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Diatribe: In Order To Have Business Casual You Need Business To Begin With.

09/05/2013

business-casual-evolutionI missed the days when people dressed “for the occasion”.  We had church clothes, dinner clothes and work clothes.  Children even had designated clothes for school, play and church.  We could get in big trouble if we played in our church clothes!  Back then when you were going to work in an office you wore appropriate “office attire” … clothes that, upon first impression, clearly indicated that you were a professional in your field and ready to conduct business as such.  Lawyers wore suits, nurses wore white and everyone, regardless of what they did for a living, had “work clothes”.

Then, more than forty years ago, the phrases “Casual Friday” and “business casual” were coined.  The Friday celebration began in the 1950s as a way to raise morale but it didn’t become popular until the 1970s.  At the time, this mean that gentlemen could remove their jackets and ties to remain comfortable and ladies could remove sweaters or, possibly, switch to shorter sleeves.  Eventually, neatly pressed denim and clean tennis shoes were allowed.

Clearly, the definition of “casual” has changed over the years.

Today it often appears that acceptable business attire includes anything from t-shirts on men to flip-flops on women.  Upon first glance it’s become impossible to tell the difference between a nurse on her way to a shift in the Emergency Room and a college student who overslept and is late for class.  A professor might be found teaching a class in the same clothes that he wore to mow his lawn.

Most would agree that it doesn’t matter if you’re comfortable as long as your work gets done.  It seems to me that the rise of casual dress in the workplace has resulted in casual attitudes and a lack of office decorum.  It would also appear that being comfortable negates the need to use good manners, sometimes reduces productivity, can decrease company loyalty and increases instances of tardiness.

If what used to be “casual clothing” is now considered “business attire”, what does one wear on the weekends to relax and unwind?  The lines have clearly blurred over the years to the point that we now see people wearing pajamas, outrageously provocative costumes and athletic gear as “street clothes”.  A trip to any shopping mall will prove that the demand for tattered jeans far exceeds that of suits and ties.  Apparently, people want to be so comfortable that the comfortable clothes they were to work aren’t comfortable enough.

I’m not the first to notice that “casual Friday”, although well-intentioned, has become too casual.  Human Resources experts have been studying the phenomenon for years and most agree that once casual dress became commonplace it lost its effectiveness.  Casual Fridays are no longer a special event … an employee benefit, even … they no longer improve morale as originally intended and sometimes do more harm than good.

I suppose one person’s work clothes can be another’s play clothes.  It’s all relative.

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4 Comments
  1. I voted yes but disagree with the comment. BC was also used as a way of saving money on dry cleaning and such.

    I also miss the days of people dressing for travel or dinner or special occasions. I don’t mean suits but just more of effort to look better.

    Wouldn’t it be funny/interesting for companies (like soft wear) that have no standards had a dress up day?

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  2. Thanks for your post. I did not know which box to check. There has been a decline in customer service, but I don’t think it is caused by casual attire. I think it is caused by less staff, more pre-fabricated answers, seeing only a small part of the issue, not being trained on holistic problem solving, etc. To your point, there has been a decline in decorum. You can be casually attired and still have sense of decorum. You can still be an ass while wearing suit. However, I did attend a funeral this weekend in Florida. I was surprised to see several folks in shorts. To me, that was not appropriate attire to honor the 85 year old mother of my friend, nor his Dad who was dressed in suit and tie. I think there are times when you do need to dress your best. Maybe I am too old school. Thanks, BTG

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  3. Out here, in the wild west, comfort rules. The Engineer had to go back to the Other Washington to present to the agency known as the EN-AR-CEE (or they who must not be named) and had to buy a suit. His first since college. Goes without saying the college suit did not fit anymore. Cost a lot and was only worn once.

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  4. I really don’t think the way a person dresses as a big influence on how they work. Soon more people will be working from home & telecommuting. I think people work way too hard now to be uncomfortable. People work a lot more hours than they used to because they are in tune with the whole world (eg. Japanese markets)

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