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Casual Trends In Business

Trends in Business Dress

by Helen PerryThe Beginning Of The Corporate Look For Women

John Malloy first recommended the uniform in the 1970s, after observing the frustrations of women as they attempted to navigate the old-boy network in business.Malloy suggested that a standard uniform for women would instantly communicate “corporate professional”, just as the traditional dark suit, white shirt, and tie do for men.The woman’s uniform he devised consisted of a modified A-line skirt (or straight skirt, if it wasn’t too sexy), a matching blazer in medium gray or dark blue worn with a high-contrast blouse.

The Business Casual Phenomenon

In 1991, when the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) granted a “dress down day” to its employees who contributed to the United Way, it started a trend that by the late 1990s was adopted in some fashion by 87% of offices in the United States, including such conservative institutions as banks, brokerage companies, and law firms.According to a survey done for Levi Strauss & Co., corporate policies range from allowing dress down days occasionally, to one day a week (usually Fridays), to five days a week.In 1998, approximately half of U.S. office workers were being allowed to dress casually during the entire workweek.

Business Casual Issues

According to a survey by Accountemps, a California-based staffing service, close to 40% of managers said they thought workers appeared too casual when dressing down.A 1999 study by employment law firm Jackson Lewis found that 44% of the HR executives polled noticed more tardiness and absenteeism after implementing a formal casual dress policy.In the same study, 30% of respondents reported a rise in flirtatious behavior after allowing casual dress.Judith Rasband, director of the Conselle Institute of Image Management says, “When you dress down, you sit down-the couch potato trend. Manners break down, you begin to feel down, and you’re not as effective.”

The Trend Toward More Formal Dress

One trend that will curtail the adoption of business casual dress five days a week in many U.S. companies is the continuing expansion into global markets. Accepted business dress in international circles is formal in tone, and therefore casual dress risks alienating potential customers.Ever since the Bush administration put the kibosh on casual wear at the White House (no jeans in the West Wing and men must wear ties), other companies are considering following suit.Some blame the sartorial shift on the dotcom bomb. With all those Internet start-ups going belly-up, the “college stoner” look has lost its cachet in the corporate world.


The Conselle Institute of Image Management teaches that the way you look directly affects the way you think, feel, and act.Sherry Maysonave, author of Casual Power, says “People think you’re smarter when you”re well dressed, and they think you come from a high socioeconomic class.”Clothing affects business performance and influences the way superiors and peers view you.In our fast-paced world, we send immediate signals with the “hope” that people get our intended message.We live in a very visual society. You can define your image by the way you dress; from the visual cues you send, others make assumptions about your dedication and competence, personality, preferences, habits, social life, friends and quirks.Studies have shown that overall presentation can influence, consciously or unconsciously, the perceived quality of one’s work.You need to determine the message you want to send and plan the method of sending it. You want to appear confidant, competent, reliable and show people that you belong.Dressing appropriately in the office is a sign of respect.Dressing appropriately is equated with having good manners.Every office has a dress code. Adhere to it and send the message that you are part of the team.

To Get Ahead

John Molloy argues that even if you don’t want to dress to get ahead, the next person will.Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.Don’t take Fridays off!


Red = PowerPinstripes= authorityBy the 1930s the pinstripe suit came to signify a man’s stature in the corporate world.Darker colors look more authoritative (blue, gray and black suits).Nothing says authority like a suit.

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