Somewhere between Wall Street’s suit and tie and Silicon Valley’s T-shirt and jeans lies the realm of “business casual”—that prevalent, and nettlesome, approach to a work wardrobe that combines a relaxed attitude with a polished, professional appearance. To do it well requires a fine eye for detail and nuance, and for that, we went to Eric Jennings, Saks Fifth Avenue’s vice president and men’s fashion director. Here is his advice on creating a stylish and elegant business-casual look, accompanied by some of the best examples from the spring runways.
Is there a go-to look for business casual?
Eric Jennings: The foundation is always the sport coat. Ideally, you want a soft constructed sport coat with a muted windowpane pattern. Then add a small-checked shirt, because you can dress it up with a solid knit tie, or dress it down without any tie at all. If you opt out of the tie, make sure you wear a pocket square in the breast pocket of your jacket. It’s a small, easy detail that speaks volumes. Some men are afraid they will look affected wearing one. But showing just the crisp edge of a square-folded pocket square says, “I’m confident.”
What are the other essentials?
EJ: All men need a good pair of gray flannel trousers and gray tropical-weight wool trousers. Wearing seasonal fabrics will set you apart. Year-round fabrics are for novices! And it’s important to have what I call dress-shoe “hybrids,” which are leather and dressy on the top but have a rugged rubber sole on the bottom—perfect for the melding of business and leisure.
How can you dress down a suit?
EJ: Sometimes, it cannot be done. For example, with a classic wool pinstripe, simply replacing your shirt and tie with a nice T-shirt does not make it business casual—it just makes it look awkward. There are two tricks to making a suit casual: changing the fabric from a typical wool gabardine to cotton, linen, or another sporty fabric, and changing the cut from a classic, fuller fit to a slimmer silhouette with a shorter length jacket and trouser.
How can you mix it up?
EJ: Solid V-neck merino wool sweaters in a variety of colors are great for lightweight layering. They can be worn with a tie and jacket or with a pair of khakis and will immediately make you look more polished.
And the five-pocket trouser is a great alternative to jeans. You get the fit of your favorite jeans, but in more polished fabrications like cotton twills, khakis, or corduroys. If you do wear denim, make sure it’s a pair of dark-washed, straight-legged jeans—no embellishments on the back pockets or “destroyed” treatments to the fabric.
What else should you avoid?
EJ: Whatever you do, do not wear your suit jacket with a pair of jeans or pants. It never looks right, trust me.