Business Casual – 5 Tips for Professional and Casual Business Dress

Are you confused about what business casual dress really means?

It’s a merging of the formal, tailored, dark & neutral colors of business wear, with the relaxed, loose, comfortable look of casual wear. It’s not weekend wear, or sportswear. It’s somewhere in between. 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 for looking stylish in business casual attire.

1. Dress for your industry and for your company. If you are meeting clients, in most companies it’s a good idea to have a jacket handy. A jacket instantly upgrades your look, and presents a polished, professional appearance.

2. Choose your accessories carefully. You many be wearing a sweater and pants, but make sure your shoes are shined and stylish. Carry a good quality leather briefcase or handbag. Invest in a sharp-looking watch with a leather or metal band. Wear a leather belt to tie your look together.

3. Coordinate colors. Yes, you are wearing a more casual look, so you don’t need to dress in charcoal grey or navy. However, consider that these neutral colors are a great basis for a capsule wardrobe. When you begin with 2 or 3 pairs of pants in black, navy or grey, you can add any color shirt or sweater and still look business-like. When you top it off with a jacket, you look ready for any business event.

4. Check your grooming. Make sure your hair is clean and has a style that suits you. Check that your fingernails are filed, with no jagged edges. Check for stale breath and 5-o’clock shadows. Sometimes we don’t realize that we look less than fresh at the end of the day, when we may be heading out to see clients.

5. Give yourself a once-over in the mirror before you step outside. Look for loose threads, missing buttons, and scuffed heels. All of these details play an even bigger part of the picture when you wear business casual attire.

Has Business Dress Changed?

The other day I was pondering the question as to whether professional business attire has really changed over the years.

Without a doubt the major change has been with the introduction of “business casual”. This movement started in the 1990’s with the casual dress style of high technology in the Silicon Valley. Today it has spread to most of the work force. Apparently 90% of all businesses have some form of business casual.  

But has professional business attire really changed? For men it has stayed pretty much the same. A man’s suit is still the official business dress and little has changed over the past 100 years. The changes occur in the details, the width of the lapel, cuffs or no cuffs, vest or no vest, cut of the suit, color selections and tie width. Men seem to have it easy.   A shirt, tie and suit are always correct.  

Women’s professional business attire has also remained consistent. When you think about it the components are still the same.  Always correct are the 2 piece skirt suit, pant suit, dress with jacket, and dress. Women have far more fashion choices and fads to deal with that complicate matters, and this sometimes leads to inappropriate choices in office attire. Like men’s clothing the basic components are the same, with skirt lengths fluctuating, shoulders and lapels getting wider or narrower, silhouettes changing and colors that come and go.  

The bottom line is stick to the basic components, and interpret the trends to stay current, fashionable and most of all professional.

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.