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Dressy Casual Vs Business Casual: What’s the Difference?

A rack is filled with women's clothing.
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In the ever-evolving world of fashion, one often finds themselves at a crossroads while reading the expected dress code for an event. There are so many style nuances and seemingly interchangeable terms, so confusion is practically inevitable.

Among the seemingly interchangeable terms is dressy casual vs business casual. So what sets these two styles apart?

What Is Dressy Casual?

Women wear dressy casual dresses.
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You can unleash your fashion prowess with dressy casual since the goal is simple: break free from the shackles of a stuffy office look while steering clear of full-on laid-back attire.

Dressy casual is finding the perfect balance between elegance and leisure. It’s a sweet spot where you can stay put together while flaunting your flair. This dress code is common for work-adjacent events like awards ceremonies, but it’s also perfect for life events like bridal showers and daytime weddings.

It’s a fashion tightrope where you can show off your personality and style preferences without sacrificing elegance.

While there is a touch of overlap between dressy casual and business casual, the former is your golden ticket to inject a splash of experimentation into your ensemble. So let your imagination run wild with daring prints and whimsical silhouettes. Fun is the name of this game.

What Is Business Casual?

Two young friends walking in a park.
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.com

Business casual is exactly what it sounds like: comfortable, wearable attire that’s still appropriate for a business setting. If you know you’re going to be seeing people you work with, work for, or want to work alongside in some capacity or another, business casual is a great approach.

It’s something you can wear to the office (so sweatpants and T-shirts are out) but it’s not something you’d wear to a white tie or black tie event.

The goal of business casual is to leave the impression that you’ve got it together without appearing stiff or awkwardly overdressed. The art comes in looking professional without trying to look professional. In most cases, the perfect balance depends on the event or workplace.

For instance, when attending a “business casual” work soirée, those suave dark-wash jeans could be your secret weapon. However, they might not earn you the same favor during a high-stakes job interview at your dream office.

Dressy Casual for Women

A woman walks outside wearing a dressy casual dress.
Sun Shock/Shutterstock.com

If you’re looking to nail a dressy casual look as a woman, take a breath and remember…it’s not as complicated as you’re making it in your head.

You can easily master a dressy casual look with dresses, skirts, blouses, button-down shirts, jumpsuits, or slacks. The key often comes in your material choice as well as your accessories.

Franco Sarto Womens Clemens Jute Wrapped Espadrille Wedge Heel Sandals

You can't go wrong with a classy pair of wedge sandals.

For example, you can dress up a casual summer dress with the right sandals and jewelry…think wedges and a statement necklace. Alternatively, you can dress down a fancy jumpsuit with a great pair of flats, a low-maintenance hairstyle, or a jean jacket.

SweatyRocks Women's Casual High Waist Pleated A-Line Midi Skirt

Pair your casual looks with a skirt to dress it up a bit.

Some key thoughts to keep in mind are that jeans always lean more casual so slacks are often a better, dressier option. Also, sneakers and flip-flops quickly drop your look into the casual-casual territory so stick with dressier shoe options to maintain your elegance.

ORAZIO Floral Acrylic Jewelry Set

A good set of jewelry will add some personality to your look every time.

Dressy Casual for Men

A man wears a dressy casual outfit with a blazer and slacks.

Dressy casual looks for men can be a lot of fun to put together. Remember not to lean into your business style too much and to let your personality shine.

Bruno Marc Men's Mesh Sneakers Oxfords Lace-Up

These comfortable walking shoes offer just enough style for your dressy look.

Put together the perfect dress casual outfit using slacks, dress shirts, blazers, sweaters, khakis, and any semi-professional shoe. Play with colors, textures, and fabric choices to create interest, and feel free to ditch the tie.

COOFANDY Men's Cotton Linen Henley Shirt

Keep things comfortable without sacrificing style with a cotton linen long-sleeve.

One thing to consider when putting together your look… avoid T-shirts. These are distinctly casual and can tank your whole outfit. However, if you have some high-quality T-shirts (without those stark graphics), they may work under the right blazer or sweater.

Tommy Hilfiger Men's Stretch Chino Pants

Go bold with the pant when you're styling a dressy casual look and fully embrace your sense of style.

Business Casual for Women

A group of women laugh and talk to one another in an office.
PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock.com

As a woman, your business casual looks should be a bit more pulled together than your dressy casual looks. Pay careful attention to your hemlines and necklines to keep things appropriate for your setting.

Cicy Bell Womens Casual Blazers

For a solid business casual look, you can't go wrong with a good blazer.

You can put together a great business casual look with skirts, dresses, slacks, sweaters or cardigans, blouses, button-down shirts, and a good blazer. With your shoes, you have a lot of versatility but be sure to choose options that lean more business than party.

BLENCOT Womens Ruffle Long Sleeve Jumpsuits

Add a little style and but keep it professional with a classy jumpsuit.

Play with colors and patterns. Consider tasteful accessories. Depending on the expectations of your office or event, you may want to avoid anything too trendy. Stick with the classics.

DREAM PAIRS Women's Annee Black Pu Low Heel Pump Shoes

Stick with a low heel and a classic shape for a great business casual shoe.

Business Casual for Men

A man sits at a desk and works in slacks and a button down.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock.com

When it comes to business casual for men, you may need to limit a bit of your flair in the name of, well, business.

Bruno Marc Men's Black Dress Shoes

Keep the shoes classier for your business casual days.

A lot of the pieces you use for dressy casual can cross over into business casual, but stick with a more streamlined, professional look.

Casual Blazer for Men Regular Fit

Adding a blazer to your outfit immediately increases the business casual level.

Slacks, sweaters, dress shirts, and professional shoes are all your go-to business casual pieces. Since it’s business casual, you don’t absolutely need to include a tie but you do want to add a belt. Also, be sure to groom your facial hair.

Haggar Men's Classic Fit Flat-Front Hidden Expandable Waistband

A quality pair of slacks will carry the majority of your business casual looks.

Decoding the subtle differences between dress codes can feel like you’re navigating a labyrinth, but approach it with curiosity and a willingness to experiment and that maze becomes fun. Whether you find yourself at work-related events or celebrations with friends, you can confidently dress the part, seamlessly blending style and appropriateness.

Abbey Ryan Abbey Ryan
Abbey Ryan is a storyteller, preferably of stories in written form. Across the 5 years of her professional writing career, her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Amazon, The Medical News Today, and more. When she's not writing (which is rare), she's likely traveling, painting, or on the hunt for a good snack. Read Full Bio »
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