It was interesting to me as an image consultant attending a business conference where the expected attire was listed as “business casual” so, according to the conference flyer, “everyone can be comfortable during the conference.” I found this to be very strange language for a conference dedicated to making high-level business connections. Excuse me, but shouldn’t everyone know how to buy clothing that is at once the right size so it is comfortable and the right style so it is appropriate for the occasion?
The term ‘business casual’ is officially on my shit list and I am out to ban this term from use because there is nothing ‘casual’ about doing business. Since when is business to be done by chance or without prior thought or planning? The way you dress for business is part of the way you do business.
I have to wonder how much more productive meetings would be if people showed up looking like they were ready to engage with the other party. If you were interested in buying a piece of real estate, would you be comfortable visiting a messy home? Virtually anyone reading this would honestly answer, “No.” So why not take care of the most valuable piece of real estate you own?
Often, you just get one opportunity to make an indelible impression at an important meeting or interview. The meeting may not turn out as you’d prefer, but the least you can do is show up looking like you care about yourself, about the person you’re meeting with, and like you care about doing business.
There is so much confusion as to what ‘business casual’ is and what it means. Every author has a different spin on what it is because they want to sell books. Wikipedia even has a citation-lacking entry about ‘business casual’, full of statistics backing up misinformation in support of someone’s wardrobe imperative. Even OpenTable.com regularly lists ‘business casual’ among the dress codes of restaurants it supports. If you’re going out for a social dinner with friends, how does ‘business casual’ even figure into your game plan?
The truth is: when you inquire about the accepted style of clothing, you’re asking for the rules, for the “code,” so you fit in at the interview, or at the job, or for the business or social occasion. When the answer you’re given is ‘business casual,’ it only causes more questions than it does answers.
Answers are available, but getting meaningful insight requires unlearning bad information and wiping the slate clean in order to get clarity. Here are some key tips to keep in mind about relaxing the look of your professional attire without looking like you’ve gone out of business:
If you dress up every day in a suit and are looking to relax the look, opt for a sport coat.
If you regularly wear a sport coat, continue to wear outfits that are “jacket ready.”
If you commonly wear pant and shirt, combinations, show your personality and finish them with suitable accessories because shoes and a belt will really stand out with just a shirt and pant.
Don’t confuse these social attire items with business attire:
Knit polo tops
And never wear clothing in which to conduct business that is torn, stained, collegiate or sports themed, or athletic wear.
There is an appropriate time and place to wear all kinds of clothing. Knowing when and where to wear your wardrobe items requires planning and intention to accomplish your goals.
Designing and managing your image is the secret science to your success.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps professional men and corporate workgroups create effective visual brands. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.