Civility: Business casual tips

Part I: The latest statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management show that 89% of U.S. companies allow workers to wear casual clothing one day a week. Forty-four percent of all U.S. businesses have adopted casual all-the-time policies, up from 36% in l998.

The Hewitt Work/Life Survey of 1,020 major U.S. companies indicates that two-thirds of employers offer casual or business casual dress, so this is definitely a casual era. In many companies, a suit may be too formal for an interview. Go online and check out the culture of the particular company with which you have an interview before deciding what to wear.

There are many variations of business casual, but it never includes sweat suits, tennis shoes, shorts, T-shirts with logos, halter tops or tank tops.

Casual apparel is worn by entry level to high level executives in the tech industry. Clothing typically ranges from jeans and T-shirts to khakis and polo shirts. When workers realize that image affects career opportunities, more workers abide by dressier business casual rules, which include tailored jackets and khaki dress pants.

Corporations and financial institutions still dress more formally. With the current weak economy, there is a tightening of casual dress codes to a more professional image. Uniforms are worn in 9% of the companies or agencies. Khakis are a major acceptance, as are hosiery or socks. While leg wear may be fashionable, a lack of it may be detrimental to one's career.

Different states, regions, departments and agencies vary with their definition of business casual. In the initial orientation and evaluation, these dress codes need to be clearly defined by a firm's human resources department in order to avoid confusion or dilution of a company's brand.

Workplace attire and grooming must be clean, neat, and appropriate for the work and the setting in which the work is being performed. Because there was confusion with the dress code in a major insurance corporation, I was asked to educate their agents on professional image and business etiquette. Many of the new agents were wearing ultra casual clothing, including jeans, and women were wearing the latest lingerie trends under see-through blouses. These agents were working in a financial corporation where trust is a major factor. No one wants to work with someone who is too casual with their image or someone else's finances. A professional, businesslike image needs to be presented to clients and to the public. Corporations encourage more formal dress, compared to the tech industry.

The Society for Human Resource Management suggests the following clothing choices for business casual days:

Slacks — Khakis or corduroys, jeans (not tight or torn).

Jacket — Casual jacket, blazer or short coat with well-pressed trousers or skirt.

Shirts — Polo collar knit or golf shirt, oxford shirts, company logo wear, short-sleeve blouses or shirts, turtlenecks or sweaters.

Shoes — Boating or deck shoes, moccasins, casual, low heel, open back shoes (such as mules and sling-backs).

DIANA OLSON, MA AICI CIP, is and image stylist/ etiquette & civility specialist. Contact Diana at (626) 584-9761 or www.dianaolson.com.

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