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Business casual attire ranges from coat and tie to well-pressed jeans, with the moderate range being chinos and Oxford shirts. But those conventional dress codes are for men: women usually look too casual in chinos, and in trying to find a semi-professional look, the proper business casual office wardrobe can become a confusing quagmire of bad fashion choices.

If you want to stay on the upper end of business casual, your best bet is to wear skirts more often than pants to work. As sexist as it is, people of both genders and all ages still perceive women to be better-dressed (and thus, more professional-looking) when wearing skirts. Business casual means you don't have to shell out the big bucks for a suit-skirt: you can go with slightly tailored chino, cotton, linen or wool skirts. Like professional skirts, business casual skirts should fall slightly below or above the knee, with occasional forays into long skirts being acceptable in autumn and winter. Mini-skirts should not be part of the business casual wardrobe; nor should midriff-baring tops, running shoes, or anklets.

Colorful accessories can define your personal business casual style

In business casual dress codes, you can play around more with color, but if you want to build a look that's polished, save the ultra-trendy clothes for the weekend. Bring bright colors into your wardrobe by way of scarves, but keep your clothes in the neutral range for maximum professionalism with minimal economic investment.

Womens business casual looks don't have to mimic men's fashions
The recent trend in fitted cotton-spandex blend tops (cuffs, lapels and nipped-in waist), provides today's working woman with a blouse that doesn't have to be tucked in, that fits nicely and that looks tailored as well. They're available in a range of colors, and can be worn with skirts or pants. The most common mistake with these tops is to wear them too tight, which can look pretty tacky. If they fit well, they create a put-together look without much work or expense on your part.

Business casual shoes appropriate for the workplace
Loafers, low-heeled pumps, and strappy sandals can all work in the business-casual environment. (Don't pay attention to websites that list flip-flops as summertime career shoes: they are not.) Match your shoes to your overall look, and if you wear sandals, make sure your feet and toenails look neat. Boots are fine in cool weather, and you may choose a style that comes an inch or two below the knee, or shorter, ankle-top boots.

Some colorful jewelry and makeup is okay for a business casual outfit

Jewelry and makeup can be a bit brighter and more playful than it is in professional dress, but try to keep your style consistent across each outfit. I have a friend who spent some time at school in the Midwest, and one of her overriding memories was of university secretaries who wore business casual skirts with holiday-themed earrings, red plastic Santa's dangling from their earlobes, or jack-o'-lantern pins stapled across fuzzy, orange sweaters. It's easy to go wrong with jewelry, but if you keep it simple and only wear a couple of pieces at a time, you'll be safe. (I said "no anklets, under any circumstances," already, didn't I?")

Key to Dressing in Business Casual at the Office
The key to a successful working wardrobe is to dress better than your co-workers (and your boss) without anyone really being able to say how you do it. It's more about style than expense, and if you start with a couple of skirts, a couple of tailored-looking pairs of pants and a half-dozen tops to match, you're on your way. Avoiding trendy looks (boat-necks, three-quarter sleeves, anything slinky or glittery) means you'll have an easier time matching pieces, and the stuff you acquire won't go out of season as easily. For major wardrobe staples, staying with neutral colors (off-white, chino, taupe, gray, brown, dark blue) will help you create and add to your cache of separates.