You and I will meet.
Within the first
ten seconds
I will have already summed you up.
Before you even get the word “hello” out of your mouth,
before you even get your arm fully extended for the handshake,
I will know who you are.

Imagine I am a potential employer,
and you are the potential employee.
Fresh out of college
you are a little, how shall we say...
wet behind the ears.
But, your resume is impeccable,
full of all the right things in just the right places
that caught my eye when I gave it the 10-second scan.

You come into my office-
your hair still damp,
your face bare,
your shoes unpolished,
your nail polish chipped,
your blouse untucked,
your skirt wrinkled,
and your slip showing.

Do you really think I am going to hire you dressed like that?

How to Keep the Business in Business Casual
How to Climb the Corporate Ladder in Nothing but Khakis and a Collard Shirt
Or a Nice Sweater Set

Each profession has its own uniform. Doctors get white coats and stethoscope. Cafeteria workers get hairnets and plastic gloves. Garbagemen get one-piece jumpsuits. Fast food workers get a name tag. Uniform and career apparel manufacturer UniFirst Corp estimated for that nearly “45 million people in the U.S. are wearing specified work apparel to their jobs.”

Now ask yourself this- would you respect a police officer dressed in blue jeans and a dirty t-shirt?

I didn’t think so.

For decades, the professional’s uniform was the tailored suit. But in keeping with modern times, more and more businesses are moving towards a business casual dress code. In fact, this is a benefit often advertised by many of today’s top companies along side their traditional benefits like excellent health care and retirement options.

Yet the steps to relax the work environment, raise morale, and save employees money has opened Pandora’s box.

Confused by poorly written policies and lack of concrete examples, the middle class in a state of chaos.

They have been left wondering, exactly what is business casual?

A recent article on suggested that “there are some general guidelines that will keep you from getting too far off the mark. Fashion experts say men usually can't go wrong with a sports coat in muted colors and flannel or gabardine trousers. Shirts, whether button-down or knit pullover, must have a collar. Women can wear pantsuits or tailored pants with a sweater set.”

When you get dressed in the morning, stop yourself and think, “Would Mother let me out of the house dressed like this?

If the answer is yes, then likely you are looking sharp and ready for a day of getting down to business. Unless your mother happened to be a hooker.

Suzanne Yalof Schwartz, the executive fashion director at Glamour magazine, in an interview with noted on her list of things to avoid wearing to the office the following: “shorts, very low-cut shirts, flip-flop shoes, socks with open-toe shoes (a fashion "don't" in any situation) and nails longer than five inches.”

Another key factor to remember is quality, quality, quality. Do you really want people to snicker at you behind your back because you shop at Target, or even worse, K-Mart? Heavens no! Spend as much money on your wardrobe as you can afford. Even if it means stepping outside of your budget. A sweater that you buy for $15 and only wear once is expensive. A sweater you pay $200 on and wear over and over again is a steal! Granted no one expects an entry-level accountant to shop at the same store as the President, but if she can, she definitely should.

Cost of clothing = Price / Use

If you have to cut corners, focus on your power half- the half of your body that people spend the most time looking at. Clearly, if you sit behind a desk, your upper body is your power half. And make sure to accessories- a tie, a scarf, make-up and earrings for the women.

Much of your appearance hinges on the details. Hand bags should coordinate with your shoes. A backpack is for school, not the office. No tags or loose threads. Remember to brush your teeth. Make sure everything is neat, clean, and most importantly, wrinkle free. You will want to invest in light-weight wools, dry cleaning and microfiber fabrics that don’t wrinkle.

When purchasing new clothes, be sure to give them the wrinkle test- grab a corner of the fabric, squeeze tightly for a few seconds, and release. This should give you a general idea of how the fabric will look after you have had it on all day.

Above all, remember that business casual is not just some catchy name for a catalogue section. It does not really mean anything goes. It is a lifestyle.

Business Casual FAQ

I am confused on my office’s standards for business casual. Help!
Clearly, take your office fashion cues from your manager who will be impressed and flattered, or whoever has the job you secretly covet.

My office has a “no platform shoes” policy. Does that mean I have to stop wearing my wedge heels?
You should consider wearing a pair of basic loafers or low-heeled flats, but since you asked, there is a difference between platforms and wedge heels. Live by the old saying “Keep your toes on the ground!” and you will be within guidelines. Keep in mind that shoe requirements are not just for dress code, but also safety. Each year a countless number of workmen‘s compensation claims are filed by women who fall down the stairs because their heels.

I am fat and only wear sweat suits. My wife, who I have been mooching off for the last 3 years, just left me for her aerobics instructor, Jill. Can I jumpstart my entrance into the workforce with a sharp sports jacket?
I am sorry, we don’t want you in our work force. I suggest trying Wal-Mart or your local DMV.

My CEO just adopted a business casual dress code for our business. I think this new generation of up and comers is unprofessional and slovenly. What should I do?
Get with the times. No one wants a stick-in-the-mud in a three-piece suit sitting next to them, and you certainly don’t want to be thought of as the old fuddy-dud.

Ever once and a while, my company holds “jean days” where we can wear jeans for a $5 donation to a local charity. I can wear the pair of jeans with the hole in the knee, frayed bottoms and have whiskers to work, and also, do you know if the donation is tax deductible?
Do I really need to spell this out for you?

Works Cited

This tale inspired by true events.

"She's so stylish!" my coworker declared
of her 7-year-old niece, as if that was the best
thing any girl could aspire to: being decorative.
I scanned the ranks of cornfed executives,
saw perfect nails, silken suits. They talked golf,
stocks, and day salons. Their heads were empty

of art and literature. Said they'd never even heard
of Nineteen Eighty-Four or Lord of the Flies,
much less Snow Crash, Naked Lunch or Silent Spring.
Who had time to read with so many important things
to do, like wax the Porsche and schmooze the boss,
impress strangers with your perfect herbicidal lawn?

I didn't have a lawn, or makeup, or jewelry;
I didn't give a tinker's damn about upward mobility.
They barely managed to tolerate me cos I did my work
fast and clean, coded pro. I wasn't one of "the girls"
but they couldn't get around my annoying productivity
and replace me like a vase that had gone out of style.

Eventually I tired of the condescending smiles
and brittle judgments from people who supposed clothes
makeup and hair are the alpha and omega of a woman,
imagined that a ten-second glance, sharp as the edge
of a punched ticket, could accurately suss anything,
much less the worth of a human life.

So I quit and found a new job where the boss
wears faded jeans and Chuck Taylors, and my co-
workers chat about chapbooks and gigs. The boss cares
about our coding, our articles, our ideas. Our clothes?
Hey, look, we're all wearing clean clothes. Good.
Now let's get back to work.

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