Fashion Q & A:
Casual Pants for Work

Q: In the warmer months, my company’s dress code allows for more casual attire. Even though jeans and capris are allowed from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I think they’re too casual and don’t plan to wear them. Do you have any insights into what makes certain casual pant choices too casual for the office?

A: Many of our private clients who work outside the home have a healthy selection of casual pants in their wardrobes. Many of them report getting ready for work and staring at them, wondering if they can (or should!) wear them on the job.

The following guide will help you decide whether to slip on casual pants or whether to leave them at home when dressing for work. Remember, common sense prevails. Check with your HR department if you need some more clarification about how any of these fabrics and styles fit into your particular business culture.

Jeans: Jeans have come a long way in the century-and-a-half since Levi Strauss secured the pockets of his "waist overalls" and sold them from his San Francisco dry goods store. These days, jeans come in a plethora of cuts, colors and styles, and are the garment of choice for a variety of casual situations.

In many industries, jeans, in any color, remain inappropriate for most business situations. The problem is that while some folks look great in them and they understand the importance of making sure they are presented professionally, others will always look sloppy and, well, too casual in them. Also, you have no control over how customers and colleagues view jeans. If your office does allow jeans, be smart about how you present yourself in them.

Khakis: With the casualization of the American workforce over the past decade, khaki pants are not just worn in the warmer months anymore. In fact, entire industries claim them as their unofficial "uniform" all year round. If you choose to wear yours for work on business casual days, be sure they are in excellent condition. If you look like you are ready to rake your lawn in them, they are probably too casual for even the most relaxed business environment.

Khakis made out of 100% cotton generally do not wear as well as those made of lightweight wool, or a combination of a synthetic fabric (like polyester) with the cotton. If you do choose to wear 100% cotton styles, consider having them dry cleaned if you aren't disciplined enough to keep them wrinkle-free on your own. Dry cleaning can also give them a longer shelf life.

Capris: Capri pants (generally defined as ending mid-calf) are considered a very casual summer dress pant choice and are not the best pant length to wear in most business environments because they tend to scream "take me to the beach, please!"

Having said that, a cropped pant (defined as ending just above the ankle) can be okay for work if they are presented professionally. An open toe, business-appropriate shoe can give cropped pants a more professional look than overly casual or overly dressy sandals, especially if they are paired with a well-coordinated business-appropriate top or jacket.