Business Casual Attire Guide for Women

Business Casual Attire Guide for Women
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 12 January, 2024
Share

When it comes to office attire for women, mastering the art of casual business attire is often highly recommended. Blending comfort and professionalism, this style of clothing is often recommended to use daily at the workplace. It allows women to express their personal style while maintaining a professional look. 

If you're a Malaysian woman aiming to master the art of business casual, this article aims to help you understand the importance and elements of business casual female attire. You'll find insightful tips on following this dress code as well as matching different accessories with outfits. You'll also learn to consider the requirements of specific environments and cultural norms in Malaysia, where many organisations have strict dress codes that you're required to follow. Here's what the article will cover:  

What is business casual for women? 

Business casual is a dress code that balances casual and formal​, including​ traditional attire. While it may look casual, it still maintains a professional and polished appearance suitable for workplace settings. These include formal events, office meetings, and presentations.  

The concept behind this dress code has evolved over the years. In the 1960s and 1970s, business casual for women was closer to today's business or formal attire. It included long dresses​Click here to enter text.​ and skirts, as well as collared and long-sleeved blouses that you may mistake for business or formal attire. Nowadays, business casual for women has become more stylish and comfortable.  

There are many options and modern styles to choose from now. So if you're wondering which casual business attire women should choose, there are several factors to consider including: 

  • the workplace dress code 

  • the industry 

  • the work culture 

  • the type of event 

Take note that employees can wear this attire at workplaces or events that don't have a strict dress code. Of course, it's most appropriate to wear ​business casual ​on occasions that call for this type of attire. 

Key elements of business casual attire 

Knowing the elements of a business casual dress code for women can help you choose and match the right clothes that will suit your personality and style. Business casual clothing includes tops, pants, skirts, dresses, blazers, and jackets. Each has its own type, style, and pairing.  

For tops, you can choose from: 

  • blouses 

  • dress shirts 

  • polo shirts 

  • collared blouses 

  • long-sleeved tops 

  • turtlenecks 

In general, it's best to choose tops that are professional-looking, yet casual. ​​If your top is more casual, pair it with a blazer and a business formal bottom like black trousers. Avoid spaghetti straps, tank tops, and anything low-cut. 

​​In terms of business casual pants, your options​ include: 

  • tailored dress pants 

  • wide-leg pants 

  • straight-leg pants 

  • capris 

  • khakis 

  • corduroys  

In some instances, you can create business casual outfits with jeans. Ensure your jeans are a darker colour, fit appropriately, and have no holes. For outfit ideas, pair them with a more formal top or low heels. 

Instead of women's business casual pants, you can also go for skirts. Styles of skirts include pencil, A-line, pleated, midi, or wrap skirts. In certain work sectors, you will need to consider getting a skirt that covers your knees due to cultural or religious reasons, so do take that into account as you go through your options. 

If you prefer wearing dresses, there are numerous options you can consider. These include mid-length, A-line, and shirt dresses and ​even traditional wear such as ​baju kurung or baju kebaya. Meanwhile, blazers and jackets come in different informal styles and fabrics, some with buttons, collars, and prints or patterns. With so many great options, you can create a women's business casual outfit that fits your style. 

How to dress business casual 

Woman with headset using a touch screen monitor

Creating a women's business casual outfit starts with identifying the type or theme of the event or office space you're attending. This can help you choose a suitable outfit for the occasion. Then, you can decide which clothing pieces you'd like to wear and mix and match them to see how they look. Afterwards, add some accessories and pick footwear that matches the attire to complete your look. 

​​The crucial step in creating a business casual outfit is choosing and matching the clothing pieces. Consider whether the informal style, colours, and fabrics go well together. Some common business casual pairings are a blouse and tailored pants, a button-up shirt and pencil skirt, and a dress with a blazer or cardigan. ​​​ 

​​When choosing women's business casual clothing, including accessories, footwear, and outerwear, take note of your body type as well. Other factors to consider are personal style, comfort, and the weather. ​​​ 

​​​Here’s a breakdown of the steps needed to dress business casual:​​​​ 

Choose business casual clothes pieces 

Clothes are the main elements of business casual outfits. That's why they should have the right fit, colours, fabrics, and styles depending on the occasion, theme, and style. Collared tops or ones with thicker fabrics, longer skirts and dresses, and well-tailored pants are more suitable for semi-formal events. Meanwhile, pieces in bright colours and trendy styles are better suited for relaxed or casual style events.  

Pair with the right business casual accessories 

Stylish accessories, such as jewellery, belts, hair decor, and bags, have a significant impact on your business casual attire. These can enhance your overall look and draw attention to your outfit. Avoid choosing accessories that are too big or flashy because they can be distracting. Simple and small- to medium-sized jewellery is appropriate, especially when it comes to earrings. A simple wristwatch can also add to your business casual look. 

Select the right business casual footwear 

Business casual shoes for women include flats, low heels, Oxford shoes, pumps, wedge shoes, ankle boots, and loafers. There are many options, making it easy to find the right pair for your business casual wardrobe. If you prefer wearing heels, a maximum of four inches is appropriate. Steer clear of brightly coloured shoes or those with busy designs or patterns. For most situations, stick to closed-toed footwear. Avoid sneakers, sandals, or high heels. 

Look out for business casual outerwear 

Your outerwear adds to the elegance and professional look of your business casual clothing. Business casual outerwear includes: 

  • blazers 

  • coats 

  • jackets 

  • cardigans 

Choose these pieces in neutral colours. Since you'll pair them with different clothing pieces, a neutral colour is easier to match. White and black pieces may seem basic, but they're the most versatile. Remember not to go for hoodies, denim, or athletic jackets, as these may appear overly casual. Avoid cropped or oversized pieces as well. Try pairing a casual top with a fitted jacket, jeans, and low heels. 

