Many companies began instituting a business casual dress code many years ago with the creation of “Casual Friday.” Over the last ten to fifteen years, casual Friday has turned into everyday for many businesses. If you find yourself in a business casual environment, care should be taken in the choices of work attire. An employee in this environment must remember that casual or not, their appearance makes the first impression, and each employee will, at some point, be the “face” of the company to someone. Gentlemen, business casual means much more than khaki pants and a polo golf shirt. Don’t be afraid to show some personality through your appearance, just be sure to show some restraint. For example, T-shirts, either printed or plain, have no place in a professional workplace. Also, do everyone you work with a favor and do not wear any shoe that exposes your feet. Leave the sandals for the beach and always wear socks to work.
Now that we have looked at two rules that should be considered unbreakable, let’s tackle some options that the business casual man does have.
Believe it or not, this is an option in the business casual environment. Today’s suits are designed to be more versatile. Many styles can be worn without a tie or with a crew or mock neck shirt. A sweater can even be added during the colder months.
The main thing to remember is that it is still a suit. It should be worn only after being pressed and cleaned. Also, be sure the pants have a clean and crisp crease. You can dress the suit down, but it still has its place and appeal. The point of the dressed down suit is to look more casual and relaxed, but still look sharp and well put together. In terms of keeping the suit in good shape, try not to have it cleaned any more than four times a year. Dry cleaning too much can compromise the fabric.
Today, there are too many options available to touch on each. The important thing to remember about the sportcoat is, much like the suit, look for versatility. Many jackets can be worn in a business casual environment by day and dressed down with a nice pair of jeans by night. Also, be sure to keep it in good condition, just like the suit.
There is a difference between a sportcoat and a Blazer. Really, no man should be without a Navy Blazer in his closet. This is simply one of those items that every man can use at some point, and in this man’s opinion, it is just as necessary as a pair of jeans or khakis. Stick with wool for your Blazer because it just looks and feels better than blended fabrics. The blazer is not as casual as many sportcoats, but, like the suit, it can be dressed down and keep that well put together look.
I cannot say this enough, but do not wear t-shirts, printed or solid to work. They simply are not appropriate in a professional environment. The three options here are polo or golf shirts, mock neck shirts, or button-up shirts. Mock neck shirts come in a variety of fabrics and look great under suits and sportcoats. Polo shirts also come in variety of colors and fabrics and are a fairly traditional option for business casual.
More and more men are wearing button-up shirts, normally worn with a tie, with an open collar. The important thing here is to be sure to keep them clean and pressed. Just because the look is less formal doesn’t mean it should be sloppy. There are several different collar choices, from button down, to spread, to pinpoint. There is really no rule here, but my suggestion is to try all styles and choose what you are most comfortable wearing.
Another note about button-up shirts is the French-cuff shirt. It has become far more acceptable to wear a tasteful French-cuff shirt with a nice set of cufflinks, without the tie. It adds a little touch of a classic look without dressing you up too much. Again, this is another one of those personal preference things. My suggestion is to give it a try. If you don’t like it, don’t wear it.
Don’t wear jeans to work. Now that we have dealt with that, what should you wear? Khaki pants are a very traditional option. Be sure the ones you wear to work are clean with a crisp crease, and that they fit properly. Wearing these everyday can make you seem, well…boring.
Change things up with charcoal, black, or olive. Even a pair of gray pants can work with the right shirt and jacket. We come to another personal preference with pleats versus flat front. Again try both and go with comfort.
Something to be mindful of is how you wear your pants. Many men (most men) in America unfortunately have a bit of a gut (including yours truly). Stop fooling yourself and stop hiking up your pants twenty times a day. If you have a gut, accept it and don’t wear the pants below your true waist line. You may think it looks better, but it doesn’t. Actually, it makes your stomach look bigger because it hangs over the waist of the pants. One option here is to add a pair of bracers. Bracers are becoming much more acceptable for men under 70 years old. In fact, I know many men that can’t stand wearing a belt now that they were willing to take the leap of faith and try a pair of bracers.
Do not wear tennis shoes, sandals, or flip flops. This is simply poor taste. Look for a nice dress shoe, either lace up or slip on, and keep them polished. By the way, stick with the basic colors such as black, brown, or burgundy. While your taste may lean towards the indigo dress shoes, they simply are not professional.
There you have it. Business casual done right is really not that difficult, but many men would rather have a root canal than spend much time on how they dress. If you are that guy, and you just can’t get it right, your best bet is to visit your local men’s store. Make sure it s a men’s store, not one of the big anchor retailers in a mall. Any rep at a men’s store worth his salt will be able to give you great advice.
In order to compete in the employment market, employers in the 90s searched for creative options to attract new employees and retain present ones. What they came up with is casual Fridays or dress down days. They may have borrowed it from a Hawaiian tradition that started in the city of Honolulu in 1947. Businesses in the city of Honolulu allowed their workers to wear the Aloha shirt part of the year. By the 60s the term “Aloha Friday” was born. The trend for casual dress had made its way to California as the computer industry blossomed in the 70s. The very first computer “geeks” are often cited as the first to bring casual dress to the professional work place. In 1975 John Molloy criticized harshly businesses that were allowing men to wear the infamous leisure suit in place of a formal suit. A series of Levi Strauss & Co. surveys were quoted during the 1990s to show the rise of casual business dress. By 1992, 26% of businesses in the United States reported offering at least one casual day. Companies allowing casual dress every day rose to 33% in 1995 and 53% in 1997. Today, 90% of all US companies have a casual day of some kind, 1/3 of all companies allow casual clothing every day, and more than 40% of all companies have expanded their casual dress options in the last three years.
