When it comes to business casual, we can all agree on one thing: No one really knows what it is.
What was once meant to be a reward on Fridays has turned into a gray chasm of wardrobe ambiguity for employees and human resources departments. I’m not advocating a return to rigid Mad Men-esque dress code, but we have to do better than what has become thoughtless casual. Employers are getting tired of playing the fashion police role, and employees are tired of the guessing game. Sandals? Golf shirts? Sleeveless dresses? Yoga pants worn as dress pants?
I understand that different industries require different dress. The requirements can change from day to day within the same job. I know one fraternity foundation director who chooses his wardrobe based on the donor he is meeting.
And it’s not as if jeans can’t sometimes fit the bill on a workday—they now come in colors and styles that rival some dress pants in design aesthetic. But while trends are important for self-expression, they must be incorporated within business goals.
In an effort to provide clarity, I propose eliminating business casual altogether. Its replacement: smart professional.
Smart because employees need to think about what they’re going to wear and professional because we all need to exude competency at work. This small shift in terminology puts the responsibility on the employee to think through what it means to be a professional in a particular role.
And part of that comes with knowing who you are. If you have an aversion to ironing, invest in non-iron shirts and dry clean often. If you can’t style your hair fast enough in the morning to get to work on time, consider a new cut.
Everyone has goals, values and a personality that affects what makes them feel comfortable and confident. To be your own best supporter, your appearance must support your goals. And when your goals and appearance standards fit the culture and goals of your workplace—everyone wins.
In this new year, I challenge you to start embracing a smart professional image.•
Adelowo is the founder of ImageCube LLC (www.imagecubellc.com), and a certified image consultant of the Association of Image Consultants International.