Why The Loose Interpretation of Business Casual Causes Confusion
‘Business casual’ is among the most confusing combinations of terms. The expression has become a staple in almost every modern workplace, but here’s the core challenge: Everyone interprets the meaning differently. Walk into one office, and everyone will be wearing jeans. Walk into another office, and team members will be wearing blazers and slacks. In some business casual settings, employees even wear flip-flops.
As a new employee, interviewee, or entrepreneur, this ‘confusion’ can make or break your professional relationships. Imagine the embarrassment of walking into a formal interview in flip flops — or how uncomfortable you would feel as the only person dressed in a suit. Generations play a major role in influencing the definition of business casual.
The following guidelines can help you navigate the — extremely confusing — decision of what to wear at your next meeting:
Business casual, among these groups, means ‘business formal.’ Suits, slacks, and blazers are the norm rather than the exception. Men should always aim for a button-up, and women should choose their blouses with caution. When in doubt, always follow the most conservative path — closed toe shoes, minimal makeup, muted colors, and no jewelry. Be polished, put together, and wrinkle-free.
It’s baby boomers who coined the expression — “dress for the job that you want instead of the one that you have.” When it comes to attire, boomers mean business. When choosing what to wear, you should keep your outfits polished and traditional — but feel free to experiment with bright colors, unique patterns, and great designed. Closed-toed shoes and blazers are still a must, however. No matter what you wear, you should always be ‘put together.’
With Gen X, suits have begun to take a rest — and some offices even wear jeans on a daily basis. ‘Business casual’ to this groups means a hybrid of casual and formal attire — a blend of both worlds, so to speak. When determining what to wear, think back to your high school years — what were your teachers wearing? What you imagine is what you should probably wear to work. If you’re aiming for a more conservative look, avoid open-toe shoes and sandals. But feel free to incorporate a bit of self-expression into your attire and routine.
This group is the opposite of formal. They like to dress well but see ‘overthinking it’ as a major waste of time. Showing up to work in a suit is likely to do more harm than good — young professionals would much rather embrace a comfortable work environment where team members can feel free to wear what makes them happy. Avoid formal wear at all costs — that is, unless you’re planning to attend a formal event.
Even among these generational groups, the term ‘business casual’ will have significant variation. When it doubt, talk to the organization’s HR team, google the company, or read reviews on Glassdoor. Keep a change of clothes so that you can easily dress your outfit up and down.
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