The modern business casual dress code is tricky and depends on the business. For the financial area or banking, casual is bit more on the formal side. Try apparel that’s different than the traditional business suit, but still appropriate for a boardroom like blazers, oxfords, vests, ties, and scarves. In a less high tech field, Golf shirts rein supreme, as well as denims, chambray shirts, fashion fleece, sweaters and turtlenecks. The trick is to coordinate your separates into a polished look that is suitable for your profession.
Smart companies that recognize the value of high morale and a strong brand image will often give branded apparel for holidays, special occasions, and as incentives that can be worn on casual days. This allows them to set the standard for casual dress for their company culture.
Business casual dress causes a great deal of confusion in the workplace. What exactly should you wear? Are jeans acceptable?
Here’s an explanation of what business casual means, and how you can put together a wardrobe that still looks professional.
Business casual dress is a combination of the formal, dark colors of business wear, with the relaxed, comfortable look of casual wear. But be careful. It’s not weekend wear, or sportswear. It’s somewhere in the middle ground. It combines the professionalism of business dress with the comfort of casual dress, to create a smart, polished office look that’s a step below business formal.
Here are 5 tips to guide you in planning your wardrobe.
1. If you wear business formal dress (a suit) to work everyday, and are now allowed to wear business casual on Fridays, dress one notch down. So you can wear a jacket and pants, but men can remove their tie. Or women can wear a pants suit instead of a suit with a jacket.
2. If your company allows you to wear business casual dress every day, when you are working in the office or for sales meetings, you still need to look professional. You don’t have to wear a suit, but you should wear neat separates. This would include a crisp blouse or shirt, or a nice sweater with pressed business pants (or skirt for women).
3. Keep a jacket handy for unexpected meetings or client visits. Most companies that allow business casual in the office still want their employees to dress up when meeting clients.
4. Dress to make your clients feel comfortable. Even if your office is informal, if you visit clients who are more formal or conservative, it’s a good idea to dress to match their environment. You’ll make a better impression, because you are showing them respect when you dress up.
5. Ditch the jeans. Few companies allow jeans with business casual. If you work in an extremely casual environment, such as in software development, and your clients dress the same way, or you don’t meet with clients, jeans may be alright. Again, take your clues from your boss or manager, and from the people you meet with.
Putting together a polished, professional business wardrobe takes time and thought.
Do you know the biggest business wardrobe mistakes? Find out with this free report:
What is Business Casual?
Ask ten different people and everyone would have a different interpretation on what it is, and what can be worn. This has lead to dress down confusion and frequently inappropriate office attire. The key word is “business”. Business casual is not casual dress, but a more casual way of business dressing versus business formal. Problems arise when business casual in the workplace gets too casual. It is not weekend casual, sporting event casual, gym wear such as jogging suits, night club attire, or beach wear. Business Casual means dressing in a professional more relaxed way, yet still looking neat and pulled together.
Whether business casual is designated to Friday or everyday, clarity should be provided in a business casual dress policy. The policy should provide specific guidelines to the employees. Employees who call on clients should be asked to keep a change of clothing in case they have to go outside the office to see a client.
Clothing should be pressed, clean, and not show signs of wear.
No offensive clothing that has words or pictures that could offend others.
No clothing that reveals too much cleavage, your back, chest, stomach or your underwear.
Clothing shouldn’t be too tight or too baggy.
If jeans are allowed they should be dress jeans in a dark denim.
Guidelines For Women:
Casual pressed pants, tailored pants or dressy capris. Avoid shorts and leggings.
Skirts. Avoid too short, floor length and high slits.
Tops: Collared shirts, conservative sweaters, cardigans and sweater sets.
Casual dresses. Avoid party dresses, floor length dresses, and sundresses.
Hosiery is not essential in the summer for business casual.
Shoes: Can be opened toed or a dressy sandal for the summer. Avoid thongs, flip flops or beach like sandals. In the winter a closed toe shoe or conservative boot.
Jewelry: Avoid extremes.
Guidelines For Men:
A sports jacket
Collared Shirt, polo shirts, knit shirts with collars
Ties are not necessary
Dress sweaters such as a turtleneck or crewneck
Tailored pants, Khakis
Shoes can be more casual such as a loafer. Avoid sandals, flip flops, athletic shoes and hiking boots.
One last word of advice, think business before casual.
Pat Elke, Founding President of Advancing With Style is a leading authority and executive advisor in the areas of professional image, business and social etiquette, workplace civility, international business etiquette, and cultural awareness.
Since 1982 she has worked with over 600 corporations and delivered more than 1500 seminars worldwide. Clients range from Fortune 500 companies to government agencies, and from political leaders to financial CEO’s.