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Europeans use business casual as an opportunity to show off their character and fashion sense. “Europeans know how to express themselves and be comfortable at the same time, while most Americans tend to think it’s mostly about just being comfortable,” said Patrick T Cooper, a US-based fashion consultant. Cooper recently returned from an extended trip to London where he was impressed by men “in two-button, peaked lapel, ticket pocket, double-breasted blazers with British spread collar shirts (no tie) and light wool slacks — all tailored, of course, to fit perfectly.” He said that women may have a tougher time with the business casual look in Europe, and thus may want to stick to their regular business attire, even when attending business casual events. “There’s no real letting your hair down when it comes to business attire for women. For women who normally wear suits at work, I would take it down just one notch for business casual, to a tailored pants suit or a poplin top and a pencil skirt. And never any flashy or dangly jewellery,” he advised.

“In India, business casual means jacket, trousers, collared shirt, no tie and oxford shoes for gentlemen. For ladies, it is jacket, trousers, inner t-shirt and low-heeled pumps,” advised Ashrafi Matcheswala, who recently moved from India to the US where she is the general manager at the Taj Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco.

Carlson, who spent three years in India, added, “The many Indians who have spent time working in technology jobs in California returned focusing on the more casual side of business casual, but they’ve ‘Indianized’ it by incorporating the local kurta into the look.”

“Japanese business attire has definitely become more casual over the last three to four years,” said Jun Mizutani, head of marketing at Tokyo-based RCM Japan.

However, casual varies slightly from industry to industry. For example, many executives have shed the traditional suit, or coat and tie during the summer, except for those in the financial or securities industries which remain mostly formal.

Last summer, the Japanese government launched the “Cool Biz” campaign to encourage office workers to shed their formal work clothing and adopt business casual outfits to endure the summer heat, which lead to a greater acceptance of casual styles at work or at off-site events. Similarly, the “Warm Biz” campaign encourages office workers to consider adding more knits and layers as thermostats are turned down to use less heat for winter.

United States
The definition of business casual varies from coast to coast in the US, the country that likely coined the term. Along the more formal East Coast, business casual typically infers a “preppy” look: a dark blazer, jacket or sweater for men and women, a collared shirt (tie optional), a skirt (for women) or pressed slacks (no jeans) and leather shoes. The look gets more casual the farther you travel west. For example, in Denver or Seattle, business casual takes on a more “outdoorsy” look and includes jeans, boots, vests and jackets that might look familiar on a hiking trail than in a business meeting. When you finally reach California, business casual can include just about anything, and varies a lot by industry. For example, a business casual event in the banking or finance industries would likely lean toward the more conservative East Coast version. But in high tech or entertainment, business casual could include jeans and a black t-shirt (think Steve Jobs) or even floral Hawaiian shirts. All the more reason to heed Newman’s advice to call ahead and determine precisely what you should pack before you leave home.

Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel


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