Look into seasonal business casual outfits for women 

Another essential factor in choosing your business casual wardrobe is the time of year. To be comfortable, choose fabrics and styles based on the season. During the rainy season, it's advisable to wear lighter fabrics, but don't forget to incorporate coats, blazers, or jackets.  

In the hotter months, you can wear thin and light fabrics for blouses, skirts, and dresses. Try to avoid adding too much jewellery to keep yourself cool. During the cooler months of the year, opt for thicker clothes. You can also layer pieces to achieve a more stylish look. 

Consider business casual for job interviews 

Wearing business casual attire to a job interview is acceptable​, even in Malaysia​. Your outfit can help show your personality while maintaining an air of professionalism. When picking outfit ideas for an interview, go for a safe, basic pairing, especially if you aren't familiar with the organisation's culture. You can choose a crisp white blouse with tailored pants or a knee-length dress with a cardigan or blazer – preferably in neutral or basic colours. Opting for simple accessories can help accentuate your outfit. It can allow interviewers to focus more on you versus your accessories during an interview.  

Examples of business casual for women 

Smiling hijab woman using smartphone

Picking the right business casual women attire can be fun yet challenging. You can pair pants with almost any top that's office-appropriate and low heels. Skirts and dresses, meanwhile, usually look good with professional-looking blazers, cardigans, or jackets.  

​​Pay attention to colours and patterns because these can elevate your look. Neutral colours are a safe bet, but don't be afraid to mix things up. When choosing colours and patterns, pick one or two contrasting colours that go well together to prevent them from clashing. ​​​ 

For example: Create an outfit by pairing a bright blue blouse with a white cardigan and black trousers. You can add a brighter colour palette to your wardrobe while mixing them with versatile pieces with darker colours. 

Picking a solid to complement the different patterns in your look can also help you stand out. For example, a solid-coloured skirt with a patterned blouse. Incorporate pops of style in your outfit with plaid, stripes, or polka dots. You can also add accessories to emphasise your informal style, but these should be appropriate to wear in office settings.  

Cultural variations

It's important to consider cultural variations when choosing women's business casual attire. Depending on where you are, there may be traditions or standards that are important for you to follow. For instance, in the United States, business casual attire typically revolves around mixing elements with chic pieces that express personal taste. ​​Meanwhile, in Malaysia, many prefer to wear clothes that are breathable with comfortable fabrics​,​ due to the weather​,​ while remaining conservative. It's encouraged that you dress modestly in the workplace as the majority of the population are Muslims. This includes wearing clothing that covers your knees and shoulders and has a conservative neckline. Common traditional clothing pieces include: 

  • Hijab or headscarf 

  • Muslimah pantsuit 

  • Baju Kurung 

  • Baju Kebaya 

  • Cheongsam 

  • Saree 

  • Batik 

Also, note that many buildings in Malaysia, such as government offices and hospitals, require strict dress codes. Make sure you comply with the requirements if you have a business meeting in one of these places. Generally, form-fitting attire, sleeveless or low-neck tops, t-shirts, shorts, and short skirts are deemed inappropriate. 

If you're unsure of the cultural norms in a particular region, err on the side of caution. Choose wardrobe pieces that are more formal attire for business trips, meetings, conferences, or seminars. Choose a neutral colour palette for your outfits as well. Researching how to choose the right business casual pieces for any circumstance can help you have the right wardrobe no matter where you are.  

Conclusion 

As business casual is a dress code that combines casual and formal or business attire, it's suitable for various office settings and occasions, making it a popular choice in many workplaces​ especially for women​. With a variety of clothing pieces, from tops to footwear and accessories, this dress code allows you to express your personal style in the best way possible. Remember to dress according to the season, follow the cultural norms in Malaysia, and stick to the organisation's specific policies. Aim to have business casual essentials in your wardrobe and get ready to mix and match the best casual style that's bound to fit your needed occasion and in the workplace.  

FAQs 

  1. What is the difference between business dress and business casual? 
    ⁠Business dress focuses on more modest and traditional clothing that you can wear in professional settings. Business dress may also be called formal business attire or even business ​professional attire​. These outfits are overly formal when compared to women's business casual. In comparison, a business casual look offers more flexibility and a brighter colour palette. You can even wear a business casual dress code in some office settings and to less formal events.  
  2. What is the difference between smart casual and business casual? 
    ⁠Smart casual and business casual outfits for women both combine elements of casual and formal business attire. The difference is that a smart casual wardrobe is more relaxed. Outfits may consist of a tailored and casual piece, such as a structured blouse with a pair of jeans. You can even pair t-shirts with a fitted blazer to create a smart casual outfit. 
  3. What shoes are not business casual? 
    ⁠Shoes that aren't business casual for women are flip-flops, running shoes or sneakers, beach sandals, or very high heels. In general, steer clear of anything that exposes your toes. 
  4. Are jeans business casual? 
    ⁠Jeans can be business casual, especially with tailored pieces. When selecting jeans, look for denim pieces that are clean and in good condition. When creating women's business casual outfits with jeans, it's best to pair them with a more formal piece. 

Workplace wellbeing

Browse top search terms

Did you know many candidates preparing a resume also research their industry by exploring top search terms?
Did you find this helpful?
😦
😐
🙂

Subscribe to Career Advice

Get expert career advice delivered to your inbox.
You can cancel emails at any time. By clicking ‘subscribe’ you agree to Jobstreet’s Privacy Statement.