2016 06 01 Suzanne DouglasThe term “Business Casual” has become an institution in the modern business world. Despite the fact that several studies show very real downsides to dressing down at work, and despite the fact that there is still no agreed-upon definition of what “Business Casual” actually is, many companies have simply given up on proposing dress codes for their offices.

Believe it or not, once upon a time, there was no such thing as business casual. You either dressed for business (i.e. suits for both men and women), or you dressed in an appropriate uniform.

Who had the brilliant idea for “business casual”?

Flashback to the early 1960’s, when the Hawaiian shirt industry promoted an idea called “Aloha Fridays” to encourage businessmen to wear casual shirts during the hot summers. Later, as the world of tech grew in Silicon Valley, computer programmers were spending entire days in front of screens without ever seeing a client. They began to wonder why on earth they needed to dress for work. And casual attire for business took off.

Soon, more traditional, client-facing businesses got hold of the idea. Firms from Wall Street to Madison Avenue introduced “Casual Fridays” to their workplaces. As if there weren’t already enough distractions during the business week, we now had to worry about what we were going to wear on Fridays without looking like we were going to the ballpark.

And, slowly but surely, Casual Fridays evolved into the 24/7 business casual we see today. Dressing down now seems like the default option. Many managers believe it’s “nice” to offer employees a more relaxed business atmosphere but it actually may not be the best decision for your firm and its image.

Unclear benefits of business casual

Research on business attire indicates that a business casual dress code is not necessarily the morale or productivity booster. A study conducted by the law firm Jackson Lewis (link) showed that 44% of employers noted an increase in absenteeism and tardiness when casual dress policies were introduced. Another study showed that wearing formal business attire makes people feel more powerful and increased abstract thinking. Professional firms feel uncomfortable facing clients in anything less than formal business wear.

If you truly believe that a casual, laid back look (and its subsequent effect on your clients) will benefit your teams and your business, by all means consider Business Casual for your company.

Choose Your brand

If, however, you prefer your corporate image to be more pulled together, more authoritative, and yes, even more “successful,” you may wish to opt for a more professional look. A “business smart” dress code, (e.g. jackets for men, no jeans for either men or women), for example, is a step up from business casual without going all the way to boardroom formal.

The good news is you get to choose how your company’s dress code reflects your brand. If you’re not sure, professional image consultants and branding experts can help navigate the waters and develop guidelines that work for you.

Whatever you decide, remember what the key word in Business Casual is the word “Business.” It’s what we do.

Suzanne Douglas offers programs for businesses and individuals. Learn more at: www.stylecapitalusa.com.