July 30, 2011 at 10:10 pm #136696
A few AWESOME govies got together last night and started talking about this topic. We learned that business casual means very different things, depending on where you work, geographic location, etc. So….I’m asking you…what is your definition of business casual? Got any photos that you would like to post?
July 30, 2011 at 11:53 pm #136784
A thong, pair of sandals and a t-shirt that says ‘I’m with stupid’ and an arrow pointing up at me.
Thankfully, for you, I have no photos…
July 31, 2011 at 10:54 am #136782
James E. Evans, MISM, CSMParticipant
Business Casual for guys is (1) Docker Style pants, Slacks (2) a “tucked in” Polo or button down shirt (3) Shoes (4) Belt. It goes without saying that there should be cleanliness. Cologne is optional. What’s funny is when the tie kicks in. They tend to be associated with “higher up’s”, aspiring career climbers and job interviews. Being a postal guy, blue is rocked a lot. Keep in mind, this might change from office-to-office and state-to-state as the culture changes. I can only speak to my world.
July 31, 2011 at 1:22 pm #136780
At Commerce it was more or less as James E describes, usually without the tie but with a button-down shirt. Polo’s were for casual Friday when even the division chiefs could be found in jeans and sneakers.
July 31, 2011 at 2:20 pm #136778
Gentleman – Thanks for your comments. Business casual for women is super different from place to place in my experience. I’ve worked places where open-toed shoes, even flip flops were ok on Fridays, and others where “business casual” still required wearing stockings with skirts (so NOT AWESOME).
Being a former beach girl, I have no trouble admitting that I can rock business casual as a pair of linen pants, a button down top, and a pair of flip flops.
July 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm #136776
Terrence (Terry) HillParticipant
I agree with James. I try to be casual every day. I am not as “career conscious” as ot Sinhers and believe in diversity. I guess I am becoming spoiled with dressing down the more I telework. I just think it is more important what you do than how you dress. I can’t tell you how many well-dressed conformist non-performers we have in our office.
July 31, 2011 at 5:11 pm #136774
August 1, 2011 at 12:42 am #136772
For guys, slacks and a polo or other collared shirt along with dress shoes or loafers
for ladies, pretty much the same really. Slacks, shoes that don’t have to be heels, nice top. Capris or skirts can be worn for slacks.
I think it’s more of what isn’t….emprinted t-shirts, cutoffs,shorts, ragged jeans. If you’re going to wear a tank top in the summer, if it’s a string strap one, you should wear a shirt to cover that (in other words, not too much bare shoulder or cleavage)
We don’t have an official dress code over all, although some individual offices have them, simply due to their duties. Our folks in the field, they have safety regs to follow. Steel toe boots, long pants, etc. In the office where I work, I can wear jeans if i want, or even the above mentioned emprinted t-shirts. I just choose not to. At least not as a rule. my emprinted shirts are usually worn in March on the appropriate game days
August 1, 2011 at 11:02 am #136770
Like most things in life there are many answers to a single question, though the answer is typically 42 (if you know the question), however I tend to agree with @James. Though I have worked in the environments where jeans and a polo were daily wear. (But..I’m an emergency management/operations rat so “work” can be just about anywhere at any given moment.)
To illustrate part of this point I’ll tell a story:
Back in the day, before even I was around to know better, RadioShack felt that 100% of their employees nationwide should wear 3-piece suits. (could you image the dude a RadioShack approaching you about buying more batteries in a 3-piece?) They quickly learned depending on the market that this approach either worked to add credibility to their sales people or in most cases it scared the living daylights out of most customers (people felt like the sales people were looking down on most of their customers.) Needlessly put, they quickly learned that this approach does not work for every market. A farmer looking for electrical components to fix a tool isn’t going to buy from or listen to a guy/gal in a suit..but a business person in NYC looking for a watch battery wouldn’t do so from someone in a polo shirt…
I’ve just always found that story interesting..because it’s true..and interesting when you think about how different parts of the country would react. I think the same applies here. What is “professional” and/or acceptable one place may not be in another.
…now that being said..the party mullet is obviously the choice anytime you are working inside the beltway when looking for that “stylish professional” look.
