and Bride.ca. Cabrera is a native Texan and attended the University of Houston.