Business casual has long been a popular dress code for businesses looking for relaxed, yet professional, employees. But in post-pandemic work environments, the standards for business casual have evolved. If you dress for a “business casual” environment the way it was defined, say, 20 years ago, you might end up feeling out of place. And if you run a business with a loosely defined “business casual” dress code, your employees may not know the best way to dress.
So why, exactly, is business casual evolving, and what can you do to keep up with the trends?
The new business casual
For starters, it’s important to note that workplaces are growing to be increasingly casual. Businesses that long held onto standards of formality and professionalism are now beginning to step back and implement business casual dress codes. Those that were previously strict about business casual are scaling back their requirements. And some dress codes are disappearing altogether.
There are several reasons for this, including the shift to working from home. COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way the world saw working from home. While numerous businesses have transitioned back to a centralized, physical workspace, nobody has forgotten the lessons taught by more than a year of video chats and email-based conversations. If you can make a great impression with a new client while wearing yoga pants (just out of frame), what does it matter what you wear to the office?
In line with this, standards of productivity and a “professional” image have changed. It’s still important to make a good impression on people with the way you dress and present yourself, but since most workplaces measure impact in terms of analyzable metrics rather than visual appearance, dress codes have taken a backseat.
How did the change come about?
The new wave of business casual (and sometimes, casual) acceptance can also be partially traced back to the rise of startup culture out of Silicon Valley. Several businesses grew from relative obscurity to become corporate juggernauts—and they did so with an informal, relaxed atmosphere, that even established businesses sought to copy.
Relaxed dress codes aren’t just common in startups, however. Big businesses are also reducing the formality of their dress codes. Google, for example, doesn’t have any formal dress code, whatsoever. And even businesses in traditionally well-dressed industries (like banking) have similarly downgraded their dress code requirements. But how is business casual itself changing?
What business casual looks like now
For one thing, there’s a greater emphasis on image and style, rather than following specific requirements. Depending on the guide you’re consulting, you might read that business casual means you should be wearing nice pants (such as chinos) and a dress shirt without a tie. Or, you might read that business casual supports a lot of flexibility, with some forbidden items like jeans, shorts, sneakers, and sandals.
These days, it’s less important to follow a strict rule and more important to “look good.” You should keep up with the latest style guides, find clothes that fit you perfectly, and ensure those clothes are in good condition to preserve your professional image.
How to implement it
All said, are you unsure about your company’s dress code standards? Or are you thinking about what your business’s guide really means when it suggests “business casual” as appropriate attire? These tips can help you create a new business casual environment in your business.
First, make sure you’re accounting for remote environments. You may prefer your office-attending employees to dress a certain way, but are your remote employees required to follow suit? If you do decide to make a blanket “business casual” policy for your business, be prepared for the reality that people interpret this term in different ways.
You should expect to see people on the formal and casual side of this spectrum if you don’t provide further instruction. In line with this, be as specific as possible when creating your guidelines. Ambiguity is going to lead to misinterpretations and possibly, costly mistakes.
If you want to create the best environment for your employees, make sure you get some feedback from them. Ask them how they feel about different workplace dress codes and what would help them perform at their best.
Business attire can be confusing, especially with different dress codes still evolving pretty much constantly. But as long as you make a genuine effort to clarify your dress code (and look professional in the meantime), you should have no trouble creating a great business environment.
If your business can stay remote, that may benefit your employees in numerous ways you never thought of, including being good for their skin! Also, here’s some home office design trends replacing “cloffice.”