Today, business casual is one of the most widely used dress codes for men, yet it’s often vaguely defined. And, even if you do get the basics of the dress code right, are you completing your outfit with the best shoes for business casual settings? In this guide, you’ll find out how you can upgrade your business casual looks with the best choice in footwear.
Table of Contents
- See More in our Video Guide
- What Does Business Casual Mean?
- What Type of Business Casual Workplace Are You?
- Getting Formality Right: Business Casual Shoe Color
- Getting Formality Right: Business Casual Shoe Style
- Business Casual Boot Styles
- For Modern Business Casual: The Dress Sneaker
- Three Best Business Casual Shoes
- Top Business Casual Shoes
- Business Casual Shoe Tips
See More in our Video Guide
Raphael will walk you through some of his favorite business casual shoe choices, along with a few other tips in our companion video.
What Does Business Casual Mean?
Before adding a pair of shoes to your outfit, it’s imperative that you first understand the business casual dress code. Essentially, it’s the balance between being too formal or too casual, but this can be a difficult balance to achieve as the dress code isn’t as readily defined as something such as the rigid dress codes of black tie or white tie.
To avoid missing the mark on your business casual ensembles, we’ve put together an ultimate guide to the dress code, including some expert suggestions to ensure your business casual outfits are always on point.
Business Casual Dress Code
Read the ultimate guide
What Type of Business Casual Workplace Are You?
If you’re feeling confident that you understand the formality spectrum of various business casual clothing, your next concern will be to recognize how smartly your workplace dresses. Of course, the best way to do this is by simply looking around you to discern what your co-workers are wearing and choosing wardrobe items that fit within the same level of formality. If you remain unsure, we’ve created a handy business casual “cheat sheet” so you can start to pinpoint the right choices for you.
Another way of looking at things would be to consider the main “collar” types that exist to make the identification of workplaces easier. These revolve around assigning a color to the type of shirt collar one would have been expected to wear to achieve their job back in the day. Although there are now many different colors out there representing very specific workplaces, the ranking below is perhaps the most universally recognized:
|Which “Collar Type” Are You?||What Does Your Workday Look Like?||What Level of Formality Should You Look at?|
|White Collar||You spend the majority of your day in a traditional office environment with little to no manual labor as part of your duties. You need to look respectable and present a professional image.||Formal to Everyday Business Casual|
|Grey Collar||You do a healthy mix of both labor-intensive and office-based tasks. You need to look presentable but also practical.||Everyday Business Casual|
|Blue Collar||Traditionally labor-intensive or service-based roles. Your work clothes may have been provided, but you still want to look good for interviews, meetings, and other times when you’re at work without a uniform.||Everyday Business Casual to Casual|
Getting Formality Right: Business Casual Shoe Color
The color of your business casual shoes plays a much bigger part in the perceived formality of your outfit than you might think. The majority of people likely won’t stop to admire the exact details of your shoes; instead, they are more likely to notice the overall color of your shoes. Therefore, getting the color of your business casual shoes right should be a priority.
Black: Too Formal
Being the most formal shoe color, black really should be avoided for the majority of your business casual shoe choices. It speaks of smartness, and is the right choice to wear with your business suits, but is somewhat out of place in a business casual wardrobe. Naturally, the aim with this dress code is to be a little more relaxed, which is hard to do when you’re wearing black shoes.
An Exception To The Rule
Black may indeed be appropriate as a color for your business casual shoes when in the style of a loafer. Because of the relaxed construction and styling of a loafer, the formality of black is downplayed, making the style more acceptable for business casual settings. The same may also be true for monk strap shoes–more on that later in this article!
The rich, dark hues of either Oxblood or burgundy are perfect for a pair of business casual shoes. By mixing tones of reds and browns, there’s a lovely dark tone achieved which strikes the perfect balance. Oxblood and burgundy colors are neither too formal, nor too casual. It’s why Raphael always travels with a pair of shoes in this color for his short business trips.
These tones are some of the easiest to combine with other business casual staples including odd pants, blazers, and knitwear. Because of the mixture of colors that make up Oxblood and burgundy, they can take on a different look depending on how you apply them to your outfits.
