Business Casual Dress - Explanation/Examples
As a Human Resources Director, I have been asked many questions about appropriate dress in the workplace. Generally, the question is raised about those casual dress days when an employee might be pushing the envelope a bit about what they chose to wear to work that day. However, from time to time, I will get a question about "business casual" and what is appropriate for the normal days at work. Depending on the type of work that is to be done, there are some slight deviations from what is business casual. However, business casual does have some similarities that are recognized almost universally in the modern world of work.
Business Casual: The New Business Norm?
Business casual has become an accepted norm for many workers who must wear some form of business attire in the workplace. For those white collar and professional positions, this style of dress has become very popular with both men and women. In fact, some statistics place traditional dress, such as a suit and tie, as being in the minority in terms of percentages of what professionals choose to wear. Wikipedia cites 9% of workers wear formal business attire. Looking back at what our parents wore to work when we were growing up, we remember either a uniform of some sort or a stiff suit made of material that did not seem very comfortable. As time has gone by, changes in what clothing would work for the daily demands of balancing work and family life has required a more flexible wardrobe for many in the business world.
Examples of Business Casual
There is no specific definition of what constitutes business casual. However, there are some generally accepted examples. Consider the following:
Business Casual for Male Employees: Not surprisingly, many male employees wear khaki pants with some type of a knit/polo shirt when they go to work every day. As business casual has become more widespread and therefore accepted, there are a variety of options available to men.
- pants and shirts - For men in the workplace where business casual is accepted, a pair of khaki, navy or black trousers or pants, depending on the preference, are often matched up with a solid colored knit polo, oxford or other button up shirt. This relaxed business look has also been generally accepted by even those in nonprofessional fields where a uniform had previously been worn for different jobs. Since employers with uniformed employees want to present a look that is both neat and professional, they often choose similar styles, such as khakis with a polo shirt, because these shirts can be imprinted with a company logo or emblem. These companies may want a standard or "uniform" look but not a stiff or or polished look that will be both inappropriate and impractical for the workplace.
- jackets and ties - While the formal suit may not be a part of the business casual look, ties are still worn by many with only a button up shirt and pants. Some professionals have even been known to wear the tie and shirt with a pair of jeans and sneakers. Permitted variations of the necktie and button up shirt are possible with the approval of management.
- sweaters and vests - For colder climates, professionals may choose a sweater or sweater vest over an oxford, button up shirt. Although Mr. Rogers was known for his cardigan sweaters, those sweaters have also been seen in the workplace as part of a wardrobe where the temperatures are low. These button up sweater almost acts as a sort of sports jacket for many male employees.
- shoes - For business casual, men will want to wear some type of loafer or dress shoe with dark dress socks. Depending on the rest of the outfit, there are some variations available to men in regards to dress shoes that can be worn.
Business Casual for Female Employees: Like their male co-workers, female workers have a much more relaxed business attire that constitutes the business casual style. Professional women want to make a statement about their style in the workplace. Business casual still allows them to do so as there are a lot of variation of dress for female workers. While the khaki and button up shirts are available to female employees, most women choose others options of dress which still comply with the dress code.
- pants and skirts - Women have many colors, patterns as well as materials ,to choose from when getting ready for work. The general rule for business casual is to avoid denim as it does give off a more casual look, regardless if it is in the form of pants or a skirt. Lengths of skirts should be appropriate for the office as if it were being worn as a full suit outfit.
- blouses and tops - An effective way to look professional in a casual, yet classy manner, is to wear an attractive button up blouse. Some women also choose sweaters and cardigans to accentuate their outfit. Many popular retail stores offer some very nice sweaters that fit the workplace.
- scarves and accessories - While women generally do not wear neckties, they are known to wear colorful scarves around their necks to accent their business casual attire. Jewelry should also complement the rest of the outfit to add some individuality and color to an overall business casual look. Jewelry should not be outlandish to take away a professional impression in the business atmosphere.
- shoes - Few can argue that shoes are most important to the female employee who wears a business casual attire to work. While flip flops are not acceptable, many women choose high heeled shoes with an open toe feature. In climates that are warm, such open toe shoes are very common. In colder climates, women may choose solid stockings with boots to accentuate the outfit as well as to provide warmth. In addition, some women wear trouser socks for closed toe shoes. Classic pumps are often worn with dress slacks and skirts.
Some Closing Thoughts About Business Casual
The challenge that exists in defining what it is to dress in a business casual style is due to the variety such a style offers the employee. Both men and women can make wardrobe choices that allow for their own personal style to come through to others at work. In addition to aesthetics, many employees must rush to a soccer field or dance recital immediately after work. Being able to wear something that still looks good at the end of the day and provides the necessary comfort will add to a business casual ouftit's appeal. Whether male or female, the employee wants to portray an honest, confident individual that gains respect and admiration from co-workers and management. Business casual dress means a neat, put together, professional look that represents the company to its customers in a positive manner.
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