August 1, 2011 at 11:12 am #136768
It certainly is a fascinating topic, a keen insight into the nature of the personal dynamics involved in the workplace.
I mean, obviously there’s no actual relationship between what you wear and the work you do. A suit and tie does nothing to affect your abilities to do your work, and indeed on hot days they’re really quite inappropriate and unhelpful.
So the idea that it’s linked to professionalism is exactly just that, an idea rather than a reality. So then I wonder why we perpetuate such an odd behaviour – Is it a control and conformity thing do you think?
August 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm #136766
Good look for you Sterling.
August 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm #136764
@Neil, @ Chris
I think you both raise the much more deep seated issue here. It truly is a matter of cultural differences and a “culture of conformity” that we have created for ourselves.
I find the comment about wearing suits on an overly hot day interesting. I think about myself. I am rather unproductive when I am cold. I am sure others can say the same of being too hot. Last winter (my first in NOVA from SC) I was not allowed to have a space heater under my desk. I was freezing, so I grabbed a heating pad and put my feet on it to stay warm. I also took a fleece blanket to work…which got some looks…but hey..I was productive.
So I raise yet another question……….ARE EMPLOYEES MORE PRODUCTIVE WHEN THEY CAN DRESS AS THEY WISH …DRESS FOR COMFORT??
August 1, 2011 at 12:41 pm #136762
Yes Candace, it’s always the aspect of society I find most fascinating, ie, the “rules” we bind ourselves by, for sake of whatever: Religion, professionalism, etc.
All mental prisons of some kind and very much a product of the industrial era which was all about command-and-control hierarchy. As we continue into the Internet era it will be interesting to see if we also evolve to leave these mantras behind.
August 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm #136760
My general rule is that business and business casual are mostly differentiated by the suit jacket.
August 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm #136758
It so depends on who is defining “Business Casual”, was at a recent event, where the “leader” defined BC as the ladies wearing pedal pushers, and the men wearing jeans and shirts with collars. Of the 35 women at the conference well over 30 of them showed up in pedal pushers and of the 30 men there 28 matched exactly the subtly stated “standards”.
At a “all hands” event the only changed attire was that MOST of the men did NOT wear ties and all the women wore slacks(same group of people at the first event discussed) the only difference the “leaders” did not take the time to explain what “they” meant.
August 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm #136756
Although I’d love to be able to wear jeans and sneakers every day, the truth is, there is a relationship between dress and performance. It may not be as strong as many people assume, but if you’ve ever worked from home I bet you’ve noticed a difference between days when you’ve showered and gotten dressed in the morning versus when you’ve simply rolled out of bed and started working while still in your pajamas. I think putting certain kinds of clothes on can trigger a change in mindset.
August 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm #136754
Candace, you make me think about the policy and why it was instituted. I think the variations are there for agencies that interact with the public. The more public contact, the stricter (and dressier) the code. I used to work for DOD “behind the wall” in a high security clearance area. We NEVER met the public. While sport shirts and khakis or Dockers were the norm, jeans and t-shirts were common. The employees actually instituted Formal Friday and we started wearing suits to the office. Though I think this was to shield those of us who were going on interviews…
August 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm #136752
Some great answers here. I’m big on dressing appropriately for the occasion. I’m one of those guys who brings two tuxes or variations on a cruise because there are two formal nights–even though I could get away with dressing down considerably. I look a the office the same way.
There is the story about a speaker (I usually tell this story about my friend “Bob” and you may have heard it). Speakers are expected to dress slightly better than their audience. He was speaking at a Naturalist Convention. He was torn about what to wear. He agonized over it, not knowing his audience would be in tree-hugging shorts or business casual. He finally decided to dress business casual. Khakis and a sport coat. He arrives at the conference only to fine everyone in the audience is naked and sitting on a towel. He hadn’t been invited to speak at a Naturalist Convention, but a Naturist Convention! Not one to fazed by the change of situation, he took a breath, smiled at his audience and asked, “Do you mind if I take off my coat?” I use this story to illustrate it’s important to know who you will be around. If anyone is speak at Naturist or Nudist Convention, I suggest wearing the towel, at least.
