I hate the very idea of business casual. To me it's almost an oxymoron. But everyone else loves it and here on the West Caost (San Francisco) it's pretty much the norm. It always seems so much harder to me then business attire. Wear a suit, bang you are ready. Our office just announced that we are officially business casual. Now what? How does one balance a professional work environment with relaxed attire? What is appropriate? And what is forbidden?
Sadly, as I mentioned before, the dress code is going the way of the dodo. This is especially true on the West Coast. Employers want to believe that the people they've hired are capable enough to decide for themselves. However, much like a frontier town without a sheriff, offices who keep to a vague business casual dress code are ripe for sin and lawlessness.
Here's what I have decided are some good ground rules for business casual. But whether my advice is appropriate for your work place is something that you will need to figure out for yourself. So here are some basic ground rules:
The following items are completely inappropriate for a work environment: exposed undergarments (bra straps, whale tail, etc.), flip-flops, dirty clothing, spaghetti straps, halter tops, shorts, miniskirts and any garment bearing the phrase "Juicy" or a similarly suggestive or childish statement. These are the basics, and I don't think any of these directives should be a challenge for a person who cares about her career trajectory.
If your outfit can double as beach/golf/club/gym/gardening attire, then you need to rethink wearing it to work. In the summer, it is not uncommon to see some folks who would look more at home on a treadmill or in a nightclub than hanging by the proverbial water cooler. So if you look in the mirror in the morning and think, "I could wear this outfit to (fill in location other than work)," take a moment to consider whether it is right for the office.
Unfortunatly, many offices don't provide their staff with any guidance and so individual tastes reign. If you're a supervisor or employer, do yourself a favor and at least enlighten your staff about the items you consider forbidden. It's the least that you can do.
Should you work in an office without a stated dress code beyond the totally unhelpful, business casual, don't be afraid to ask. If you feel like you can't, the best place to look is at the person whose job you want most. What does she wear? What does your boss wear? If you feel like you're dressing more casually than they are, upgrade. It's always better to dress for the job you want than the job you have.
Know Your Place. Should your employer or supervisor tell you that an item of clothing is inappropriate for work, it is. It doesn't matter what you think. If he/she says that it's not right for the office, it's not. Very simply, this is their company/office and they have the right to decide how it should be presented. So if they ask you to change or not to wear something again, do as they ask and be gracious about it. Say, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that this was out of bounds. Thank you for telling me." Then move on. The only thing more unprofessional than being dressed wrong for work is arguing with your boss about what you're wearing. So unless the item in question is worn for religious or medical reasons, retire it without argument.
Dress for Success, Yours. Part of the reason why I think so many workplaces are off the reservation when it comes to dress codes is that when you feel so-so about your job, it shows in your wardrobe. So if you have a lackluster attitude toward the company you work for or the work that you do, you will be less likely to really take pride in your work attire. This is why you need to start dressing for you.
I've always thought that looking better or dressing better can boost your attitude, which will help you feel better about yourself and your job. Fake it til you make it. Because one day, you will have a job you enjoy or work for a company that you respect and you don't want to be unprepared in the wardrobe department.
The bottom line is that what to wear to your office greatly depends on the office and the job description. However, if you set a goal to dress for the job you want and not the job you have, you'll go far. It's when you get too comfortable that you will run into problems. So good luck!