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How Casual is Business Casual

June 22, 2001
Related Topics: Policies and Procedures, Featured Article
For Allen Salikof, "casual day" may have gone too far. The CEO ofManagement Recruiters International recently has observed dress that he -- andmany of his clients -- see as totally inappropriate for a business environment:Ripped jeans. Halter tops. Sweat suits.

    Salikof isn't alone. A recent survey by MRI reveals thatmore than a third of the 3,500 executives interviewed believed that theirworkplace had gotten too casual. This sentiment was particularly true amongexecutives in more "office related" fields such as finance and realestate.

    This is the second time that MRI has examined trends inbusiness clothing. Last year, the company surveyed 3,500 executives and askedthem if the suit and tie was going to disappear. Salikof found it surprisingthat 40 percent of the executives believed it would.

    He says the casual work clothes trend began withanarchistic dot-com ventures. Before the "crash" of late 2000, storiesfrom Silicon Valley were rife with tales of CEOs in shorts and T-shirts. Thetrend spiraled out to traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, particularly inthe information technology field.

    Now, less than a year later, the fashion pendulum may havebegun swinging the other way. Jeannine Stein, a fashion correspondent for theLos Angeles Times, believes that business dress is becoming slightly moreconservative, and that the trend will continue. Still, neither she nor Salikofbelieves that the stodginess of earlier years will return.

    The look now, they agree, is casual but professional.Salikof says that some sort of collared shirt is desirable for men working in anoffice environment. "Knit shirts are fine," he says. "Poloshirts, even dress shirts. No sandals. Socks. We say, 'of course,' but I've seenmen come in with no socks and open-toed sandals."

    What's most common is a sweater/sports coat/slackscombination, Salikof says. Women's dress is harder to define. Cotton pants orslacks and a shirt or blouse is still acceptable by most standards. Somecompanies find jeans acceptable, others don't.

    It's important for individual companies to define theparameters of their dress codes, and to state explicitly what is and is notacceptable, Salikof says. MRI goes as far as to set up fashion shows soemployees can get a clear idea of what's expected.

    At the same time, he cautions against pushing too hard toenforce a dress code, noting that valuable IT professionals are unlikely to putup with being forced to come to work in a suit and tie, when they can dress downfor the same pay elsewhere.

    "The right dress code is important," Salikofsays. "I think there's going to be a happy medium."

Workforce, June 2001, p. 18 --  SubscribeNow!

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