The business casual dress code is one of the most ubiquitous dress codes in menswear. But when it comes to accessorizing a business casual look, one should keep in mind one of its essential qualities: its breadth. As such, the right business casual accessories will help you dress up or dress down your outfits. Discover how you can maximize their full potential in this guide!
Accessorizing Business Casual Outfits
The meaning of business casual can vary widely from industry to industry and company to company. So, knowing how to best accessorize a business casual outfit starts with knowing just how formal or casual said outfit should be.
The great virtue here, though, is that you don’t need to purchase many, many outfits for the subtle variations of business casual. Rather by using your accessories to make an outfit more formal or more casual, you can more effortlessly traverse the various levels of the formality scale.
As a reminder, the business casual dress code has its origins in the relaxing of what was considered business appropriate throughout the course of the 20th century. Once the business suit was no longer mandatory in every office, workers began experimenting with looks that would be more comfortable for everyday wear, such as substituting the suit for a sport jacket and odd trouser combination and skipping the tie to go with an open collar.
However, especially today, some industries consider business casual to be so casual that a gentleman really has carte blanche when wearing it. And, as the business casual dress code can encompass so many different kinds of outfits, you can approach it from different lenses; for example, in our guide to the Business Casual Capsule Wardrobe, Raphael builds multiple different business casual outfits from just a few garments.
Moreover, while business casual originally referred solely to outfits that would be worn in an office setting, it can now be applied to social events and situations as well.
With this seemingly limitless variety, should come a bit of caution, however. Remember that it will always be up to you to determine just how formal your outfit should be, and if you’re ever in doubt, it’s always better to err on the more formal side than on the more casual.
So, before we get into specific accessories to wear, we should mention that we won’t be touching on seasonal pieces like hats, gloves, scarves, and the like because wearing these will often depend on the season or where you live more generally
8 Essential Business Casual Accessories for Men: 1. Belts
While business casual can encompass a wide range of overall formalities, we’re not aware of any business casual dress code that’s so casual it would involve foregoing trousers altogether. And, except for those rare occasions where you might be wearing suspenders or a pair of trousers with side adjusters, chances are, most often when wearing trousers, you’re probably going to be wearing a belt.
Belts are an often overlooked accessory that in addition to their overall utility, also serve to easily scale the formality of an outfit. A leather belt in black or in shades of brown with a simple buckle in a silver or gold shade can complement almost any outfit, business casual or otherwise.
The elegant simplicity and understated charm of such a belt will help to accentuate the rest of the outfit as the belt won’t draw too much attention to itself.
To still remain somewhat on the formal side of business casual while adding a bit more variety though, you could also consider lightly brogued or tooled belts or, perhaps, a woven leather belt. Belts like these will provide a bit of additional visual interest without looking too busy.
However, keep in mind that a heavily brogued or tooled belt may draw too much attention to itself. And, in general, the lighter the color of the leather, the more casual a belt is going to be overall.
On the more casual side of business casual, you could consider wearing a fabric belt instead. Fabric belts come in a variety of textures and colors, ranging from the subtlety of a monochromatic or two-tone belt to something more bold like a madras pattern belt.
With the exception of these more casual fabric belts, the best practice is usually to match the color of your leather belt to that of your leather shoes. To do this effectively, as well as when considering your metal accessories, our guide on that subject matter has you covered.
And, as is often the case with most garments in menswear, investing in a high-quality belt featuring hand stitching is probably going to be your best investment in the long term, as a cheaper belt will become frayed and tattered more quickly. For such a level of quality and also for added versatility, you could consider a modular belt system of interchangeable belts and buckles, such as the one we now offer in the Fort Belvedere shop.
Finally here, as a general rule to keep in mind, the larger the buckle of a belt, the less formal the belt will be overall.
In addition to their utilitarian purpose, socks can also be a vehicle for personal expression in a gentleman’s outfit, especially in the business casual dress code. The right pair of socks will serve to tie your outfit together as well as providing needed visual interest to the bottom half of an outfit.
Because socks are often plain and have something of a uniform appearance, wearing a pair of socks that incorporates more color or pattern is an easy way to alter the formality level of an outfit.
To keep things generally formal yet slightly playful, you could consider a pair of two-toned shadow-striped socks. Select colors that will either complement or directly contrast the other hues in your outfit for a unified but stimulating look. If you’d like some more general guidance on how to incorporate different colors into your outfits, you’ll surely find our guide on Using The Color Wheel in Menswear helpful.
Meanwhile, if you’re feeling a bit more audacious, you could perhaps try wearing socks featuring clock patterns in different colors. Socks with more unusual colors or patterns like these are an easy way to slightly dress down an outfit that might otherwise be too formal as the detailing will be somewhat unexpected.
Setting aside patterns for a moment, even wearing something like a simple sock in a brighter pink color is a strategy employed by well-dressed men going back decades to add a dash of color and personality to an outfit.
While there may be a time and place to wear novelty socks with more outrageous patterns, these so-called crazy socks are probably going to be too casual for business casual outfits. We’d stick to them in other applications.
Remember also when buying socks to consider the durability of the construction, the quality of the materials, and the precision of the fit. And if you’re in the market for new socks, we’d suggest you take a look at the Fort Belvedere shop.