Business casual for me (and I’m told by my boss we don’t have a dress code) is a collared shirt or nice dressy non-t-shirt type, khaki pants and regular shoes (loafers okay or sneakers that don’t look like sneakers). Because we have no dress code per se I could technically do that all week, although I try to be dressier with regular slacks on other days than Friday. Maybe a suit or sport jacket. In spite of the actual lack of dress code, I want to be professional. Unless I am going to a conference or doing outreach, I still need to appear professional to my manager and colleagues. Definitely dressing better outside the office or on the road is important, but I’ll take the exception of the last day of the trip to dress down a bit to be more comfortable for traveling. Sport coat instead of suit. Polo or no tie with dress shirt. Still, whatever is appropriate for the people around me. Just remember, “Bob.” Acting Smarts.
August 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm #136750
Candace, As noted in other posts, the term casual often depends on the agency and the culture. As a manager, I am primarily concerned about productivity. But, I do think many employees push the envelope too far. A person has to exericse judgment according to the occasion and personal interactions should always influence attire. For example, it would not be appropriate to meet with the agency head if one was wearing flip flops.
@Jack, I agree with you. There is a relationship between dress and performance. I want to convey a certain image in the office and in a business environment. I am a fashionista and proud of it!
August 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm #136748
For women, I feel like there can be a lot of variation depending on the office and the weather. At my old agency, we didn’t have a dress code (though the employee manual did forbid us from wearing “beach wear”, whatever that means). Pretty much everyone wore “business casual” and most folks dressed down on Fridays. This generally meant skirts, slacks, dresses, and blouses or tops for women. In the summer, it would get a bit more casual – modest sundresses, nice sandals, capri pants, etc.
August 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm #136746
I’m sure that’s the way for some people, but that is the kind of point that leads us back to the deeper rooted dynamics and a big question mark over the “truth” of this policy.
I’m working from home & sat here in shorts and sandals, and my performance is at its best, as it always is when I’m most comfortable. So for me personally, there’s no link between wearing a suit and my work performance and so no sorry, it’s not actually the truth (for every one).
I’m sure that’s the way for others too, which therefore begs the question, why force a policy of formal work wear on every one? Why not make it optional and if it works for you then rock on, but don’t force it on others who work best in casuals, because then you’re actually causing a decrease in performance……
August 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm #136744
I work from home two days a week and it makes no difference what I wear–but my environment can make a difference in performance. I still think wear what’s appropriate, don’t call attention to yourself unnecessarily by what you wear or don’t wear. We can say the same thing about wearing perfumes or aftershave that are overpowering to some or affects their allergies–or jewelry that jingle jangles. I think that’s just being considerate. My personal expression (other than “professional”) can be left outside the workplace. The relationship between dress and the workplace is same as actor and costume. Sometimes it helps us get in character. Getting prepared to go to the office with your morning routine gets you in the mood for work in that environment. I roll out of bed and jump right to it–often before I’ve even had my coffee–when I work from home, obviously. Which, by the way, to make sure we are constantly aware of it–we refer to working from home as working offsite at my alternate duty station. Just to be clear. I have no dress code at home. My wife has one for dinner though; I have to wear a shirt. Shoes are optional.
August 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm #136742
I enjoy the ritual of getting ready for work every day. I feel I have an image to maintain and want people to take me seriously. I also want to set an example for others. Again, attire depends on the job to be done.
August 1, 2011 at 3:38 pm #136740
I have a lot of different aspects in my job. Theoretically, in a single week, I can go from shooting video by teh side of the road or on an active construction site, to setting up equipment for a public meeting, to setting up equipment when the Secretary speaks to the legislature.
