From board shorts to boardroom: the slippery slope of business casual

(scroll down for a quick guide to interview attire)

As college students prepare for an impending graduation or internship for the coming years, many more are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere to work in, with lenient dress codes that deem business casual OK for the office. But what is "business casual," anyway?

"Business casual depends on the organization and what the organization defines as business casual," said Nikita Wilson, a senior in the School of Communication. "It's all very blurry."

Camille Franklin, the director of career development for the Career Center, agrees.

"There is no one definition," Franklin said. "Where one organization business casual may be very casual, where for example men can wear khakis and a sweater, and in another organization men could wear a shirt and tie but not a jacket. With students, when starting out as professionals, to err on the side of being very conservative until they get to know the organization with whom they're working, whether it's an internship or a full-time job, is best."

The fact of the matter is that college students are reluctant to completely trade in their flip flops, jeans or favorite sweatshirt in order to enter corporate America. This is why most seek a setting in which the transition is smoother: business casual offices.

John Casiano, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, believes that places of business should care less about what one wears to work and more about their job performance.

"People have to realize that kids don't grow up wearing a shirt and a tie like they used too," he said. "The fact that you can't get a job at certain places if your hair is braided or you dress a certain way is not fair to people coming out of school now."

Wilson agrees.

"I've never had a job where I wasn't allowed to wear jeans," she said. She too believes wardrobe isn't as big a deal as productivity and personality.

As the upcoming workforce generation crosses the threshold from education to office etiquette, people are beginning to realize that not only has this particular generation been the leaders in technology, but was also present during the dot-com boom, which can be cited as the leading cause in business casual offices today.

"During the whole dot-com boom, when employers were much more flexible than they are now, [business casual emerged]," Franklin said. "They were offering a lot of fringe benefits to attract employers, and at that time is when the work environment got more casual. Some organizations are swinging back to a more formal environment. Often you see now that business casual is only allowed on Friday."

For some, Friday may not be enough. Wilson is one of those people.

"I'm not serious enough to be a part of something that wants me to be in a suit everyday," she said. "It doesn't fit my personality."

"If you're selling something and trying to bring people to do business with your company then your appearance definitely matters and it will increase your productivity," Casiano said. "But if you have a task at hand, you're going to do it no matter how you're dressed. A lot of people are telecommuting now, working from home, through conference calls and e-mail because they don't want to be bothered with [dress codes]."

Franklin said those who are too laid back for offices with business dress codes show this in their attire when attending job fairs.

"We strongly encourage students to come to job and internship fairs in business attire because it's more like an interview setting and in the interview setting you always want to err on the side of being more formal and wear the business attire," Franklin said. "We have had instances where students have come dressed inappropriately to the job and internship fairs."

"We're lazy as a generation," Chandler said. "We've become very accustomed to wearing whatever we want, just being comfortable, and not being concerned about exactly what kind of image we present. Because whatever kind of clothes you're wearing, I feel, presents an image and a personality that you're going to put forward ... You can look formal and mature and [like an] adult without looking old and I think our generation is still trying to balance the two."

Despite Chandler's observations, it can be assumed that the more "classic, sophisticated look" she is referring to is one instilled by our parents.

"Things are changing so much because of the Internet, and that's when business casual started to come into play and people started to get more laid back," she said. "Our parents, the whole being comfortable thing at work isn't an issue to them. My dad, I remember when I was younger, used to wear a suit to work and then come and take us to basketball practice in it and it wasn't a big deal to him, he likes that stuff. I couldn't do it."

Yet in the near future there may be little choice. As younger generations venture into the same work force, they have little problem with the transition from board shorts to boardroom.

"Generation X-ers were more casual, and now we're with Generation Y that are starting to swing to the more traditional [dress]," Franklin said. "The times in general now are swinging back to more business attire. The non-profit arena, service industry (community service, public service) are still observing business casual but the trend is moving back towards business attire."

Chandler, who wants to work with children, believes that though her job may entail being a bit more laid back in dress, she still understands the value of business attire. But she believes that clothing changes your attitude towards work.

"A lot of reasons why students wear uniforms to school now is because adults think that if you're dressed up you'll present yourself in that manner," Chandler said. "If you're grungy and you don't care about your appearance then you're just carefree. If I have to wear a pair of pumps in a situation I hold myself in a different way, physically as well as mentally, because I know it's a different image that I'm putting forth."

Casiano sees it otherwise.

"If you need to impress clients or you need to set forth a certain image because you're representing a company, then a suit is the way to go. But it's not for every job," he said. "The majority of jobs today, you're sitting at a desk at a computer. It's kind of an antiquated tradition."

This antiquated tradition has many soon-to-be graduates thinking about their job offers more along the lines of what they want from a job.

"I might choose a job because of [their dress code]," Wilson said. "It would be a factor."

One can only hope that business casual stays around - at least for the future members of the working world.

What to wear for interviews (but not necessarily for work)

MEN: - dark suit with tie - polished dark shoes - no extra jewelry (bracelets, earrings, piercings)

WOMEN: - dark dress suit with a skirt that hits below the knee - dark hosiery (black or nude) - hair pulled back form face - minimal jewelry

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