Ask 5 people to define business casual and you will get 5 different answers. This is the problem with business casual, the rules aren’t clear.

Prior to the 1990’s, dressing for the office was easy – you dressed up. Suits and ties for men and pantyhose and makeup for women were all part of the dress for success ethos. You could count on being appropriately dressed for work if you followed the rules.

However, all that changed with the rise of techie start-up culture in the Silicon Valley. Suddenly, “chic” was synonymous with “Geek” and the trend of dressing down for work, dubbed “business casual” became fashionable. Law firms embraced the trend and in an instant, suits, ties and pantyhose were only worn at client meetings, court appearances and other official functions. I was among the women who danced in the streets; pantyhose were dead. But, there was a price to be paid for our freedom.

Ten years later, and still waiting for a clear definition of “business casual,” some of us still struggle with what to wear to work. As much as we love dressing down, sometimes casual clothes just aren’t business appropriate. So, what should we do?

Surprisingly, the solution is to buy a suit. I am not suggesting a return to the frumpy suits and big hairstyles of yesteryear. Rather, I am suggesting that conservative suits serve as an anchor for clothing that is otherwise too casual for the workplace.

Here is how it works:

Begin with a classically tailored suit in a subdued color – black, tan, blue and gray are good choices. For women, a three-piece suit (jacket, skirt and pants) will work nicely. For men, add a coordinating blazer and slacks to your traditional two piece suit. Then simply mix and match the suit’s components with less structured and casual work clothes. You will be able to create a wide variety of work appropriate, business casual outfits. And because business suits tend to withstand fickle fashion trends, you won’t need to buy a new wardrobe every year.

You will save time and money and look great too! What a concept.

By Stayce Wagner, Spencer Crane Etiquette, LLC/All rights reserved
Originally published on The Paralegal Society, hosted by Jamie Collins