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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 4:27 pm | Fair 62º


The Dos and Don’ts of Dressing Business Casual

Laid back is OK, especially in sunny Santa Barbara, but here are fashion tips to avoid taking it too far

We’ve all seen that guy. Hawaiian shirt, khaki pants and sandals. No, he wasn’t at a luau; he was at a luncheon at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Montecito trying to dress business casual. Don’t be that guy.

Most of us understand that Santa Barbara is a “laid-back” town, but some take it too far. So far that Stevie Wonder would do a double-take and say, “So What the Fuss?” Business casual can be a misleading, undefined term, so give the aforementioned guy a little credit.

But there are some parts of an outfit that can make or break business casual attire.

Ask Paige Kensil, a sales associate at Banana Republic at Paseo Nuevo, who has to dress business casual everyday. She was wearing a long, light gray cardigan over a tiered cotton flapper dress divided by white, pink and lavender horizontal segments. She also had on dark gray leggings and black shin-high boots, with a wide, white waisted belt with a gold buckle complemented by a delicate gold headband that sprouted gold leaves.

“Hawaiian is not good,” she said. “Stay away from bad prints.”

Distressed is out, she added — no holes, no embellishments, no destroyed denim. Err on the side of conservative. Anything too short or low-cut will get you in trouble, she advised.

But in general, most agreed jeans are acceptable, if complemented with the right accessories.

“The current trend (for men) is dark jeans with the least amount of distress and ornamentation, a collared untucked patterned shirt underneath a jacket,” Nordstorm men’s clothing salesman Daniel Boggs said. “It’s all about the shoes. Everyone seems to be wearing nice Italian oxford dress shoes.”

He added that a jacket and a collared shirt can be business formal, “but lose the tie.”

Fair enough. What else should we stay away from?

Sophie Baker, a UCSB graduate who works as an executive assistant in a law firm, was found perusing the 40 percent off sale at Banana Republic. She was wearing an oversized Banana Republic cream sweater, black leggings, black Steve Madden closed-toed flats, a neat bun, a BCBG white watch with a gold face and a long gold necklace.

“Unkempt hair — it can make or break an outfit,” she said.

Nordstrom men’s shoes department manager Kevin Flint was wearing a navy blue velvet blazer, blue collared shirt, green patterned tie, off-white corduroys and tan Allen Edmonds shoes matched by a tan belt. Minus the tie, it would’ve fallen under business casual. He said the term is defined by the weather, and you hardly see any full suits walking around Santa Barbara.

“There’s not a lot of young people working in this town so the trend is more conservative, but it leans toward the comfort side just as much,” said Flint, adding that it will be interesting to see how H&M will be received when it moves in on State Street.

I walked into one store and asked, “How do you define business causal?”

“Dude, are you serious?” the sales associate replied. “You know you’re in Heritage.”

Oh, yeah. My bad. I made a wrong turn at Hipster Street and fell into the forgotten offshoot of Forever 21. Thanks for your help.

Kensil said women should go with knits if they’re looking for something more formal to go with woven. She said one item can tie the entire outfit together, whether it’s a high-waisted belt or a long necklace.

“Women can get away with anything if they wear the right accessories,” Baker said.

Regardless of the exact look, if someone isn’t comfortable the outfit is shot, Nordstrom men’s shoes salesman Shawn Johnston said.

“A lot of people try to fit into an image they are not. Go for comfort, not for the price,” he said. “If you are in your 20s, wearing pinch tassel loafers and a cardigan, older guys might appreciate it but your peers may not.”

Boggs recommends that when in doubt, overdress.

“Try to get inside the head of your boss. See what the boss is wearing on a Friday and try to match that,” he said. “Also, dress for the position you want, not the one you have.”

What is business casual in Santa Barbara? Let’s break it down in a list.

» It’s definitely more relaxed, but sandals and pretentious prints are not acceptable.

» Mix-and-match skirts and sweaters, or for the men, blazers and patterned shirts.

» Style your hair.

» Wear denim with caution. Make sure to dress it up with a cardigan or blazer. Belts are a must.

» If wearing a tie, don’t wear a blazer and definitely not a suit. Keep it simple with slacks and a tucked-in, buttoned-down patterned shirt.

» Experiment with accessories, such as a belt or long necklace. Maybe a sweater or suit vest for guys.

» There’s no true definition. Most important, be comfortable by being yourself.

Tell Noozhawk what you think should be avoided when dressing business casual by submitting a comment below.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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