Business casual today is the buzzword in the world of corporate attire. It feels like the entire stress about what to wear to work has come to an end, or has it really?
Can business casual attire really address the concern about making business clothes appear casual?
Can you dress down and yet not look like you are headed to the pub or the beach perhaps?
Well, business casual is seen as the ultimate answer to all those queries. Often for employers who want to make the office atmosphere a lot easier and comfortable, business casual attire provides just the right type of alternative. So then the question is how exactly you would define business casual. How exactly is this different from conventional business wear? The understanding about the key element of your clothing that is avoided here is important. While conventional corporate attire is stiff, business casual attire strives to break the glass wall and bring in the natural body fluidity and allows comfort to rein over proper, comfortable gets an edge above stiff and tight.
Definition of Business Casual Attire
If you look out to define what exactly is business casual attire, Wikipedia throws up a rather interesting response.
It defines business casual as a rather ‘ambiguously-defined dress code.’ Perhaps in the selection of the word ambiguous, it narrates many untold stories. It highlights the fact that business casual attire as adopted by professionals world over is about corporate clothing that has taken a slightly more casual color. Think about the concept of casual Friday and then looking at an extension of the same concept in a broader perspective. You can then grasp the core thinking that’s dictated the basics of what we look at the business casual now. In fact, it won’t be wrong to say that there is no clear definition of business casual attire or a consensus on what can be actually defined as thus.
A quick search on the internet indicates that it includes the likes of Chinos, khaki pants, skirts and even slacks in some cases. Jeans, tennis shoes and other athletic wear is a strict no, but normally short sleeved polo shirts and long sleeved shirts are also introduced in this category. Another source indicates that they define business casual attire on the basis of the choice of color.
It includes black, gray, navy and various white shades.
Moreover crisp seams and pressed down were important elements of what constituted this kind of dress code. Perhaps the reference to classic clean look without a full suit comes closest to the overall definition of the business casuals most appropriately. One basic point that comes across a strict no is, of course, absolutely no athletic wear whatsoever and nothing that you would go to clubs or pubs. Though the overall concept of these clothes remains unique globally, don’t let the term casual confuse you in any way. The casual most times defines the color that you choose or the lack of a full suit.
The trick is not to get too ‘casual about casual’. However, the manifestation of business casual has been seen as different in countries, and invariably the individual aspirations and beliefs of different communities have a lot to do with what is worn exactly. This further increases that diversity that you must accommodate within the entire gamut of business casuals and its potential manifestation in the work wear that you select eventually. The employer-employee connect is a key deciding factor as well.
Comfort & Trend Predominant in Business Casual
I think one of the most cardinal points to remember when you are looking at the various elements of business casual; it is extremely important to note the core thinking. The very idea of business casual comes from the fact that at some point of time, corporates realized that a full suit might not be such a plausible alternative at all times. Moreover, with globalization becoming a key element of business growth, business attire also had to change to the change in requirement and comfort of people in different countries. Let’s understand first what is one of the most popular business wear or corporate clothing. It is undeniably the full suit.
Now, where did the full suit originate and used the most?
It is predominantly European apparel that was made popular by US as well. Now think of the weather in Europe and major part of US. It is predominantly temperate with a rather harsh winter.
As a result, the business clothes were adapted to this key factor.
The idea was to provide maximum comfort and protection from the various weather forces that one has to deal with. Now, look at how current business climate has adapted as per the weather conditions. You have to understand that as businesses grow, geographical boundaries do not matter. Business attire too has seen the same progress, and that is how the world over today; the full suit is considered as the undeniable king of corporate clothing. But the problem is not every country experiences harsh winters or cool summers. There are many where summers are oppressive and winters almost non-existent and imagine the torture, it would be to ask someone wear a full suit in that condition.
As a result, this unique clothing concept of business casual attire came into being. It is a concept where the core principles of a full suit are intact, for both men and women, yet the comfort aspect has been introduced.
Perhaps examples would work better to make my point.
What are some of the most popular business casual options for men and women?
It is invariably a combination of chinos and shirt with or without a tie for men and a skirt-blouse pair with jacket or sweater for women along with closed shoes for both.
So now think about how this is different from conventional corporate clothing for men and women?
You would notice everything that is business casual attire is invariably corporate clothing without the stiff or uncomfortable elements that often make all the difference. You don’t have the tie, the jacket is optional in most cases, and the overall basic formal attire is intact. Only the embellishments are missing. Therefore, you can understand very well what I mean by comfort and trend. It is keeping the basic trend in place, addressing the key constituents on a corporate outfit in place but does not make it unnecessarily uncomfortable and stiff and suits many kinds of weather.
Cool Colors for Business Casual Attire
Apart from the constituents of a business casual, another important aspect that plays a deciding factor is the color. See right at the beginning; I mentioned that personal comfort is a key factor in business casual attire. So how do you create this? Well, the color and the fabric of course. Colors form a very crucial element of your dress-up scheme, especially for office. Perhaps that is the reason that most times you see business outfits in shades of blue, gray, charcoal black and such muted shades. Overall, there is nothing flashy or too attention grabbing.
