Ah, yes, the always fun and always confusing concept of business casual. When you apply for a job somewhere that boasts a business casual dress code, it would be a good idea for you to clarify what they mean by the statement; some places see business casual as nothing but a polo and whatever pants are the most comfortable, and other places view it as essentially business professional without a tie. With all that confusion and that much of a range between the options, it can be hard to know what the best business casual shoes are.
The best way to look at business casual and the accompanying shoes is that they are an elevated version of the shoes you wear outside the office. When you want to elevate a casual outfit, you can do it with the shoes. It also works the other direction, as dressing down a more formal outfit can be accomplished by going one step more casual with your shoes. A good example is to consider wearing a pair of casual Chelsea boots with your dress pants and dress shirt to dress them down or dress shoes with your jeans to dress them up.
While there is a wide variety of shoe types you can wear for the business casual dress code, here are the five you should always have on hand to allow you the most versatile shoe wardrobe in the office.
Dress shoes are the ultimate in business professional wear with their design intent to accompany suits on Wall Street or the board room. However, they are also a great way to dress up your office chinos and step up your game while everyone else is leaning hard into the casual side of business casual.
If you are in a leadership position at a business casual company, then lean into the business side and make good use of your sports coats. The best shoes to accompany chinos and sports coats will always be oxfords or wingtips.
If you want to step up your game and lean into the business side of business casual but are looking to avoid blending in with the rest of leadership, picking up a pair of dress boots is the alternative to make your outfits pop. While they will often resemble a pair of dress shoes, the high angles and typical adornments give the sometimes boring business casual looks a little flair.
If you really want to stand out, keep them leather and without laces; this gives you a striking look that will be sure to make you more memorable to those you run across in the office. Bruno Magli’s collection of boots is some of the best you will find. Also, consider something from a company like Taft if you want something unique.
Loafers are some of the shoe world’s most underrated and sometimes unsung heroes. With the class of a dress shoe and the simplicity of a sneaker, a good loafer may be the best go-to shoe for your business casual wardrobe. They will look great with chinos and dress pants and will look even better when dressing up your denim Fridays.
The best way to wear these will always be with no-show socks. While it looks like you aren’t wearing socks, to protect your shoes and anyone around you when you take them off, invest in some great no-show socks and elevate your look.
As you get more casual with your shoes, you will have to get more elevated with the rest of the outfit. The closer you push the casual side of business casual with one aspect, the more you have to push the business side with the other aspects. So if you go with a casual boot like a suede Chelsea or a leather chukka, your pants and shirt need to be more elevated.
Suppose you want to wear a unique Taft boot that pushes the boundaries of casual. In that case, you will want to avoid denim (if you are lucky enough to work in a company that includes denim in their business casual dress code) and lean into chinos and button-up shirts instead of polos.
Sneakers are the most casual you will get in the office; therefore, you have to nail this if you want to venture into the most casual shoes in your closet. There is a myriad of dress sneakers or what are called hybrid dress shoes now, meaning they blend the worlds of business and casual with the epitome of efficiency.
The trick with these shoes is that, while they are called dress sneakers, you don’t want to lean all the way to the dress side of the aisle. These shoes will look out of place with dress pants, so you want to stick with the chinos, and if you wear denim, definitely throw on the sport coat for the office.
Your everyday shoes will be harder to get away with at the office, but they aren’t undoable. When you want to wear your regular casual shoes, remember the rule that the harder you lean into the casual side of business casual with the shoes, the harder you need to lean into the business side with the rest.
Running shoes are the ultimate casual shoes. They are designed specifically for function and not at all for fashion. Therefore, these shoes rarely, if ever, have a place in the office. If you have a medical reason for needing to replace the leather-soled dress shoe with something that has more arch support, then explore the dress sneakers and see if that will do before relegating yourself to that guy in the office that wears New Balance tennis shoes with his sport coat.
There you have it, five pairs of shoes that will keep you looking great in the office. They may not get you a promotion, but they will definitely keep eyes on you and give you a leg up on the rest of the competition.
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