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It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to business casual, a similar subjectivity applies.
What goes in a "business casual" California startup environment might get you barred from a Virginia courtroom. Still, hopefully, a few general rules will help.
1. Err on the side of over-dressing.
Ever see "that guy" in your office who rocks the V-neck T-shirts because they are somehow more formal than a crew neck? What about the guy wearing his dad's old polo shirts? Conversely, it is only the most obscenely overdressed cases that attract attention, such as the brown-noser who shows up in a slim fit suit with skinny argyle tie.
2. Get on my level.
Well, not mine exactly. Get on your boss's level. For your first day, see Rule No. 1. After that, if your boss is wearing khakis and no tie, you can probably get away with the same attire.
3. Plain pants and staid shirts.
There's not a lot of leeway when it comes to shirts and pants. Men should not show up to the office in orange Bonobos or Capri pants. Stick to black, brown, grey, olive, or navy. If you are in California, you might even be able to get away with (gasp!) jeans, if they lack holes and your boss has done it first (see Rule No. 2).
And please, color considerations aside, Dickies are not allowed. That primary-colored badge screams, "I'm going to fix your transmission after I file your brief." It doesn't inspire confidence in your legal abilities.
As for shirts, a similar code applies. Button-ups with collars are a must. White and light blue are staples. Us California crazies can venture further into lavenders and other pale colors.
4. It's all about the jacket and tie.
Want to make a fashion statement? This is the place. Nothing says "like a boss" more than a tweed blazer with leather "professor" patches on the elbows. Find a few oddball blazers or sport coats that go with everything. Use them often. Switch to the jean/blazer look when you leave work for happy hour.
The only place where odd bursts of color are acceptable is the tie. This of course has its limits. Only real men, like Denny Crane, can pull off neon colors.
5. No sneakers.
Not everyone works at a place like FindLaw. While we're rocking fresh Adidas Superstars (me) and three-inch heels (not me), stick with the classic dress shoes in brown and black. Loafers are probably OK. From a fashion standpoint, squared toes are not.
What's the takeaway? Your clothes should not draw attention. You want to be known for your hard work and amiable personality, not your hobo-chic look.