Business Casual Is An Oxymoron

With the economy still working its way back, employers are taking aim at what many employees call their “right” – casual dress.  Don’t get me wrong, I love casual clothing, especially comfortable casual clothing (they don’t always go together), but it’s rare I hear an employer express delight that his employees are “too dressed up”.  So rare in fact that it has never happened.

Many employers I speak with tell me about their “business casual” dress code, and how it’s not working in the office.  When I ask them what they mean, inevitably, there is a long pause before the news that most of the office dress is just “casual” and the business part isn’t there at all.

There is still widespread debate about how to interpret business casual, and that stems in part from the two words being in opposition.   Clothing in general has become more casual, but there is still, for the most part, business attire and clothing that is not for business.

But, unless you are a standout in your field or a well-known CEO, or have already been at the job a few weeks and know the dress code, your safest outfit is one that errs on the side of more authority and credibility.  I was talking with a young entrepreneur/business owner at the University last weekend.  He said he prefers that someone coming to interveiw with him wear a jacket or a shirt with a collar, even though the dress code of his workplace is more casual than that.  If you do wear a jacket to the interview and it seems too formal it can be taken off as soon as introductions are made.  Owners want to be the ones to tell the employees they can come to work in jeans, so out of respect for the interviewer, business clothing is appreciated.

As Allison Kluger, a teacher of reputation management at Stanford, tells her students: “If what you’re wearing is going to garner more than a moment’s notice, you’re probably wearing something inappropriate. You don’t want something to distract people from why you’re there, which is to do the job.” (from In short, it’s probably better to show up slightly overdressed than underdressed when interviewing or starting a job.

Business clothing is generally thought of as a man or woman’s suit, comprised of a matching jacket and pant or jacket and skirt.  Whereas casual is generally thought of as jeans and a t-shirt of some kind.  These two extremes create a spectrum, and it’s a good idea to fall somewhere in between when dressing for work depending on your career.

Screen Shot 2012-03-01 at 4.58.52 PMjean-t-shirtiStock_000021279833Small 2

A matched suit generally signifies business as in banking, law, corporate sales, etc.  Jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers say “let’s play”.  Taking the design elements of the suit and softening them with some of the comfort (think softer fabrics) and fun (think brighter colors, less angles) of the weekend wear gives you the ability to be creative and personal with your clothing.

For interviews or work that requires authority but more approachability, think something like this:

RalphLaurengreenjacketCatherineMalandrino 2BCBGMaxAzria
Ralph Lauren               Catherine Malandrino                     BCBG

For those of us in a more creative position, business clothing can be softened by taking the design elements and changing them up a bit.  For example, a jacket without  a collar and/or a lapel is still a jacket, but it is less formal and more casual, while still looking professional.

Free People                 NYC Collection

For men, simply removing the jacket and wearing a collared shirt of some kind keeps the business look of the outfit, but engenders a more relaxed look:


This is just a beginning of suggestions on what to wear for work when “business casual” is the suit du jour!  The intent with clothing is to have an awareness that both the outside – the clothing, and the inside – your personal style, are in play when you get dressed.

Again, these are examples of dressing for the office setting on any given workday.  The biggest consideration will be, of course, your own personal style.  Who you are and how authentic you want to appear affects every part of your wardrobe and closet.   Do you know how to dress for business, for work, for interviews?  If not, email me and let’s set up a time to talk.  I am scheduling calls through mid-May, and I have a few slots open.  Let me help you open doors, reach your goals and just feel great about your clothing choices.


Spring Fling Sundown in Midtown Block Party

If you’re in the Reno area, come join me for this fun community event on Friday, April 25 5-9pm at Caliber Salon where there will be fashion, education, music and food!


  • Hooping Techniques with Velocity Movement
  • Braiding Techniques with Emily Slingland
  • Flower Crowns & Tiaras with Leah Stange
  • Scarf Tying with Kathleen Audet from Your Authentic Image
  • Health Strategies with Vitality & Wellness Center
  • Hair Chalking Techniques with Caliber Staff
  • Veritas Empowerment Boutiqe – Think Hats

Enjoy food from Stephon’s Mobile Bistro Food Truck

Listen to live music: Sympathetic Tones playing some Hip, Jazz, Nostalgic Music.

And try these on and pick your favorite fabric for a one-of-a-kind look this summer at Sundown at Midtown on Friday!

2014-04-17 12.33.132014-04-17 12.33.31_0493 Alice Heiman LLC Reno Nevada SuePh Photography

TRY on these ponchos and pick your favorite fabric from Jana Duplantis of A Perfect Fit.  Get all the details on Friday.  Be sure to pick up a map and visit all of the amazing Businesses participating in the first of the block parties of the season! Find more details here.

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