Staying within the realm of footwear, our next pick is shoelaces, which are another way for a gentleman to easily change the look of his footwear without having to buy too many more new pairs of shoes. And since the business casual dress code offers many opportunities to experiment with different colors, doing so in your shoelaces is another smart choice.
So, when selecting different shoelaces to insert into your shoes, try finding a color that is featured somewhere else in your outfit but that also contrasts a bit with the color of the shoe. This way the laces will harmonize with the other outfit element overall, but provide a bit of pop against the contrasting color of the shoe itself.
Of course, for a more formal look, you would want to minimize the contrast between the color of the shoe and its laces. And for a more casual look, maximize this contrast.
While we cover both socks and shoelaces here, we won’t specifically be covering business casual shoes as we’ve already got an entire post published on that subject.
4. Pocket Squares
As we often mention at the Gentleman’s Gazette, a pocket square is a great way to add more color and visual interest to any outfit and this holds true for business casual as well.
Generally speaking, the more formal you’d like for your ensemble to be, the more plain your pocket square should be. The most formal pocket square, of course, would be a plain white linen design. Moving up from there, you could work with contrast edges or edge stitching, and then, start incorporating both colors and designs.
You could go with a micro-pattern design or small paisleys for something more formal, a larger paisley or geometric design for something more casual, or to really turn heads go with something like our art deco Egyptian scarab design or our rabbit motifs–both available in the Fort Belvedere shop.
Of course, how you fold your pocket square will also impact the look and formality of your overall outfit. So, for eight different ways to fold a pocket square, our guide has you covered.
While the business casual dress code often means that neckwear isn’t required, it’s almost always within your right to wear neckwear as part of business casual if you so choose. As you may have guessed, then, the hallmarks of business casual neckwear are exciting colors and interesting textures.
As usual, darker colors for neckwear are going to be more formal overall, whereas lighter colors are going to be more casual. And contrasting colors or unexpected combinations in something like stripes or mottled designs are a great way to add even more visual interest.
The caveat here would be to avoid overly shiny or neon-colored ties as these will most often look cheap and are typically made from cheaper materials like polyester, and instead, to go with brighter or pastel tones but still have a lustrous finish.
And, as with pocket squares, patterns like repeating geometric motifs or paisleys can work particularly well for business casual when incorporating interesting color choices. Heavier or denser patterns especially in darker colors are going to be more formal. Whereas, patterns like florals in light colors are going to be more casual.
Keep in mind though that florals are generally going to be more fashion-forward and can clutter a look somewhat.
Long-time viewers of the Gentleman’s Gazette should also be aware that we’re large fans of textured ties, and knit ties are a great example of this. They’ll work especially well within business casual. Again, solid or two-toned ties in darker colors are going to be more formal. Whereas, lighter-colored designs will be more casual.
Furthermore, while retaining texture but also keeping a bit more formality, you could also opt for a grenadine tie, which also comes in solid or striped patterns.
Of course, all of these guidelines can also be applied to bow ties, which are another good way to add a slightly whimsical element to a business casual ensemble as non-evening wear bow ties are typically going to be a bit less formal overall. Again, just avoid colors that are overly loud and go for patterns and colors that are more subdued yet elegant.
If you do choose to wear a wristwatch with your business casual outfit, you’ll find that you have a great deal of leeway as well.
Many different styles of a watch should work well within the business casual dress code with the exception being watches that are overly large, have chunky metal bands, or excessive or bejeweled detailing as this heaviness and intricacy will be somewhat at odds with the lighter overall feeling of business casual.
Echoing our advice for belts, you could go with a simple leather band here, or if you’d prefer to wear a metal watchband, going with something lighter and finer would be a better bet.
In the same general realm of men’s jewelry, wearing a pair of cufflinks with a business casual outfit can also be a smart choice. Overall, cufflinks do tend to create a slightly more formal air, but this can be toned down somewhat by selecting a bit more of a unique cufflink design.
As an example here, we can look at the two types of cufflinks we currently carry in the Fort Belvedere shop.
Our monkey’s fist knot designs in silver, yellow gold, and rose gold, given that they are all one color with just a subtle amount of texture, make them more formal overall. This is why we’ve also introduced shirt studs with the same design to wear with Black Tie and even White Tie ensembles.
Our eagle claw cufflinks, on the other hand, are somewhat more organic and certainly more dynamic, featuring the eagle claw gripping the differently colored natural stones. The bright pops of color that the stones provide add a bit more of an informal quality to the cufflink, so it might be more at home with a business casual outfit, but our monkey’s fist knot designs could certainly be worn as well.
Also, should it be of interest to you, vintage shops and online retailers will often have a wide selection of vintage cufflinks to choose from. So, you can find beautiful designs and patterns from a bygone age.
Finally, today, while they may be a bit bold for most office settings, the elegance of a boutonniere should be right at home in business casual social settings.
In general, the smaller the bloom and the more subdued the colors of the petals, the more formal a boutonniere choice is going to be. Casualize it, then, by choosing the contrary.
In conclusion, then, the best accessories to choose for a business casual outfit are ones that will allow you to adjust the relative formality of the outfit, depending on just how formal or casual your interpretation of business casual needs to be. Remember to keep color combinations, scale and size of patterns, and the overall formality in mind and you should be good to go.