How Casual is Business Casual?

How Casual is Business Casual? – Brief Article

Victor D. Infante

For Allen Salikof, “casual day” may have gone too far. The CEO of Management Recruiters International recently has observed dress that he–and many of his clients–see as totally inappropriate for a business environment Ripped jeans. Halter tops. Sweat suits.

Salikof isn’t alone. A recent survey by MRI reveals that more than a third of the 3,500 executives interviewed believed that their workplace had gotten too casual. This sentiment was particularly true among executives in more “office related” fields such as finance and real estate.

This is the second time that MRI has examined trends in business clothing. Last year, the company surveyed 3,500 executives and asked them if the suit and tie was going to disappear. Salikof found it surprising that 40 percent of the executives believed it would.

He says the casual work clothes trend began with anarchistic dot-com ventures. Before the “crash” of late 2000, stories from Silicon Valley were rife with tales of CEOs in shorts and T-shirts. The trend spiraled out to traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, particularly in the information technology field.

Now, less than a year later, the fashion pendulum may have begun swinging the other way. Jeannine Stein, a fashion correspondent for the Los Angeles limes, believes that business dress is becoming slightly more conservative, and that the trend will continue. Still, neither she nor Salikof believes that the stodginess of earlier years will return.

The look now, they agree, is casual but professional. Salikof says that some sort of collared shirt is desirable for men working in an office environment. “Knit shirts are fine,” he says. “Polo shirts, even dress shirts. No sandals. Socks. We say, ‘of course,’ but I’ve seen men come in with no socks and open-toed sandals.”

What’s most common is a sweater/sports coat/slacks combination, Salikof says. Women’s dress is harder to define. Cotton pants or slacks and a shirt or blouse is still acceptable by most standards. Some companies find jeans acceptable, others don’t.

It’s important individual companies to define the parameters of their dress codes, and to state explicitly what is and is not acceptable, Salikof says. MRI goes as far as to set up fashion shows so employees can get a clear idea of what’s expected.

At the same time, he cautions against pushing too hard to enforce a dress code, noting that valuable IT professionals are unlikely to put up with being forced to come to work in a suit and tie, when they can dress down for the same pay elsewhere.

“The right dress code is important,” Salikof says. “I think there’s going to be a happy medium.”

COPYRIGHT 2001 ACC Communications Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group