Business Casual: All Business, Never Casual

Christina Binkley wrote a good article in The Wall Street Journal yesterday about the "wildly complex" nature of the business casual trend in today’s workplaces (D1). In "Business Casual: All Business, Never Casual," Binkley explains how traditional business dress is like a uniform – everyone wearing basically the same thing – whereas business casual tends to prompt workers to express their own individual style, which may not be good for their professional image.

She states, "If you work in a corporate environment, it’s just as important to get business casual right as it is to nail traditional business dress. Maybe more important: Savvy corporate politicians know that causal days are the times when their appearance will be most closely watched" (D1). Workers can be judged by their peers more on these days because they assume they are seeing the true person, says Jonscott Turco, a psychologist and HR consultant.

Binkley goes on to describe the huge disparity in what business casual means at different workplaces: denim is acceptable, denim is barred; open-toed shoes are acceptable, open-toed shoes are not acceptable; suits are still worn on casual days, suits are never worn on casual days. Whew! Makes me thankful I’ve only worked at Microsoft, Amazon, and Search By Inseam – all truly casual work environments!

Thankfully for her readers, Binkley offers 5 helpful tips on getting business casual right:

  1. Break down the suit without straying far. Pair dress pants with a non-matching blazer. Shirts should be high-quality – they’re what people see over your desk.
  2. Women: Keep your skin and lingerie to yourself. Beware the wrap dress, which can be clingy and low-cut. And remember: Collars convey power.
  3. If you’re sure jeans are appropriate, go with dark colors. They look dressier. Be sure they’re neat and pressed-looking. And ban those low-risers.
  4. Shoes, like watches, are silent signal-senders. Be sure yours are of high quality, even on casual days.
  5. When in doubt, do not distract. Leave super-trendy clothes for after hours, and that includes your four-inch-high gladiator sandals (D8). 

Here are a few pairs of pants that would meet Binkley’s approval: Diane von Furstenberg ‘Biby’ Knit Flare Leg Pants in a 35" inseam, Nanette Lepore ‘Tie the Knot Lovers’ Trousers in a 34" inseam, and Gap Just Below Trousers in 29", 32" 34", and 36" inseams.  Shop for business casual pants in your exact inseam.

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