10 Tips for Conveying Professional Presence in Business Casual Work Environments

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What exactly is business casual attire? Essentially it is a combination of traditional business wear and more casual wear which facilitates more comfort, given the longer hours employees have been working the past decade. When managed successfully, business casual office environments can lead to improved employee morale, greater company loyalty, better communications among co-workers, and a more cohesive and a team-orientated culture. The trick is that employees need clear guidelines for acceptable business casual dress that need to be reinforced. Too often, this is not the case. And quite honestly, it’s harder for many people to figure out what is appropriate business casual wear. Therefore, invariably, many people create professional fashion missteps that diminish their professional presence without them even realizing it.

I’m here to help! Use the following 10 tips from Élan Image Management as a guide to convey the highest levels of professional attire even in more casual/relaxed work environments.

The confusion of “Business Casual” can be clarified by remembering that ‘Business’ comes first. Think: is it Business Appropriate? If not, don’t put it on. Business casual is not a green light to show up in your weekend wear.

1. Keep in mind the purpose of business relationships and the desired outcome of a given business situation. Are you meeting clients? Are you chairing a meeting? Are you vying for a promotion? Are you closing an important sale? Know the impact you want to convey and dress with this in mind.

2. Research has shown that productivity, morale, and professionalism are all impacted by what you wear to work and the attire of your colleagues. Overly relaxed dress codes can lead to laissez faire attitudes, *sloppy work habits, tardiness and other unprofessional behaviors. Regardless of your company dress code policy, which camp do you want to be in: professional or unprofessional?

3. How you dress equals your perceived level of professionalism. This can impact whether you are perceived as smart, competent, detailed oriented, moving up or down the corporate ladder or credible. Make sure your image communicates exactly how you want to be perceived. The way you dress for work is a communications tool that can be used strategically to your advantage.

4. A good rule of thumb to consider is that ‘smart’ business casual wear typically means mixing an informal piece or two into your regular business wear. Like a solid tee under a jacket. Or going without a tie. Or adding more color into your ensemble.

5. Any garment that you would wear for sporting events, lounging, partying, or outdoor is NOT appropriate to wear in a business environment.

6. Women, because they have more options, are more inclined to make mistakes when trying to dress in a more casual way in the office. Tank tops, spaghetti straps, plunging necklines, mini skirts etc. are always inappropriate for the office. Women should consider more polished looks, like a tailored pant with a pretty blouse or shirt, knee length or below skirts, dresses that are figure flattering but not tight, cardigan twin sets. Women should always have a jacket or cardigan on hand in case they have an unexpected meeting. Wearing a jacket immediately gives a woman a more professional appearance (whether worn with skirt or over a dress). For shoes, avoid strappy sandals, chunky or platform heels which do not have a professional look. Opt for open toe pumps, slingbacks, or more conservative pumps.

7. The greater the number of items of clothing you wear at one time, the greater degree of formality/professionalism you express. Reducing the number of pieces makes your outfit more casual. Example:

Traditional Corporate Attire: Three pieces-Two-piece Suit with shirt or blouse and tie for men.

Tailored Business Casual: Three pieces but separates. For example, A cardigan and tank with slacks for women or Blazer, shirt and contrasting slacks for men.

Most Casual : Two pieces- Pants and shirt/Skirt and blouse.

8. Office Don’ts:

*Revealing, too tight or sleeveless garments

*Wearing lacy, shiny, metallic, or floral fabrics are generally not perceived as professional

*Too much jewelry

*Wrinkled clothing

*Logo’d T shirts

9. Sloppy, low rise, patterned or zippered jeans of any kind are not appropriate. In fact, jeans should be avoided altogether except in very casual office environments on casual Friday’s and even then, darker washed more tailored looks are preferred

10. Finally, do remember that dressing down does not mean dressing sloppily. Save you ‘play’ clothes for when you are on your own time. When one is dressed professionally, it is an automatic indication that they are in work mode. This helps you be more effective as a professional. For maximum professional presence, ensure that you are dressed like the professional you aspire to be.

© Natalie Jobity, Élan Image Management

write by Balbino Carranza

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