In the past 15 years, corporate America has seen tremendous change in the workplace. Perhaps one of the most notable has been the blurring of the line that separates traditional business attire and classic business casual dress. Ask anyone in the business world what their interpretation of business casual is and the answer you get will be as varied as the taste and personality of the people you ask.
Editor Mary Lou Andre of Needham, MA-based dressingwell.com (www.dressingwell.com) explains that dressing for success has little to do with fashion and everything to do with comfort and a corporate culture that reflects the attitudes, expectations, and performance of a company as much as its furniture, carpet, and washroom facilities. “Professional dress in the marketplace has evolved greatly over the last decade,” she says. “Business casual first entered the marketplace in the early ’90s, during the last recession when folks were doing a lot of lay-offs. The people left behind had more work to do, less benefits, and fewer people to do [the work]. Companies decided to let employees dress more casually as a cost-effective benefit. The trend originated on the West Coast, [but] really overnight crept east and became one of the biggest employee benefits of the ’90s.”
In the late-1990s, the dot-comers drove the business world into thinking that business grunge was the wave of the future: Mixing recess with sloppy dress codes, long hours, and “I need it yesterday” mentalities became formulas for success. Today’s business leaders understand that the dot-com dress down craze was more about monkey business than anything else. As a result, they are instituting tighter guidelines for determining exactly what business casual is.
“It’s a fact that people will judge how serious you are about your job by how professionally you dress. For men, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear a suit and tie to work every day. For business meetings, client/customer visits, etc. …, a dress suit and tie are often good choices. Within the office setting, a more casual dress may be the accepted and preferred dress code,” explains Andre, noting a further benefit of business casual:
“Too often in the workplace if a man removes his jacket and tie, he is seen as dedicated. If a woman takes off her jacket, she has just demoted herself. It’s an unspoken double standard that shouldn’t exist in the workplace, and also one that business casual dress codes are eliminating by leveling the playing field.”
Dressing up is always a better choice than dressing down, but being comfortable in what you are wearing is especially paramount to success. “Don’t sacrifice comfort for the sake of trendy,” says Andre. “You will always come across more confident and more capable in clothing that balances your good taste with a conservative sense of style.”
Clara M.W. Vangen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.