What I wear varies from Jeans and good shoes (don’t have to wear the steel toed boots) for the site, to something nice that I can still load and carry in for the meeting (khakis and polo or dress shirt) to something nicer even though I’m in the audience while she speaks.
most of the folks I work with wear jeans, because we – generally – don’t interact with the public. And we do a lot of manual type labor. I came to this job from another one where we were expectd to wear slacks or skirts so I had a lot of ‘grown up’ clothes, and used to get teased about going to a job interview when I wore them
Don’t get teased anymore, but I do dress the part I’m supposed to play. Right now it’s going to be over 100 today, so it’s capris and a polo shirt with sandals. I’m in the office all day with no assignments outside, so I can be comfortable. Last winter when we were on the road videoing snow plows it was my snowboard boots, ski bib and a warm sweater.
I do think there is a certain perception based on how you dress. If i were to come in every day in $1 flip flops, torn jeans and van halen t-shirt, i would probably not be seen as a competent employee simply because i was dressed sloppy. However, when you’re a female in a largely male dominated field, you can’t exactly go all ‘girly’ on them either. Or you won’t be taken seriously.
I’m lucky in the fact that, since business casual is such a broad term, I can shop wisely and get slacks or khakis on the clearance racks or thrift stores, along with button down shirts, and maintain the appearance without spending a mint.
August 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm #136738
We too have heat issues….I’m on the ground floor. You can literally feel the draft when the dock doors are open, but I’m forbidden a space heater….I have a blanket. Others have snuggies at their desks. I have fingerless gloves I can wear and type because my hands ache when they get cold.
I think employees can be more productive when they are comfortable. On the other hand, there are lines. There’s physical comfort and emotional comfort. I may be physically comfy in my sweats, but if i stick out as the slob am I emotionally comfortable or feeling conspicious? Peer pressure can come into play. So sometimes it’s the manager that sets the bar. if my manager maintains the khakis/polo level, then I can dress that way and that dress implies a certain level of behavior. If he comes in in his flip flops and rocker t-shirt, that also sets the tone for the atmosphere.
sometimes emotional comfort matters more than physical comfort. Fitting in and having a sense of belonging.
August 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm #136736
I believe that we DRESS UP when we go someplace important. As a child I POLISHED my shoes for SCHOOL and CHURCH, my mom ironed my DRESS, and I put on my best manners. As an adult I do the same for a date or a wedding. That MUST be the reason young women wear those uncomfortable looking high heel shoes, spanxs, etc. Why don’t we feel that work is important?
Alternatively I recently visited a Pentecostal church and saw two kids about making out on the stage from which the Pastor preached. I guess I can’t expect people to put their best face on at work if even an alter is no place important.
August 1, 2011 at 4:46 pm #136734
Temperature definitely impacts productivity. I find that the AC is often way too cold in the summer. I have to keep a cardigan, fleece jacket, and shawl at my desk. I read an article that women need the office to be 6-8 degrees warmer than men, so it’s not surprising. We definitely fight over the thermostat in the GovLoop office.
August 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm #136732
@ Carol, That must have been a very interesting church. It’t unseemly that two people would disrespect a church like that and that the pastor tolerated it.
Work, to me, is someplace important. I dress up.
August 1, 2011 at 5:59 pm #136730
For me, business casual = effort & personal style.
Just because someone is in a suit or even half-way dressed up for work doesn’t mean they put an ouce of effort into their appearance. Whenever you see a group of guys walking down the street in their ‘business casual’ outfits, it’s less like work clothes and more like a uniform: khakis, leather shoes, leather belt and shirt – which are usually only white or blue.
I mix it up with patterns and colors – and since I LOATHE generic shiny patent leather shoes, I wear what I like to call: luxury sneakers.
I know it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover – but we all know that people do. So I let people know that under my ‘cover’ is an atypical government employee.
August 1, 2011 at 7:21 pm #136728
100% agree with your ending statement! As long as flip flips are “dressy” – ie- are patent leather, or have bling on them, no foam sole- i totally support flip flops in the office!
August 1, 2011 at 7:24 pm #136726
Unfortunately my dear casual dressers, when a stranger spots you across the room they judge a book by its cover. I feel unprofessional even when its 117 degrees out and my (gasp!) shoulders show.
All this talk reminds me of when in 4th grade when girls were allowed to wear snow pants to school if we took them off when we got there. I watched Victoria Johnson who showed her underpants (much worse than my shoulders) when taking off her snow pants and even at that tender age realized there was something wrong with this policy.
