Business Casual: What's the Big Deal?
I am totally against business casual in a professional organization. I can hear the "boos" now from a majority of the population, so let's move past that for a meaningful discussion on this matter.
I can understand the general appeal of business casual. Why not wear the clothes you wear at home in the office? You save money on a wardrobe and don't have to change when you get home. Besides, it's more comfortable when you're casual; and let's face it, that's what's most important, isn't it?
If you want to take it a step further, I guess you could wear pajamas to work if you really want to be comfortable. I can appreciate a professional environment with no public contact having a more relaxed dress code. And I do understand it's the battle cry of dot-com companies to champion the casual work environment. In fact, I've noticed a distinct effort on the part of those people who enjoy business casual to playfully attack and ridicule their colleagues who dress professionally. This may work well in an environment that does not interface with the public or clients, but how does it affect productivity? It's a tough thing to measure in most organizations that are not sales-oriented.
Clothes Make the Deal
So, what are the repercussions of a business casual environment? Since you know where I stand, I'll be up-front: Casual Dress leads to Casual Attitude leads to Casual Results. Studies have proven that people carry a certain self-esteem and confidence based on how they dress. And while a case can be made for some individuals who feel they may excel in business casual, does that hold true for everyone? My guess is not. When the discussion of business casual came up in a seminar I recently led, I gave this example: Suppose you had $5 million to invest and interviewed two financial advisors whom you felt were equally competent. One wore a $2,000 suit and drove up in a Jaguar. The other wore topsiders, Dockers and a golf shirt, and drove a respected American car. Whom would you give your money to? That's the question your clients and customers will ask whenever you make an appearance in front of them. Whom will they give their $5 million to?
A few years ago, there was a movie called "Broadcast News," in which a good-looking, no-talent anchorman rose to the top of a television network. A frustrated, solid newsman, played by Albert Brooks, gave an impassioned speech, calling him the devil -- not literally, but figuratively. He's the devil because he is eroding our standards, just a little at a time -- so small that you don't even notice it's going down, until you realize that you are so far below the standards of excellence you set, you can never go back. That is what business casual is -- an erosion of professional standards.
Wait and See
I'm not sure I'll sway too many people with this argument, but I'm not very worried. Attitudes about business casual are a lot like fashion statements. They change with time and eventually swing the other way. So while the pendulum is swinging the current favor toward business casual, I know it will ultimately swing the other way. I think I can wait. I might even buy a new suit to celebrate the occasion.