If you’re looking for this particular color, you’ll likely come across Cordovan leather, and the iconic rosy red that the skins are traditionally dyed to. Cordovan makes a fantastic leather of choice for a pair of business casual shoes, and its natural shine can increase the formality of your footwear in a way that other leathers can’t.
Confused about Cordovan?
Find out more here!
Brighter, richer tones of red can make an excellent choice for a pair of business casual shoes. While you’ll note that Oxblood and burgundy have a darker hue thanks to the elements of brown and even black present in the color, brighter red shoes can be an excellent addition to your collection of business casual footwear. Just make sure you choose a red that has a little variation in color, and not a flat “Coca-Cola” red which can look a little gaudy and cheap.
Whereas in years gone by, brown would have been shunned for the workday, it’s now the color of choice for many business casual settings. Essentially, when it comes to brown, you really can’t go wrong. Universally recognized as the casual alternative to black while still remaining smart, business casual shoes in brown tones will always be appropriate.
Whether it’s a very dark brown, a medium brown, chestnut brown, or very light tan, is up to you but just keep in mind the lighter shade of brown, the more casual the shoe.
An interesting choice for a pair of business casual shoes, you can look into the tones of green, which is highly underrated in menswear. Just think about adding a dark green oxford full brogue wingtip shoe in suede; it’s quite dark, people wouldn’t notice it right away yet it’s very different than a traditional dark brown wingtip oxford.
Alternatively, a nice olive green with a beautiful patina on an elegant long last is really something that will provide a lot of contrast with the pants and slacks you’re wearing. Therefore, it’ll stand out in a way but it’s still subtle enough that it could be mistaken for a dark brown shoe at first glance.
On the more casual end of things, you’ll find shoes in tones of gray. While not overly common, they can still be a great choice for a more relaxed business casual outfit. If you choose to go for a pair of gray business casual shoes, make sure you pay close attention to the texture; suede is likely going to be your safest choice, as polished leather shoes in gray can look a little flashy, which you don’t want.
Change Your Laces For a Different Look
Light Blue Flat Waxed Cotton Shoelaces
Dark Gray Round Waxed Cotton Shoelaces
White: Too Casual
At the very casual end of things, white should generally be avoided for business casual shoes. Even though the color white has always been associated with wealth and prosperity, when it comes to footwear, it’s deemed the most casual color of them all.
You can see this in the white bucks worn throughout the summertime for casual sporting excursions, with the modern-day equivalent being a pair of white dress sneakers. Wearing either style in a business casual setting showcases a general disregard for the fact you are still at work, therefore you should opt for a darker color when it comes to business casual shoes.
Getting Formality Right: Business Casual Shoe Style
There are many different types and styles of shoes out there, so it can be quite confusing to find the right one to fit your business casual workplace.
The Oxford Shoe
Oxford shoes are typically regarded as the most formal type of shoe construction available. For this reason, you need to tread lightly when choosing a pair of Oxfords for your business casual shoes, and will need to focus on getting the details right.
In order to pull off a pair of Oxfords for your business casual shoes, think about how details such as the color and texture will have an effect. A pair of suede or pebble grain leather Oxford shoes will always be more casual than a pair in a smooth, highly polished calfskin, so look for elements like this.
Are you an expert on Oxfords?
Brush up here!
You can also look into Oxfords that bear details such as wingtips, medallions, or broguing. Anything like this which is added to the shoe will reduce the overall formality, thus making an Oxford shoe more appropriate for business casual settings. Ultimately, the goal is to appear smartly relaxed, not dressed to the nines.
The Derby Shoe
Derby shoes have an open lacing system and because of that, they’re always slightly less formal than an Oxford. If you like your shoes to bear laces, then the Derby is the one for you. What makes this choice so great is the immense variety that can be found throughout different styles of Derby shoes. Whether you like additional detailing, different textures, or a catalog of colors, this is the quintessential dress shoe style for your business casual looks.
The Monk Strap Shoe
If laces aren’t your thing, but you still like to look dressed up, then the monk strap is the shoe for you. Fastening with either one or two straps and buckles, this style sits wonderfully in the comfortable middle for business casual appropriate footwear. The lack of laces means the monk strap shoe is a close cousin of smart styles such as the Oxford or Derby, but has its own unique charms.
