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What Is Business Casual?

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Business Casual for Work?

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Four coworkers looking at a laptop dressed in business casual attire

Business Casual Attire Is Comfortable for Work

Diane Collins and Jordan Hollender/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Definition:

Business casual refers to a particular style of business attire for the workplace. Business casual is adopted by organizations that have decided employees will more comfortably work wearing clothing that is less formal then the clothing that dominated the traditional workplace.

The definition of business casual varies from organization to organization as each has its own workplace standards and expectations. Companies that rarely host customers or clients may offer employees a casual work environment. But increasingly, even workplaces that host customers offer employees the option, if it's just in the form of a casual Friday.

Advantages of Business Casual

Employees experience these advantages in a business casual environment.

  • More comfortable clothing at work. This can have a positive impact on employee morale and motivation.

  • Some employees may find that they can get ready for work more quickly in the morning and that they can make the transition from work to a variety of other activities without having to change clothes.

  • Business casual clothing can cost considerably less than formal attire. In addition to the basic cost, the cost of maintaining the clothing can be lower with fewer trips to the dry cleaners.

  • Employees may express their individual personalities and creativity through the clothing they select for work.

  • Business casual may lower the status barriers between levels in an organization's hierarchy with the price and appearance of business attire less strikingly different between well-paid executives and other employees.

  • For employees who favor casual work environments, creativity of expression, comfort at work, and less stratification among levels of employees, business casual is a powerful recruiting tool and an appreciated benefit.

Disadvantages of Business Casual

Business casual presents disadvantages as well as advantages for employers and employees.

  • Employers may need to establish detailed dress codes if employees see business casual as an opportunity to wear anything that they want to work. In fact, it is smart to start with a dress code so that employees know the expectations from the start. To piece meal guidelines after the fact damages employee morale.

  • This can also create the need for policing to make sure that employees are treated equally and fairly with respect to their work attire. This can damage work relationships.

  • Employees may project an image to customers that is at odds with what customers expect from their firm. Legal firms, consulting organizations, and banks come to mind as poor locations for business casual. In different settings, it may be advantageous to adopt the business attire of customers and partners.

  • Employees may express their individual personalities and creativity through the clothing they select for work. Both an advantage and a disadvantage depending on the individual and the workplace expectations.

  • Some managers believe that business casual encourages a casual attitude from employees about work, attendance, productivity, and professionalism. I'd be happy to see genuine research that proves this one way or the other.

What Is Business Casual Clothing?

Business casual clothing for men means a shirt with a collar such as a casual shirt, a polo shirt or a golf shirt worn with pants whether khakis, Dockers, or similar good looking brands. For women, it means casual skirts, dresses, pants and blouses. Both men and women wear sweaters, vests, casual jackets, and accessories. In this environment, you will only rarely see suits, ties, and dress shirts which are worn to formal meetings outside of the workplace.

In general, denim, spandex, sweatshirts and pants, t-shirts, exercise clothing, sundresses, and sandals are inappropriate in a business casual workplace. This workplace business casual dress code provides a more detailed description of the expectations employers may have for employees in a business casual environment.

If an employer is comfortable with even more casual attire for work, this casual dress code describes these expectations in detail.

Proliferation of Business Casual Work Attire

"According to a 2007 Gallup poll, the most recent data available, 43% of workers said they regularly wore casual business attire at the office, up from 32% in 2002."

According to a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) 2011 Benefits study (you must be a member to read the study):

"More than one-half (55%) of companies offered casual dress at least once a week, 36% allowed casual dress every day, and 24% allowed seasonal casual dress, which permits employees to dress casually for extended periods during the year. While many companies may consider casual dress part of their organizational culture as opposed to an employee benefit, employees appreciate the opportunity to wear more comfortable clothes."

Additional Resources About Dress Codes

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Also Known As: business casual policy, business casual dress code

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