Some of the most classic color combinations in business casual are undoubtedly black and white or blue and white or gray and blue. Have you wondered whether this is a mere coincidence or suddenly the color preferences of every employee converge at a certain point?
Isn’t it surprising?
Today, it is almost accepted that these are more or less the formal colors that comprise of sober and suitable workplace wear. It is both a cool and comfortable color option all at once and creates positive vibes amongst those who see or interact with you. That apart, when you consider the colors of business casual attire, you will find invariably cool and comfortable options. Irrespective of whether you wear these colors at the height of winter in the Scandinavian region or on the hottest day in an equatorial corporate hub, you will remain comfortable, and within the construct of business casual.
It could be muted shades of blue, black, white, beige or light pastels like pink and sea green for women. But these are colors that can help you feel comfortable without grabbing unnecessary attention for it. Compare this to a flashy red or gold outfit or some flashy print on a shirt, it would surely turn heads but would it be a positive manner?
Invariably, if you dress up too flashily in the workplace, you end up grabbing unnecessary attention in a wrong way. It would often mean that people would talk about it, ridicule or sometimes not even take that employee seriously on the basis of the kind of outfit they choose.
The Color of the Business Casuals
Most times, the color of the business casuals is also a huge indicator of the way we perceive people. Invariably you would notice cool colors make you respect and look at individuals in a positive manner. In contrast, when you look at someone in flashy or very bright shades or even inappropriate design, somehow the first reaction is raising a question mark on an individual’s efficiency and capability. There will be more than adequate questions about the person’s credibility as well. So just imagine, what risk you might be taking if you wanted to wear comfortable clothes but chose inappropriate designs or colors due to lack of understanding about business casual. Therefore, you can clearly understand that business casual attire is as much about the concept as the color.
Check with Company Policies on Business Casual
But as I already mentioned, often business casual sees minor adjustments as per the cultural and corporate needs of a specific region. For example, a muted and a clean cut churidar suit or even saree is part of business casual in a country like India, or in many Islamic nations, the hijab will be a necessary element in business casuals. But these are not elements that are mandatory or prevalent everywhere.
It is very closely linked to the needs of the region, and the specific office policies that you might be having. When you are joining a new workplace, it is always advisable to check with the company’s specific policies. You can ask the HR representative about the specific policies they might have for different days and exactly what they interpret as business casual attire. Perceptions are very important. In your workplace, you have to manage it effectively and in your interest at all times, and in every possible way that you can. At least on the first day, it is always better to dress conservatively. Gradually look around, see what your co-workers are wearing and understand the approach that your company might have in this regard.
Business casual is today pretty extensive by virtue of its ambiguity.
Wearing casual attire might be unacceptable in one office. This is also, at times, for the simple reason that the perception and expectation of different offices differ. Moreover, often the environment and the sector that your office belongs to, play a crucial role. For example, a legal firm will be more uptight in dressing as compared to an IT Hub. For that matter, business casual in a start-up will be very different from that of an old firm. It is possible; one company might describe business casual as usual corporate clothing without the suit or the tie while others might go a step further and even encourage jeans and khakis in the workplace.
Remember in many ways, what comprises a business casual becomes the benchmark of their overall approach and understanding of employee concerns. They could use it as a platform to either promote a liberal thinking or rather maintain their conservative approach through the dress code and the business casual attire that they might allow in their offices subtly passes on that message.
Look Around and Learn What’s Accepted Business Casual in Your Office
But we all understand that sometimes just checking with HR would not be sufficient clue as to what is an accepted business casual for your workplace. Often it can be rather confusing. It could be like you can wear comfortable formals. Now does it mean you must wear business pants or skirts if you are a woman?
That’s a valid question but how do you get to understand the right answer?
Well, one simple option is just to look around, check what other women are wearing and you can decide on the basis of that. Another confusing option for you as a woman would be sleeveless as business casual in your workplace. Or as a man, do you stick to only Oxfords in terms of the right footwear to go with business casual?
Well, while these are all very valid concerns and often make or mar your impression in office, it is hard to find a definitive answer most times. So then, how do you go about this basic problem, what could be the option to get around this confusion?
Well yet again, it would be better to observe, look around and see how your co-workers dress up.
The Type of Business Casual That You Need to Choose
This will give you a clear idea about the type of business casual that you need to choose. Of course, it always makes sense to keep your dressing rather conservative during the initial few days as you will need time to see, observe and make adjustment accordingly. Also sometimes for men, it is important to understand whether half-sleeved shirt counts as business casual in your office. Many firms still stick to cuff-linked full-sleeved shirts without jacket as their business casual wear. The jury is out on that one too.
While some firms even allow polo T-shirt on certain days, some firms might be more strict and don’t even allow half sleeved shirts. You must probe that and be careful about how you add to your cupboard. You must also observe if the day of the week is important. Some companies might have a specific day allocated when they allow business casual. On other days, they might be rather conservative and would prefer to stick to the conventional corporate style. You have to pay attention to these factors at all times.