Monk Straps will take on a different look depending on whether you choose to go with details or if you prefer to keep things simple. This is truly a shoe type that you can experiment with; adding either single or double monk straps to your collection, and seeing how a medalion may give you that extra edge, or whether a plain toe is the choice for you. At the end of the day, you can’t really go wrong with a monk strap when it comes to business casual attire.
The Loafer Shoe
Loafers are a business casual must-have. The quintessential styles of either a Penny or Tassel loafer are the undisputed kings of the slip on shoe when the business casual dress code is being discussed. No matter the choice of leather, it’s pretty hard to get loafers wrong. Being quick and easy to add to an outfit, the lace-less loafer should be an unquestionned addition to your business casual shoe collection.
Undoubtedly one of the most famous loafer styles on the market since the 1950s, the Gucci (horse-bit) loafer has been touted as a great choice for business casual footwear for many years. But are they actually worth it? In our guide to this iconic shoe, you can find out if you should spend your hard-earned cash on a pair.
Business Casual Boot Styles
The Chelsea Boot
An interesting article of business casual appropriate footwear is the Chelsea boot. Typically constructed using a very small number of pieces, a traditional Chelsea boot will have the effect of looking similar to a wholecut Oxford, but without the laces. Naturally, it is possible to find Chelsea boots with plentiful decoration or none at all, therefore making them a favorable addition to your business casual wardrobe.
What’s particularly nice about the Chelsea boot is its versatility. As you can see here, both Kyle and Raphael have been able to construct outfits on either end of the business casual formality scale by using Chelsea boots in brown tones.
The Chukka Boot
As we reach the more casual end of business casual shoe style, the Chukka boot comes into contention. A variation on the desert boot, the Chukka is a soft, simple style of low-ankle boot. Essentially, Chukka boots are a Derby shoe with an opening that extends higher up your ankle than a typical shoe would. You’ll be able to find Chukka boots made from all manner of materials, but suede is most traditional and wonderfully comfortable when unlined.
What makes Chukka boots particularly unique in the line-up of business casual shoes is their versatility across formalities. Whereas most of the other footwear styles on show here wouldn’t be able to cross dress codes as well, you’ll find the Chukka boot can be worn with your business casual ensembles for the week, and again with jeans or chinos at the weekend.
For Modern Business Casual: The Dress Sneaker
Dress sneakers are becoming increasingly common in the world of menswear. There are many other publications that would advocate for wearing leather sneakers with a suit and other smarter attire, but the reality is that’s too much of a clash in formality. As many offices relax their business casual standards further, you may find the dress sneaker as a potential option for your time at work.
Now, whether you choose to incorporate a pair of more casual sneakers into your business casual wardrobe depends on whether you truly feel the style fits your aesthetic, as well as the general formality of your office. If you’re still unsure about dress sneakers, you can take a look at our thoughts about them below:
Three Best Business Casual Shoes
If you’re looking for a more definitive list of the best business casual shoes you could own, we’ve got you covered. Here, you can see the top three shoes you can add to your business casual wardrobe, which will allow you to combine a huge range of excellent outfits for the office.
Top Business Casual Shoes
Oxblood Derby Shoe
The Oxblood or burgundy Derby is the quintessential business casual dress shoe. Both the color and styling strikes the perfect formality for the dress code, and is appropriate for outfits that are either dressed up or more relaxed. For this shoe, go for minimal detailing and an elegant last to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Brown Suede Chukka Boot
A Chukka boot crafted from brown suede leather will be both comfortable and stylish. As Chukka boots aren’t too high on the ankle, they compliment the business casual formality nicely. Choosing a pair in a shade of brown will make sure you’re able to combine them easily with other elements of your business casual wardrobe, and the suede texture adds a unique element to your look.
You’ll notice we haven’t specified a color here – consider this option your “wildcard” choice of business casual footwear. Tassel loafers have been considered a stalwart of the business casual dress code for many years. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well they work in a number of different colors and textures, like you can see in this green suede pair, here.
Business Casual Shoe Tips
Invest in Quality
It’s far better to have a small collection of sublime shoes than a large collection of sub-par ones. Well-made shoes from quality leather that is expertly polished will absolutely upgrade your business casual outfits. At the same time, a cheap pair of shoes will ruin a carefully crafted ensemble.
