Business Casual: The New Dress Code
by Pat Boer
There was a time when every professional knew you wore a suit on the job and for an interview. One Fortune 500 Company even required prospective employees wear one when requesting an application.
Times have changed. Now, both men and women go to work dressed casually. Today’s question isn’t, “Should I wear black or navy?” It’s, “What’s business casual and what’s appropriate for my interview?”
In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed yet neat and pulled together. Business casual is not a license to be sloppy or dress inappropriately. That means no shorts, low-cut shirts, flip-flops, ratty jeans or T-shirts. It does mean respecting and following your company’s dress code. But what if you don’t know the company’s dress code, what to wear for an interview or even how to dress after a promotion to the executive suite?
When in doubt:
Ask Human Resources
Generally, someone in the HR department participated in planning and adopting the company’s dress code. HR may have handouts explaining the policy or can provide guidelines for business casual and what’s appropriate to wear on the job at various levels.
Read more about what business dress and business casual mean. There are books on the topic and answers all over the Web. Debra Dzwonczyk, LBJ School placement coordinator at the University of Texas, outlines the differences for men and women.
Business dress for women means a suit or tailored dress in conservative colors (black, gray, beige) with low-heeled, closed toe pumps and conservative jewelry. For men, business dress means a conservative suit, not a sports coat, plus a long-sleeved shirt, tie and leather oxfords or loafers.
Business casual means a tie isn’t necessary. Khakis with a long-sleeved shirt are popular. For women, it’s a dress, skirt and blouse, or slacks and blouse with flat heels allowed.
Go to the stores to get a sense of the latest styles. Observe what the mannequins wear, particularly, at stores catering to business casual clients like Nordstrom’s, Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic or J. Crew.
Trust Your Instincts
Male or female, reluctant shopper or not, experts say no matter what’s appropriate, it needs to fit well and you need to feel comfortable in it. If it doesn’t, you need to keep looking. Shop around, try some stuff on, see what looks good to you and feels appropriate, then head to the register.
Consult a Personal Shopper
When all else fails, enlist the help of an expert. Most better clothing stores have personal shoppers or trained salespeople who can advise you. They’ll help you choose and plan for a business wardrobe, paying particular attention to what’s appropriate in your locale or region of the country. As a free service, this is one resource the fashion-challenged should take advantage of.
By learning the company’s dress code and using resources either on the Web or through consultants at clothing stores, you’ll soon find your own style and what’s appropriate for your situation. You may even discover all you need to do is loosen your tie or switch to a sweater set to be dressed appropriately for today’s new dress codes.
Business Casual Conundrum