5 Tips For Choosing the Best Business Casual Clothing

In the last ten years or so, the way people dress for work has changed dramatically from a generation ago. If you take a look around a typical downtown city center in America these days, more than half the people are wearing business casual clothing, such as jeans, tee shirts, and sports shoes. While there are still those professionals who wear classic corporate clothes such as suits, more and more people are enjoying the buttoned-down look of casual business attire.

Like any other cross section of humanity, people wearing casual business attire vary in style. Whether you are going to meet up with a potential client at the local coffee shop or enjoy a nice celebration dinner with a favorite colleague, there are some good rules of thumb to consider when considering your casual business attire.

They are:

1. If you like jeans, Choose ones that are free from tears, rips, studs, chains, or other decorations. Save these for a night out with your friends at the dance club. Also, make sure they are not too low cut. Showing off the thong while dining with important clients is not the message you want to send! While jeans are becoming more and more accepted in business situations, common sense still should be your guide when looking for a pair to slip into for your day at work. There are a variety of sophisticated washes and styles now in jeans to meet just about anyone’s business taste.

2. Business casual clothing should be presentable, but that does not mean it has to be boring! Remember that many creative and freelance professionals enjoy expressing their personalities through their clothes. What to wear to work should be a reflection of what you do, so it is okay to jazz up an outfit with a pretty scarf or a fun jacket if you are more artsy, or put together a more tailored look with a blazer, turtleneck sweater, and slacks if you are more conservative.

3. Think about who you will most often interact with throughout the day when selecting your business casual clothing. Choose key foundation pieces that can be dressed up or down depending on your schedule and events. I always like to have a good supply of dressy tee-shirts in my closet that I can pair with a beautiful coat or leather jacket or even a cashmere cardigan. For guys, tee shirts are fine as long as they ares void of offensive images or language, unless you happen to be in the kind of business that encourages that sort of thing. Also, it is best to leave the sleeveless muscle tees at home unless you are meeting clients for a game of beach volleyball.

4. Business casual clothing also includes footwear, and once again, common sense prevails here. There are so many great choices these days for both men and women that extend beyond the proverbial wing-tip and pump. Boots, flats, even athletic shoes pass as acceptable footwear in today’s casual business attire climate. They key is to choose shoes that fit well and allow you to walk comfortably, especially if you work in an urban environment.

5. Finally, business casual does not equal sloppy or anything goes. Humans are quick to judge each other on how we look, so it is worth taking the time to choose a basic workable wardrobe and invest accordingly. A very good friend of mine who is a professional fashion consultant suggests that no matter what, every business casual professional should own a really good coat or jacket. This goes for both men and women. Again, the style is not as important as is the quality and the fact that you feel good when you wear it.

When trying to make money in a competitive business world, knowing what casual business attire is and is not can do wonders for your bottom line. In general, use the wisdom of the 3 P’s my Mom passed on to me when I was getting ready to enter the professional world: Would my Parents, Principal,and Priest give me the thumbs up about what I have on? Perhaps a bit old-fashioned to some readers out there, but in all fairness, those age-old ideas last for a very good reason. And with so many choices today in business casual, it’s better to be safe than wish you had checked to make sure your underwear wasn’t showing through a hole in your jeans when trying to land that lucrative client!

Business Casual

Did you know that the whole business casual fashion was started by an oil crisis? It’s true. Back in the 70’s we went through one of the first real shortages of oil and OPEC became a household name. The government in part of its response to the shortage asked all businesses to up the thermostat setting in their air conditioned work spaces to cut down on electrical power and thereby save on oil that fired those electrical power plants.

You probably already know that a suit and tie are not really designed to be worn in an 80 degree environment. So the memo comes down from management basically saying that formal business attire is not required during the national air conditioning crisis and business casual was born as a fashion.

That memo back in the 70’s typically defined business casual by defining what was not acceptable rather than what was. Pantyhose still had to be worn by women. Jeans, T shirts, sandals, shorts and basically anything that management deemed inappropriate was specifically banned. As a result, business casual meant no jacket and no tie for many men and it didn’t mean much more for women.

When the crisis passed so did the business casual dress for everyday. Replacing it was “Casual Friday” a human resources gimmick to make everyone feel good about the company just before the weekend. And then something happened. The fashion industry smelled a new market and started promoting the idea that companies that were cutting edge and hip, like two new hot stocks Microsoft and Apple, understood the value of letting their employees have some freedom in dress rather than conforming to the company uniform.

Today 43% of all businesses have a casual dress code.

While each organization sets its own idea of what casual is, typically their policies include some common ground. The employment counseling office at American University defines business casual as half way between business formal and street wear. They give their graduates looking for a job this guidance on what is and isn’t casual business.

For women it’s a skirt or an informal dress so long as the length is appropriates (no minis). The skirt can be topped with a dress shirt, polo, sweater or sweater set. Pants are OK so long as they are full length and not made of denim. For men it’s a collared shirt, casual slacks, a belt and shoes with socks. The shirt has to be tucked in and the pants can’t be jeans.

Now understand that American University is located near Embassy Row in Washington DC so their idea of casual is just a tad more formal than say businesses in Los Angeles. The bottom line is the company sets the standard but in almost every case, regardless of the restrictions; working in casual dress is just so much more comfortable than a suit. Thank you OPEC.

What Is Business Casual?

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.