For any guy who works in a professional setting such as an office or a bank, the decision about what to wear isn’t always straightforward. When your workplace clearly outlines the uniform in a dress code, it takes the fun out of style, but it also takes the guesswork out of getting dressed.
When your company has a “business casual” dress code, you might be wondering what exactly that means. After all, “business casual” is a pretty vague term. How formal is too formal for business casual? How laidback is too casual for business casual? If you’re asking yourself (or your supervisor) these questions, you aren’t alone.
If you have a few favorite polos in your closet, you probably want to sport them in the office or during meetings with clients. Before you let them collect dust in the closet out of fear that they’re too laidback for the business casual office, we have the answer to this question and more below.
What is a Polo Shirt?
A polo shirt is a style of a men’s shirt with short sleeves, a collar, and several buttons at the neckline. Polo shirts can also be long-sleeved, but short sleeves are more common. The polo shirt was invented in the 1920s. You might think that the polo shirt was originally intended for polo players, but you would be shockingly wrong.
That’s right, the polo shirt was not initially meant for the very sport that gives the shirt its name. According to poloweekly.com, “The polo shirt was actually developed for tennis as a more comfortable option. And polo, being clever and cheeky, borrowed the attire for its own purposes.”
Since then, the polo shirt has become a staple in men’s wardrobes everywhere as a comfortable shirt that still looks more put-together than a band t-shirt or tank top. It impresses the future in-laws, the college basketball recruiter, the first date, and the boys on a Saturday brunch run. The polo is a versatile, comfortable style that’s popular for its comfort and classic fashionable side.
Related: Should you wear a polo with a blazer
What does business casual mean?
Before we can decide whether polos are business casual, we need to get a grasp of what “business casual” means. As we mentioned before, the term “business casual” takes on a different definition for individual employers and industries. Although the definition varies, a business casual dress code normally holds some basic standards that are mostly universal.
As indeed.com shares, “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.”
Essentially, business casual clothes should look and feel comfortable. If you feel boxed in or look like you’re heading to the Oscars, it probably isn’t business casual. While business casual clothes should be easy to wear, they should also look professional.
If a business casual look communicates that you are a totally casual person, coworkers and clients might doubt your professionalism and commitment to maintaining a professional image. Still, an overly dressy business casual look could have an opposite but equally damaging effect. No one wants to try to enjoy the company pizza party in a three-piece suit–or deal with the mess of cleaning it afterward.
To avoid this kind of situation, it’s best to go over your employee handbook with your supervisor about the dress code when in doubt. It’s easier to ask a simple question before you get to the office than deal with the awkwardness of being the most underdressed or overdressed person in the office.
Are polo shirts business casual?
By most definitions, polo shirts do count as business casual. Even if polo shirts seem a little casual to your employer, there are tips and tricks for elevating the polo to a business casual level. Since a polo shirt is similar to a t-shirt, it’s important to pair the polo with dressier items such as khaki pants or slacks and a dressy shoe like a loafer.
Also, tucking a polo shirt in will give it the appearance of being more professional. An untucked shirt can look sloppy and turn a would-be business casual look into just plain casual. No one wants to get negative attention from a supervisor–or even disciplinary action–because he didn’t take a few minutes to tuck in his shirt. Little details like this go a long way to dressing professionally.
There are certain workplace situations that might be more accepting of a polo shirt on a business casual day. According to Alex Righetto, “Polo shirts are a good choice if you work in a place where they don’t expect you to wear a button-down every day. Yes, there are casual button-down shirts.
You can wear a polo if you pair it correctly. If you’re allowed to wear chinos, a fresh polo shirt is a great choice. You can carry on a level of professionalism if you put the style together in a nice-looking way.”
NYC Personal Stylist and Image Consultant Cassandra Sethi tends to agree with this assessment in her article about the topic. Sethi explains, “I often recommend polos to my male clients because they’re a step up from a t-shirt and a step down from a more formal button up shirt.
They’re the perfect piece that looks put together, but not like you’re trying too hard.
When shopping for polos for your business casual wardrobe, look for refined fabrics like merino wool or pima cotton; shirts in these fabrics will look more sleek and office-appropriate than the typical golf polo.” (https://nextlevelwardrobe.com/answers-to-business-casual-questions-men/)
As you can see, it all depends on the individual company’s expectations, the dress code, and the way you wear the polo shirt. Polos can be business casual if you choose the right fabric for your company’s specific needs. At the very least, a polo shirt will look more professional than a casual t-shirt and it will give you more comfort than a stiff button-up would. That lands it a spot on the business casual continuum.
Some work settings such as tech or retail might have a more laid-back dress code. In these places, a polo shirt might even be a step up in professional dress from the regular work attire. For jobs in traditionally conservative settings such as law offices or banking, the dress code may exclude polos because they are too casual.
As long as you make sure that your polo shirt is clean and presentable, it should work for a business casual setting. You can also see if your coworkers and supervisors approve of wearing polos in a business casual setting. Chances are if you’ve seen your boss sporting a polo shirt outside of the golf course or polo, you are probably safe to wear one to work, too. Still, every office is different, so you may want to double-check the dress code and pack a backup button-up just in case.