Hey Sid!

What Even Is Business Casual?

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Submit a question at heysid@sidmashburn.com

“Can you help me with a business casual uniform? I've spent much of my career wearing suits and, frankly, prefer them. However, I live in the Bay Area and have recently started having to attend meetings in Silicon Valley where jeans and a hoodie is the lingua franca, and they distrust the guy in the suit. What do you suggest I wear as an alternative?” – Andrew

Hi Andrew – thanks for writing in, and hope you're staying healthy out there in San Fran. I cannot tell you how often this question comes up.

The whole idea of "business casual" was presumably intended to put people at ease... but in a funny sense, for a lot of guys, it seems to inspire more anxiety than a full suit getup. What I'm trying to say is... we're with you. And while you sent this question a few weeks ago – in what feels like a different lifetime – I think now is sort of the perfect time to test out a business casual uniform without the pressure of "just going for it." You're still working, but you're not leaving the house... it's a little like playing in Cactus or the Grapefruit leagues... getting ready for a new season! And at the very least, you'll look pulled-together on your Zoom calls.

The good news is that there's a way to do business casual that incorporates a lot of the stuff you wore in your past life. You don't have to flip the circuit breaker; you're just dialing down the dimmer switch. Totally understand why you'd want to ditch the suit for the Silicon Valley crowd, but don't give up on the jacket! A sport coat with no tie can look super cool (Ann always says it's her favorite thing I wear) without alienating the guy in the hoodie. And ditching the jacket and tie can casualize a pair of dress trousers to be just as relaxed as a pair of jeans. Really. My guess is that you don't need a lot of new clothes... you just need a new formula and some tweakage.


you can click the image to make it larger in a new tab, but don't get too hung up on the specifics here... it's the formula that's important, rather than any one particular piece


We put together a sample option set in which every single thing goes with each other. You could literally close your eyes and point to one item in each column to wear, and you'd look great. Sort of like business casual Garanimals. (This becomes really easy when your wardrobe is mostly nature colors... not 'neutrals,' per se, but colors found in nature. Grass and sky and dirt and stones all look good together, don't they?) Each of the pieces are themselves fairly quiet, but most of the combinations yield something greater than the sum of their parts. The white shirt + natural jeans + chukka boots give you a kind of Lawrence-of-Arabia-on-the-conference-call vibe, while the lovat sweater + pink graph shirt + grey trousers combo makes you really look like you know what you're doing. ESPECIALLY if you add in the tie... like Mariano Rivera's cutter.

Below are the building blocks we used for the everything-goes-with-everything formula. It's not a lot of pieces... which is exactly why they're worth the investment. Especially with business casual, "less but better" is super important. From here, you can add in the "personality" stuff – the bandana in the back pocket, sunglasses, an interesting belt, colorful five-pockets, whatever makes you feel cool – and then you're really cooking with gas.


JACKETS - a navy one and maybe one more

- Either navy monk's clothnavy huckaback, or navy high-twist

- A brown or sand-colored sport coat makes a great "second jacket." Especially one with a bit of texture to it... like monk's cloth.


SWEATERS - one crewneck and one V-neck in, again, navy and another color (lightweight cashmere is excellent for SF weather)

Navy fine-gauge cashmere

Lovat green cashmere


SHIRTS - a mix of solids and some non-pattern patterns

Blue graph check poplin

Sky awning stripe poplin

Pink university stripe oxford

White roxford

Sky end-on-end


PANTS - a couple of jeans, a couple of trousers

Blue jeans

Natural or white jeans

Khaki trousers

Grey trousers



- A pair of loafers

- A pair of boots, like chukkas or Chelseas

- A pair of bad-weather boots



- A simple dark brown belt. One is enough, but if you want to add some variety...

- Swap out the belt buckle.


and to (literally) keep in the pocket, a TIE:

I know the vibe is jeans-and-hoodies, but sometimes you've got to read the room. If a client or a visitor shows up in a tie, you want to at least have the option of getting on his level. Navy knit feels a little less "guy-in-a-tie"... plus it rolls up really quickly, so you can stash it or put it on depending on the crowd. I've stuffed this one in my pocket more times than I can count... and pulled it out of the pocket to quickly tie it up, too.



Alright, Andrew. I hope this is helpful. Just losing the tie and putting on a pair of jeans can get you 90% of the way to true Business Casual. The other half is mental. I think that's a Yogi Berra quote. Play around with a couple of these combos while you're working from home, and see how it makes you feel. There's no replacing a suit — I'm with you on that — but hopefully you can find your biz-cas groove. Good luck.

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