July 10, 2015

Why Business Casual Dress Makes Such Smart Sense Now

This tutorial of different kind of professional dress codes by guest blogger Simanta Mohanty is extremely useful to discern between different terms when discussing what to wear to the office.


Typical work wear for onsite visits to the US -
plain colors, without patterns or bright colors.
News has just come in that the redoubtable Hindustan Unilever has thrown the book at its equally formidable official dress code. In management schools students are taught how legendary the culture at Levers is with the story that Levers employees, otherwise unknown to each other, never fail to meet and greet at airports where their paths might cross. The Levers dress code and the savoir-faire that the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate instills seem to be as good as an ID hanging around one’s neck, making recognition of a fellow Leverian easy. Therefore, that sweeping corporate adage: ‘You can take a man out of Levers, but you can never take Levers out of a man’. Or, woman. The corporate world knows that both are very, very difficult!

HUL joins a distinguished and rapidly growing list of organizations which is showing the door to the officious dress code and going with business casual dressing for the workplace. IT bellwethers Infosys and Wipro set the trend and others have adopted it at superlative speed. Friday Dressing, the jeans and T-Shirt ensemble that we love to sport on the week’s best day, has long been a part of the dress code in most organizations. With organizations now allowing Friday and business casuals on all days, the attempt obviously is to make every day the best day of the week.

The picture above is from www.sbu.edu which also has some instruction on Business Casual wearing. Before we proceed further, let me sharpen the Business Casual dress code. Is there a difference between Business Casuals and Friday Dressing? In my book Business Casual refers to any comfortable ensemble that one can wear to office which does not include a tie and formal footwear. The code spans quite a range, so let me attempt a deconstruction. Khakis, chinos and linen are the prime constituents of Business Casual. Team them up with a sharp shirt, and you could call it Smart Casuals. If you throw in a jacket and/or semi-formal footwear (eg, loafers), then the Smart Casuals edge towards Semi Formal. Friday Dressing is the more chilled-out section of Business Casual, with its jeans, T-shirts, polo necks, dungarees, pedal pushers and, sometimes, shorts. For footwear FD favors the sneakers. So, Business Casuals span the range from Semi Formal to Friday Dressing with the Smart Casuals in between. Makes sense? Perhaps, the collage below will. The Indian dress of saree and salwar-kameez, I firmly bracket in business formal wear.


Dressing casually for office is now a global trend and is making inroads into traditional power centers. The headline picture (credit:Agencies and the website globalbalita.com) for this post is proof that powerful politicians are now loosening up. Writing about the G-8 Summit in 2013 at Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, where the picture was taken columnist Michael Deacon exclaims, “There it was, in black and white. The G8 had committed, without equivocation, to a global crackdown on the wearing of ties.” British cultural commentator Peter York was to say that the ties are getting ditched because the leaders want to say that they “are like us homefolk, and they are young. It did not work.” Well, work or not, that G8 meeting has sparked a trend and it’s still brewing. Politicians are a smart set and read trends ahead of most of us.(Pic below: British PM Cameron and Russian President Putin, at the same G8 Summit, dressed semi-formally. Credit: AFP)

So, what makes the casual dress code such a smart choice for companies today? There are some compelling reasons for the choice.

First, the work force is more millennial now than ever before. The millennial generation – born mid-1980 and after – entering the workforce now is one of the most empowered set of employees that the corporate sector has ever seen. The arrival of this generation on the planet coincided with the establishment of the World Wide Web (1990 ), launch of commercial mobile telephony ( 1983 ), unprecedented advances in communication, science and technology and, yes, previously unseen economic and industrial success. Gen Y, as the millennials are nicknamed, has grown up as the most aware generation, with their parents enjoying more prosperity than ever before. This is a generation that knows its mind and morals thoroughly, values its entitlement and cherishes its freedom. The way it dresses expresses its worldview and that worldview certainly does not include power-dressing codes complete with the suit and boot.

Secondly, Gen Y also has access to more dress styles and fashion than any generation before it. Being ‘cool’, ‘hip’ and ‘with-it’ comes naturally to the Yers. One of my #LeaderCraft quote-boards featured Padmasree Warrior, formerly of CISCO, saying that a CISCO survey had revealed that people in the age bracket of 18 to 32 years would rather take a lower paying job than work for a company that does not allow them to bring their own devices to the workplace. For them, access to the internet is bigger than owning a car! She says, “It’s a very different workforce. They demand a very different experience. It’s the consumer experience you want in the enterprise.” Any company that wants to tap into the enormous potential, intelligence, education and exposure of the millennials has to give them that experience. That experience extends to the way they dress. It is the collegial style that the millennials carry to their workplace and companies respect their comfort with casuals.


Third, business operations have changed dramatically. When was the last time you walked into a bank to conduct a personal transaction? Or, to an airline office to book a ticket? Or, to a service provider store to pay your mobile bill? The mobile and digital space has made actual face-to-face contact with the customer redundant. The F2F was one of the prime reasons to dress formally as a mark of smart customer experience. With that in decline, a good reason to be formally dressed at the workplace has also fallen into disuse.

Fourth, the ethos of business has also changed. It is for a reason that the suit-tie-boot outfit is referred to as ‘power dressing’. It was the outfit of choice of the elites that the 18th century industrial revolution threw up. It distinguished them from the labor class, which was outfitted in workmen overalls and which manually worked the newly-introduced machines that powered the revolution. In the 250 years since then much has changed in the culture of business and industry though they remain firmly descended from that epochal revolution. A leveling out has certainly happened in the workforce, driving inclusiveness to the forefront of organization culture and shedding the power symbols of yore. The adoption of the Business Casual dress code helps that leveling. It helps with the easy informality that most organizations now promote internally because easy internal relationships help up employee morale and productivity. A highly distributed knowledge elite has taken centre-stage, with little use for the trappings.

However, it must be said here that the suit-tie-boot ensemble is a dapper one and I, for one, quite admire the wearer! I am also willing to stick my neck out and make a prediction: It will never go out of fashion at the workplace!

Those were the key reasons for the spreading success of the Business Casual at modern workplaces. Do you want to add to them? Or, critique them? Please feel free. Also, do read an earlier post of mine on LinkedIn, on dressing for success, here

Author, Simanta Mohanty, is an HR professional based in Delhi, India. 

To preserve the integrity of the article, no edits have been made to the text, though a few in-links to other articles on Authentic Journeys have been added. 

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