When you work in a bank, law office, or another professional industry, it can be challenging to define where the line between business casual and hanging-out-with-the-buddies outfits lies. After all, companies and workplaces create their personal definition of “business casual.”
Most companies include a dress code in their handbook and make regulations surrounding the kinds of casual wear their employees can enjoy on special occasions or office events like “Casual Friday.”
The phrase “business casual” includes a broad spectrum of styles and pieces. Some companies classify a t-shirt and khakis as business casual, while other employers view anything less than a three-piece suit as business casual. Although it’s usually a good idea to consult with your employer before rocking a laidback look to the workplace, there are some general rules you can usually follow to stay professionally dressed.
Khakis sometimes count as business casual, but their close cousin cargo shorts get a little tricky. Some employers do not allow shorts of any kind in the workplace, while other employers loosen the rules during the summer months.
While it’s best to ask your employer directly if you have questions or concerns about the dress code, there are some basic rules of thumb you can apply to this situation if you’re looking to wear cargo shorts in a business casual setting.
What does business casual mean?
Before we can decide whether cargo shorts are business casual, we need a working definition of “business casual.” As we mentioned in the introduction, the phrase “business casual” conjures different ideas for different employers and industries. Even so, some core elements usually apply to a business casual dress code.
According to indeed.com, “Business casual attire is broadly defined as a code of dress that blends traditional business wear with a more relaxed style that’s still professional and appropriate for an office environment.” To break it down, business casual attire should appear and feel comfortable. At the same time, you should send a message to clients, coworkers, and supervisors that you are a true professional.
If a business casual look leans too heavily into the casual side of the spectrum, coworkers and clients might suspect that you don’t care about how you represent your company or role within it. At the same time, an excessively formal business casual look might make you seem standoffish and have you stick out from the crowd on a Casual Friday awkwardly.
No one wants to be overdressed or underdressed, so it’s important to review your employee handbook and speak directly to your supervisors when in doubt. It’s easier to say something beforehand than suffer the embarrassment of being the only coworker in flip-flops at the boss’s birthday luncheon or cufflinks at the quarterly pizza party.
A good place to start when building business casual looks is elevating the most casual part of the outfit and dressing down the most formal part of the outfit. When you follow these guidelines, you create a balance between letting loose and keeping up professional appearances.
Are cargo shorts business casual?
Although the answer to this question largely depends on your specific employer and dress code, cargo shorts can be considered business casual in certain settings. For example, if your dress code allows shorts, cargo shorts should fall into this category and gain the green light for wearing. If you spend a lot of time outside during the summer months doing work events or tasks, you may be allowed to wear cargo shorts for functional and professional looks.
Some fields, such as the tech field or creative fields, are looser with their dress codes. If you work in tech, you should be able to pair cargo shorts with a polo to keep up professional appearances. The same goes for working as an artist or writer.
For those who work in traditionally conservative fields such as law, banking, and some offices, the dress code may favor a more formal approach to business casual attire. In these cases, you can expect to get sent home or written up for wearing something as laid-back as cargo shorts. Don’t lose hope, though, if you really want to wear cargo shorts to work.
There may be an exception for casual office events or certain holiday events such as “Spirit Week” for Independence Day. Some workplaces may also allow cargo shorts as long as they are in a neutral color palette, such as black, gray, brown, cream, or navy. Other workplaces may allow cargo shorts as long as they don’t contain graphics with offensive materials.
They may also require that cargo shorts are clean, free from holes or distress, and high in quality. If you work from home and only make video calls or email communication, cargo shorts definitely count as business casual. For video calls, a client probably won’t see your pants, so they won’t be able to tell you’re wearing cargo shorts.
If you dress in formal attire from the waist up, clients, coworkers, and bosses will be none the wiser for your comfy little secret. Unfortunately, some roles in very formal settings, such as the government, specifically tend to forbid khaki pants such as cargo pants, which means cargo shorts would be out by default.
As oregon.gov shares in a pamphlet for interns who are wondering how to dress business casual, employees and interns should “wear pants styles such as khakis, dress pants, trousers and corduroy pants. Jeans are not considered business casual. No cargo pants.”
Again, even though some employers forbid cargo pants, others might be open to allowing cargo shorts either occasionally or all the time. Don’t take our word for it alone–strike up a conversation with your supervisor and see if they would allow you to enjoy wearing these comfortable, fashionable shorts in a work setting.