Business Dress Dilemma – Choosing Between Causal and Formal Work Wear

The increase in popularity of casual work wear can be traced back to the time when dot com businesses started popping up in the USA and UK and CEOs and business executives, who were becoming younger each year, deemed casual clothing, even as informal as caps and T shirts, acceptable office wear. The premise was that people are more productive if they’re comfortable. By the start of the nineties, less than a quarter of all companies had some sort of casual wear policy and by the end almost ninety percent of companies had embraced a casual wear policy. Even large multinationals, such as Coco Cola and General Motors, now have a casual dress code.   

However, some stoic employers have resisted conforming to the casual approach and have kept their dress code strictly ‘pin-stripes and ties’ professional. Casual Fridays are considered a compromise between the two dress codes, yet some companies believe that employees are less productive on this day because of the holiday atmosphere casual wear gives to the workplace. In general, companies with a casual policy prefer their employees to dress ‘business causal’ which means that jeans and revealing clothing is a definite no-no, while cotton trousers, polo neck shirts  and semi-casual dresses make the work wear grade.  

As far as employee’s attitudes go, they also tend to be in two camps. Many believe in “dressing for success”, while others think that people have a right to express their personality through their fashion at work, by having dreadlocks and displaying tattoos. As company policies have become even more sensitive to the cultural and religious beliefs of their work force, it has become even trickier to enforce dress codes and criticise people for the way they choose to dress. The generation gap between employees also poses a problem, as younger bosses and employees are more comfortable with casual work wear, while the older generations often deem it ‘inappropriate’.

An argument in favour of formal work wear, such as suits and jackets, is that it not only looks smarter than most casual wear, but is also more flattering. The moulded designs hide a multitude of sins and bring out people’s best assets, tastefully. Yet, clothing and uniform companies have managed to combine the best of both worlds, by creating fashionable and flattering casual work wear lines. This might just be the right compromise for companies who can’t solve the work wear dilemma, as well as for employees who wish to have a choice. Instead of enforcing rules for formal wear, an office could have basic guidelines for what type of casual clothes are appropriate. Alternatively, they could invest in custom made casual work wear, such as jackets embroidered with the company logo, to supply to the staff.