Keep Business Casuals Strictly for Regular Wear Post Selection
You have to understand that however broad-minded or liberal a company might be in terms of the dress-up style it allows, it is never for interviews and initial selection time. For these occasions, it is a much better idea to stick to conventional formals and also a composed approach. This will make sure that you are taken seriously and the company will explore opportunities of working with you in a constructive and long-term fashion at all cost. They say, often the way you dress and the kind of footwear you choose says a lot about your personality.
Therefore, when you are choosing business casual, don’t go too overboard with the casual element. It is always a good idea to stick to tried and tested combinations. You can keep your experimental clothing for the special evenings out. In the office, you can continue to be businesslike and keep a stern and composed approach. The way you choose business casual attire can go a long way in deciding this cardinal factor. You must remember, often what you wear is one of the first ways that people form an impression on you. Therefore your business casual should in no way go against the trend and defeat the purpose.
As they say in stock markets, make the trend your friend.
Check carefully from all possible sources and try to fall in with the trend and crowd. It will help you get a better handle on the company policy and then you will be able to take up a lot convincing stance on deciding the business casual that you might choose to wear going forward. Eve when there is no clothing type mentioned by your office, it is still a good idea to go ahead and stick to the business casual attire. Most times, firms might not have a strict structure on what to wear and what not to, but at the same time, pub clothes might not be the appropriate ones in the workplace.
They can be unnecessarily distracting and if you even wear remotely flashy during a selection process, it could adversely impact your overall interview and eventual selection. So there is no reason that you should take this risk, especially with potential employment opportunity. It is a much better idea to wear business casual. They are formal, never too uncomfortable and give you a neat and well-groomed aura, learn to capitalize on it.
Business Casual & Well Groomed Personality
Let’s face it, when you see someone with a neat haircut, classy glares, crisp buttoned down shirt, matching formal trousers or a well-fitting business suit for women, you invariably turn back and give that person a second look. It is not necessary that the person is wearing an Armani shirt or a Kenneth Cole shoes, yet at the same time, business casual always brings about an understated elegance in an individual’s personality.
In your office where impression matters more than anything else, this can only work to your advantage and you should learn to capitalize on it. Also, there is something very classic and conventional about business casual without being uncomfortable. I am sure all of you must have seen Julia Roberts as the enigmatic Erin Brockovich in the movie of the same name. She was a pretty protagonist, great figure and really wonderful figure to flaunt. But somehow when she walked into that uptight legal firm in those cleavage revealing outfits compared to all those serious looking soberly dressed staff, it made heads turn and how. That needs to your cue. You business casual will help you avoid exactly this situation.
Business Casual & Dress Code in Workplace
There are some additional points to keep in mind in terms of adhering to business casual in your workplace.
1. Better to Err On The Side Of Caution:
Let’s say that the company you are joining convinces you that they are just as comfortable with you wearing flip-flops and pajamas. Even then on day one, it is advisable that you do not land in your picnic best. Keep a muted and conservative approach. Stick to a more conservative approach and concentrate on sticking to formals at all cost. Be very clear what and how your company perceives as business casual and only the try to experiment with both colors and types of clothing.
It is important that you maintain a certain degree of consistency in your dressing up. The one great benefit of business casual is it helps you maintain regularity in the kind of outfit that you choose to wear to the office. Remember your colleagues often identify your personality on the basis of the clothes that you wear and in this regard, business casual with conservative bias can be a great option to stick to till you have clarity on what exactly comprises of business casual.
3. Remember Special Occasions:
Whenever there are special occasions in your office, you must find out if you should be shifting to conservative corporate wear. Some companies might keep a casual business stance, but might expect you to wear a pantsuit instead of a flowery colorful lunch dress. Or for men, companies might prefer business casual as in without the tie or just an open shirt and light linen jacket. Therefore, it is very important to understand how your company rates business casual for different occasions. This will make sure you are never overdressed or underdressed for any occasion.
4. Seasonal Impact:
Another important element that you must consider while deciding your business casual outfit is the seasonal element. This is particularly important if you stay in a region with extreme climates like very cold winters or rather hot summers. You have to understand how you can make adjustments. Remember you should not wear anything too frumpy or too skimpy. It needs to suit the season, but at the same time, make sure you do not wear anything outlandish or out of place. But in the bargain, you must not be uncomfortable either in whatever you wear.
Business Casual Attire Is a Balance Between You and Your Job
We can conclude that business casual attire is all about introducing a balance between your professional outfit, commitment and comfort. You might wonder how your professionalism is impacted by what you wear. That’s true, but at the same time, it’s also true that perceptions surely change depending on what you wear and that is why business casual is a great way to tread a mid-path. You must remember to keep your professional outfit, but with business casual, you can also incorporate comfortable and trendy combinations. In fact, this is a great platform to experiment with various trendy alternatives like a knee-length cape instead of the same drab looking jacket or perhaps a pastel colored shirt for men at times instead of the boring whites and off-whites that they have to always wear. Often business casual is a great way to bring in a bit of poise and character to your regular office wear. Exchange the mundane options with interesting alternatives.