What is a "Business Casual" dress code anyway?

Posted by Marlowe Carroll on 4/14/23 12:49 PM

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One thing that makes Patrick Henry College stand out from other Christian colleges is our business casual dress code. This prepares students to be in the workplace and act professionally during business hours. Unfortunately, this comes with two challenges:

1) what is business casual?

2) how do I revamp my wardrobe without breaking the bank?

Fortunately, dressing in business casual isn’t as complicated as it sounds! In fact, it is a useful skill for anyone in the workplace, so this guide applies outside of PHC as well.

Before you do anything, read the guidelines given in the Student Handbook. This will give you a good idea of the modesty rules and exactly what you’re agreeing to!



Business casual gives you way more flexibility than you think. Just avoid t-shirts, sweatpants / shirts, jeans, casual sandals, sneakers, and anything too low / short / sheer. Almost anything else can be paired with other items to create a business casual outfit. Bring your favorite dresses, blouses, and a few pairs of nice pants / skirts. One more thing—don’t come in with a complete wardrobe. You may think you know what you like now, but as long as you have a week or two’s worth of clothes, you’ll be okay for your first semester.

You can slowly collect pieces you really love as you get inspired by the women around you and find what your unique style looks like in business casual. The PHC Women Facebook group is a great way to pick up new pieces that alumna or other students are selling. Women often pull off a twist that makes business casual uniquely theirs, whether crocheting wraps to look like they walked straight out of Lord of the Rings, dressing monochrome to give their outfit a modern pop, or using bright florals and patterns for a vintage flare. No matter what your style is, there’s a way to make business casual fit you and still be professional.

A few staples to start your capsule closet:

  • 3-4 dresses.
  • 2 pairs of pants in either black, blue, or khaki / tan (choose your two best colors).
  • 3-4 blouses.
  • 3 shirts in between casual and blouse (these are great for layering!).
  • 2 jackets—Virginia can get cold!
  • 1 nice dress coat.
  • Add your favorite sweaters, scarfs, boots, jewelry, suit coats, gloves, etc.



Good news is: dressing business casual is simple, if you find something you like, just get it in two other colors and then mix and match. If you enjoy fashion, you have just as many options as the ladies (though Hawaiian shirts are a stretch). It is worth it to have at least one nice suit for events like Faith & Reason.

If you’d rather follow a list, here’s a basic wardrobe:

  • Dress pants in black, navy, and khaki (+grey if possible).
  • Suit coats in MATCHING black and navy (+grey if possible).
  • Shirts: long sleeved button downs that fit you in red, dark blue, light blue, black, white, and one of your choice.
  • One black belt and one brown belt.
  • Ties: black, red, blue, and one of choice.
  • Dress shoes: one each of black and brown.
  • One thick, nice dress coat.
  • Add sweaters, hats, vests, polos, jackets, etc. to taste.

And don’t forget to bring casual clothes! Most students choose to change after business hours and you’ll also need them on the weekends and over breaks.


Shopping Tips

Find hand-me-downs and thrift stores—this is a lifesaver if you know where to look. You’d be surprised at the number of brand-name business clothes that are given away or donated—just keep an eye out over the summer!

Use what you already have! Chances are, you have a good number of things that are already business casual. Putting together basic or more casual items with nice pants, heels, suit coats, etc., can be a really great way to avoid having to buy totally new outfits.

Also, don’t forget you can get pieces tailored! A huge part of an outfit being comfortable and professional is that it fits you well, so it’s worth it to get nicer pieces altered. You’ll be more confident, and it’s still affordable, especially if you get the pieces from a thrift shop in the first place. Alterations usually run from around $20-40 depending on the complexity of the piece, but you can also ask around school for students who may be willing to help for less.

Happy shopping!


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