Posted by: Viviana M. Rueda Image | January 31, 2008

For All: Business Casual Dressing

Recently I answered a question on a forum for an online business network that brought up the issue of Business Casual dressing.  Basically the question posed to the forum had to do with, if the trend toward casual attire had taken hold in the workplace, did that mean that people didn’t want to dress well anymore? 

I love this question because it an issue that was raised with more regularity than one would think in the corporate environments that I worked in.  You would be amazed, or maybe you wouldn’t, considering what you see in your respective offices, what people believe passes for appropriate casual attire at the office.  For the sake of reference let’s call casual attire “Business Casual”.

We can all acknowledge that Business Casual has been commonly accepted for many years in a broad scope of fields and industries. My premise is that it doesn’t mean that people don’t want to dress well anymore but more that people are intimidated by it in that they may not be able to put together a well-dressed look that represents their Personal Brand.  That’s when hiring someone like Vivendi Fashionista comes into play because you can tackle this problem and easily put together sophisticated looks that not make you feel confident, but also impress upon others your Personal Brand.  But outside of a promotion for Vivendi Fashionista, I want to focus on the topic of what Business Casual means.  Hopefully it will provide some benefit for those of us who live and work in the Business Casual world. 

In many industries, Business Casual is not only frowned upon but prohibited according to employee policies.  This means that it’s important for people to understand their specific workplace environments or they will be scrutinized for their dress versus the quality of their work.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to peruse the Employee Handbook…

Some work environments do not specify work attire requirements but will have an unspoken attire policy. I recommend that you pay close attention to the attire of management as well as the top producers or leaders of the company.  You will most probably benefit from following their lead.

There has been a good deal of research done that if you dress for the part then you will most likely have a better chance to achieve it.  Basically, it’s not a coincidence that you’ve heard this phrase with frequency – “If you dress for the mailroom then you will most probably work in the mailroom”.   There have even been studies showing that how your dress affects how you think.  Think about it, are you on your game when you are wearing ripped jeans and flip flops or do you feel more confident and professional when you are groomed and wearing your most polished outfit? 

Another item of interest to consider is that in times when economies are in a recession or appear to be slowing down, workplace attire tends to become less lax than when the economy is booming. Think of when Business Casual became the norm – i.e. the Internet/Dotcom era.  So take into consideration the state of your industry and the general feel of the economy.

Lastly it’s important to understand what Business Casual means. There are many resources that can help you understand what dressing in Business Casual entails. But a word of caution for those of you who may not be blessed with an interest or talent for the finer details of fashion, if you are trying to make an impression at your  workplace, you may want to steer clear of Business Casual.  Or at least take the time to make a checklist of what works and doesn’t work in your work environment.  The following are some basic tips of what NOT to wear if you are attempting Business Casual:

Business Casual NO’s:
1.  Open-toe shoes & flip flops – This is a no-no for men and women.  Ladies, I know you’re dying to break out those gorgeous Manolo sandals that you found on bluefly.com, resist the urge.  Cute painted toenails may not be the message you want to be sending to your work colleagues.  If you work in a creative environment that is very open and you see your boss strolling around in open toe shoes, then reconsider, but generally speaking it’s a no.  If you go there, make sure your toe nails are in order because I guarantee that your toes will be noticed.
2.  Blue jeans – Some companies have a specific Blue Jean Friday policy.  So if you really must, then go for it, but blue jeans are not Business Casual.  They are casual, period, even if they cost you $300.
3.  Sneakers – Absolutely NOT unless you are a Richard Branson or George Lucas type and you are the undisputed boss. 
4.  Un-tucked shirts (for men) – This look is best left for your trendy restaurant dining experience, and going out-on-the -town nights.  Not appropriate for work.  If you are younger, you can try this look by having a button down un-tucked with a nice sweater over it.  But try this with caution if you aren’t in a creative workplace.  Better yet, just tuck your shirt in.
5.  Mini-Skirts – No.  Ever.  At work that is.  I guess it depends on your workplace but you know what I mean, mini-skirt suits for the office went away with Pretty Woman…
6.  Shorts – No.  Women there are some lovely shorts-suit combos but I caution against this unless you work in the fashion or creative industry.  Especially pay attention to this if you are younger and trying to make an impression.  If you are older and going for this look then you may want to reconsider as this is one of those age appropriate (or inappropriate as the case may be) looks that teeters on the edge…
7.  Baseball caps – Absolutely not.
8.  Sports attire – Sweats, and team jerseys are not Business Casual unless you work for a pro-football team.  In which case, knock yourself out.
9.  T-Shirts with Messages – Okay, so t-shirts unless they are well tailored as in they look like they are a button down or blouse, are a no.  It’s rare that you will find a t-shirt like this so steer clear of T’s please.  And t-shirts with messages like “Britney is cuckoo” or “That’s Hot” are a clear don’t.
10. Casual handbags – Ladies, you’ll know when it’s a no if you pick it up and wonder.  Go with your gut, but if it’s the bag you took to the beach last Sunday, it’s not Business Casual.  If it’s a perfect bag to go thrift shopping with…not office appropriate.

Generally speaking, the trend is leaning toward a more polished and sophisticated look in and outside of the office. You’ll probably notice that even in Los Angeles, which has traditionally been a very casual city, there is a trend for women to wear dresses and men blazers when they go out vs. jeans, and sneakers. This varies naturally on the specific environment but if you look around you’ll notice a shift.

For what it is worth, personally I found that dressing professionally served me very well in my 17 years in corporate world. I often worked with the leaders of the companies who employed me and I was usually representing the companies’ brands so it was imperative that I make an appropriate/tailored/professional impression to all of my audiences, including internal and external audiences.

If you’ve any specific questions that you need help with when it comes to Business Casual dressing, just contact us via our website www.vivendifashionista.com.  And if you don’t have any questions, check out our updated site!  We’ve an entirely new Services section with fabulous new Services Packages and an updated Style Salon and Events section too.

Warm Regards and Happy Dressing,
Viviana M. Rueda
Creative Founder
Vivendi Fashionista

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