Business Dress Codes Deciphered
Traditional Business Dress is what most people imagine when they think corporate “suit.” Traditional Business Dress (TBD) is widely seen the C-Suites, and in banking, finance, and law. The goal is to look serious and trustworthy. Why would you put your money or life into someone’s hands who looks casual or “risky”? Some real estate professionals also wear TBD, a logical choice if you think of a home or piece of property as the largest investment a person may make.
In Traditional Business Dress, men wear a (dark) suit, shirt, and tie. They are covered from neck to toes, and down the arms to the wrists. The only exposed skin we see is the face and hands. Women’s TBD equivalent is similarly armored, and in subdued colors. For women that means skirts are down to the knees, and shoulders are not exposed. Hose are always worn, and closed shoes are expected. Accessories are usually fine and subtle.
Smart Business (SmtB) is similarly covered up, but less stiff and structured. The jacket and trousers may not be of the same fabric, but the trousers are generally wool or a wool blend, not cotton. You will see more color and pattern in shirts and ties. Shirt sleeves are long, and a jacket is still expected. For many men, the grey trousers plus blue blazer is the Smart Business default, but that is certainly not the only option! One summer variation here in the South is the lighter colored and more relaxed look of the seersucker suit and white bucks.
For women, Smart Business expects the same level of coverage as TBD, but often the colors will be brighter, and with more patterns and combinations. Accessories are often bolder and more expressive of personality.
Relaxed Business (RelB) takes another step down from the formality of Smart Business. RelB has less structure and more color than the above manners. Men’s shirt sleeves may be short, and a tie is not always expected. Relaxed Business is less “covered up.” If no jacket is worn, long sleeves are still often preferred.
Women’s RelB may find sleeveless dresses and tops appropriate, but the tops of the shoulders are still covered (no tanks or spaghetti straps). Less structure means that wider, softer skirts are seen, and fine knits will be commonly worn. A cardigan will often be chosen as a topper, rather than a jacket. Accessories will often be larger, and more colorful than in the more formal codes above.
Business Casual (BusCas) became a phenomenon in the 1990’s. This is the dress code that many offices and schools have adopted. Business casual is not what you would wear: to an outdoor activity, cleaning your garage, out for a pub crawl, or on a “looking for love” outing. The first word is still Business! Everything is less structured, but should not veer over the line into leisure wear. The default here for men is often khakis and a sport shirt. If jeans are worn, they are dark (not distressed or torn) and balanced with other structured pieces like a jacket or collared shirt. When knits are worn, they too, are balanced with more structured pieces.
For women the difference between Relaxed Business and BusCas often comes down to the shoes. Open toes are commonly seen as Business Casual, as well as fabric shoes instead of leather.
As difficult as it may be for those of us living in the center of the golf universe to believe… Not everyone is familiar with Masters’ Casual! A common dress code for small businesses here in Augusta, and even for larger businesses during the season, and often well into summer, Masters’ Casual generally consists of khakis and a golf shirt with loafers or boat shoes. One April is all you need to be indoctrinated into our specialty form of BusCas!
What’s the dress code where you work? Please share in the comments below!