August 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm #136724
Indeed, people judge others by appearance. If you want to impress someone or have an important gig do you really want to wear flip flops? Also, there are workplace safety issues that come into play.
August 1, 2011 at 7:37 pm #136722
This is a great topic!
I generally agre with the outlines for women listed here: a decent dress, slacks or skirt with a nice top- doesn’t have to be a blouse. What I don’t understand is the Flip-Flop issue.
Some flip-flops are obviously casual- they have a foam sole and plastic straps. Or, they cost $1 at Old Navy, for instance.
Some flip-flops are dressy- they have wooden or regular soles, patent leather/leather straps, or are be-jeweled in some way. My thoughts are that a dressy flip-flop is equivalent to a dressy summer shoe of any other open-toe variet. How are they any different from a strappy sandal? Or is the argument that all sandals are unprofessional? Is the cut-off made between strappy shoes with or without heels? Personally, I would not feel at all uncomfortable wearing dressy flip-flops in a meeting with the Division Director or Regional Administrator. I typically wear them with nice slacks or skirts, so the entire ensemble is business casual.
Another point I’d like to discuss is the suit-style shorts for women. What do people think of those? On the manequins they look great. I’ve actually seen one woman wear them to the office, and she looked very professional- they are knee length and made out of suiting material, so they look very nice. Paired with a nice top and decent shoes, it looks very nice. I am still a little too uncomfortable to take the plunge though. My reasoning being that a man wearing dockers slacks to the office is fine, but I would find it odd if he wore dockers shorts. Thoughts?
August 1, 2011 at 8:12 pm #136720
August 1, 2011 at 8:28 pm #136718
Bare shoulders don’t bug me because I see plenty of nice expensive office dresses that are sleeveless. I judge it more with how much shoulder….are they spaghetti straps or inch wide? Spaghetti straps should be covered in the office.
I laughed a couple of weeks ago when the governor was talking about a dress code and one of the things on the list was no open toed shoes….and I though ‘well, most of our female exec staff wear peep toe mules so this won’t go over well’ (didnt’ pass which is fine with me)
but yes, there are the ‘at the beach’ $1 flip flops that I wonder how folks can wear without tearing their feet up, and then there are even nice expensive birks or ornamented flip flops(what i grew upcalling toe sandals) or leather sandals, that are just as dressy as those pumps that are so popular….and a heck of a lot better for your feet than cramming them into dress shoes.
August 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm #136716
I have no issue with bermuda shorts. To me they kinda of tie into capris….i’m short, my capris always hit me mid calf, but for taller women they’re barely below the knee.
Don’t see much difference between bermuda shorts or a pencil skirt…in fact I’d rather see bermuda shorts than a mini skirt in most cases
August 1, 2011 at 9:45 pm #136714
Business Casual is for those of you that work in an office, the higher the GS number the better the clothes. At our installation, our engineers wear khaki’s and polos with Sperry Docksider shoes or LL Bean shoes. The older ones tuck their polos in, the younger engineers leave them out. (personal opinion, but if you have a few pounds around the middle, it looks awful to tuck in a polo, you look silly). Where I work, I am blessed to wear jeans and a casual pull over shirt, not a t shirt. I also wear steel toe shoes because I make trips in and out of the garage bays. I work in the office section and we are on “load shedding” (surprised to learn other fed government workplaces are not), so it’s never ice box cold in the office due to the a/c. And when the bay doors are open on both ends there is always a nice cross breeze. (the bays are not a/c’d). We are mixed office/industrial, GS’s and WG’s and I love it and no more than 4 women work here, even better, less drama. Our supervisor wears jeans and polo’s. We work together, get our work done and have good morale. So casual Friday for us, is everyday. No peep toe or open toe shoes allowed in the garage bays, stay behind the yellow line and black railing. Besides, there is nothing like getting lithium grease from a starter on your best acrylic sweater. :o( No pearls and high heels here.
August 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm #136712
In my experience, both men and women create drama in the workplace.