Go for Brogues
Because it’s business casual, broguing or hole perforations or decorations are always welcome and an element you should incorporate if you want to tone things down and make them easier to look at and less formal.
The more broguing you have on the shoe, the more casual it is. Overall, it’s very important that your shoes work well not just with the rest of your outfit but with the socks and the pants in particular because they’re right next to your shoe.
Experiment with Spectators
Another brogued style of shoe would be spectators. Typically a louder style, however, you’re likely to be surprised with how good subtle two-tone shoes can be. Try combinations like a brown and off-white spectator, or a navy and gray spectator. Even if these styles are too much for you, you can try spectators that mix textures instead of colors.
Apart from the color, leather texture can also have a huge impact on how it’s perceived. For example, suede shoes are always softer and more casual. So for example, a dark brown suede shoe will look about as informal or casual as a regular polished leather tan shoe.
Don’t Invest In Shoes That Fuse Modern & Traditional Style
Matching together formal and informal elements will mean it’s a very trendy shoe and it may be great at the moment, but it’s just a fad that will disappear in just a few years’ time. So even if you have thehighest quality leather shoe with a blue sole, chances are you will be tired of it in a year from now.
Instead, buy classically styled shoes and try to find something that works with your style. For example, you can go with medium brown penny loafers or you could go with cordovan tassel loafers. Alternatively, if you want even more casual, you can have suede green tassel loafers which are very casual yet still classically rooted.
Keep Things Simple
In general, always steer clear of any dress shoe fads and trends such as square-toed shoes, rubber soles, or any kind of garish metalwork and graphics when it comes to business casual shoes.
Asking: “Is It Appropriate?”
If you’re unsure whether your business casual shoes are appropriate or not, chances are they’re inappropriate* (otherwise, you wouldn’t have thought about it in the first place!). Always keep in mind being slightly overdressed is always favorable to being slightly underdressed.
*Note that in this example image, the loafers Preston holds would, in fact, be appropriate in business casual settings.
Know When To Step Up Your Shoe Game
Just because you can wear anything doesn’t mean everything has the same level of benefits for you. That being said, a nice pair of leather shoes or boots will always make you look dapper and more grown-up than wearing some colorful sneakers or tennis shoes.
For example, think of important meetings with the board, maybe with your most important client, or even the CEO. In those situations, you definitely want to take it up a notch and put your best foot forward – literally! During work-related events, conferences, or symposia where you represent your company, it really pays to have nice leather dress shoes in a darker color. Remember, you want people’s attention to be on you and the importance you’re bringing to the situation, not on your clothes. Likewise, if you’re interviewing for a position, it always pays to put on the proper interview attire.
Business Casual Shoes FAQs
What shoes are appropriate for business casual?
Shoes such as the Derby, monk strap, and loafer are some of the best choices for business casual shoes. They’re timeless, and strike the right balance of formality for the business casual dress code.
Are white sneakers business casual?
Because of their bright color and sporty construction, white sneakers are not business casual appropriate. Instead, look at some of our other suggestions for the best business casual shoes.
Are Stan Smiths business casual?
Stan Smiths are not business casual appropriate. Although they are an iconic design of sneaker, this type of shoe is not formal enough to be acceptable for business casual settings, therefore should be enjoyed in more relaxed environments instead.
What are the best business casual shoes?
A pair of Oxblood or burgundy Derby shoes is perhaps the best choice for a pair of business casual shoes. They exist within the perfect level of formality, being neither too smart nor too casual, making them perfect for business casual.
Are business casual shoes comfortable?
Even though smart shoes have a reputation as being uncomfortable, you’ll find that the relaxed styles of business casual shoes lend them to being more comfortable in any case. Of course, it’s imperative you always try a pair of shoes on to ensure they fit your feet well, with the right level of comfort for you.
Are black shoes appropriate for business casual?
Black shoes are typically considered too formal for the business casual dress code, but you can find a couple of exceptions to this rule. Most notable, a black loafer can be considered business casual appropriate, as the slip-on design of a loafer relaxes the dark color of black nicely. Otherwise, you could consider trying a pair of black monk straps.
Is an Oxford shoe business casual?
Wearing an Oxford shoe in business casual environments means you’ll need to get the details right. For example, steer clear of very dark colors, such as black, instead employing textures and details like broguing to help relax what is essentially a formal shoe construction.