August 1, 2011 at 11:24 pm #136710
Previous ideas: http://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/do-clothes-affect-work
August 2, 2011 at 12:44 am #136708
Certainly this appears to be the root point. Ie. there’s no actual correlation between workplace performance and what you wear, but rather there’s these social dynamic and stereotypes. An office worker can’t type any faster in a suit but without one others will make judgements about them… etc.
So yes part of workplace maturity is to be aware of these factors, and one point I’d add to this mix which hasn’t yet been brought up is that there is also a dynamic that some will also draw conclusions about you in the opposite direction.
For example recently I had a meeting with the boss of a company I want to do business with. I went casual as I always do and he was even more casual, he was in shorts and sandals in his office. We both take business very, very seriously, but make no connection to what we wear to achieve this.
Indeed actually that’s not true, we both agreed a relaxed work culture was critical to business success, and points like strict dress codes were a negative influence. Not scheduling meetings for a Friday afternoon so they could leave for the cottage were others.
So in this instance too much starched shirt would go against you, not for you. Your appearance would be judged but not in the way all of these threads have suggested…
I’m not saying one is wrong or right, but rather just what we’re all saying which is that it’s horses for courses, indeed so much so that you may find yourself in a situation where actually what’s preferred is shorts and flip flops, not a stiff suit.
August 2, 2011 at 4:02 am #136706
I agree. I am teleworking and miss my morning routine.
August 2, 2011 at 4:05 am #136704
HAHA. Oh grade school The first place that I realized that high-water jeans were never going to get me anything but teased and thrown in trash cans for the rest of my life. Unfortunately for me, elastic waiste adjuster pants had not been invented yet. I was tall but skinny so my mom bought the pants to fit my waiste and not my legs. Fortunately for my son, the elastic pants now exist and I will shelter him from high-waters at all costs. Those trash cans were not fun.
August 2, 2011 at 4:10 am #136702
Agreed. I don’t do shorts or 3/4 length pants to the office. If I’m too hot, I just go with a skirt.
The Sandal issue…I agree as well. Some sandals (eh hem…Michael Kors) will cost you a lot more than a pair of good old pumps. Not that price is the issue, but as you mentioned they are nice leather sandals that are dressy. Since moving to DC, I am all about foot comfort. If I can’t wear flip flops then I pack the pumps in a bag and use the flops to do the walking. I can usually be spotted in downtown DC pausing to put my pumps on before entering a building, and pausing to put the flops back on when exiting.
The only rule that I have, if you’re going to wear flops…you must have a professional pedicure in a neutral color.
August 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm #136700
@Candace, I am so sorry people threw you in the trash cans.
August 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm #136698
Interesting topic. I’m a contractor and work off-site from our Federal customer. In my office “clothed” appears to be the only requirement (I know there are standards, which they keep to in the front office, but we in the trenches don’t typically bother). When we go to the client site, our number one rule is “dress at least as good or better than the customer.” The customer is pretty darn casual but we always go with jackets, the guys add ties. The interesting thing I find is that at 44 with gray hair and being overweight, is that some of the boss types have felt it appropriate to suggested that short hair for women is “more professional”, linen pant suits are not professional, and that to never wear skirts is weird. It plays into the ageist, sizeist, and sexist stereotypes that many offices fall into. I’ve always sworn that if I ever do business on my own that I’d hire the facially tattooed first because they are obviously thinking outside many boxes! Some people go out of their way to tread on the lines of the etiquette in every work place. Collared shirt required, ok, this Hawaiian shirt has a collar! I can wear a corporate T, but not one with another logo… ok, plain T. The fundamental struggle is that many of us like to show our personality through our clothing and falling lock-step into a uniform is boring. For others, it is comforting to know you blend in and don’t stand out. Me, I work in a field where “bunny slipper” work is most common – but I end up wearing suits 1/2 the time, so on days I don’t get to work at home and don’t have to be at the custome site, I go with a simple blouse and slacks. If it was allowed, I’d live in jeans and a T. The way I code or write isn’t going to be affected by how I dress… except in the negative. (oh, and 2 people on the row behind me use heaters all year round and I have a fan going often… remember folks, I can only take off so many layers before it gets REAL ugly!).
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