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Business casual sucks. Here's why.

Posted by Chad O'Connor  December 13, 2013 06:00 AM

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: Below is an excerpt from the new book The Business Casual Survival Guide: 30 Looks for Men by Emmi Sorokin (Available on Amazon, ISBN-13: 978-0615925134 and ISBN-10: 0615925138]

Back in the days of Mad Men, life in the office was easy. In addition to drinking during the day and banging your secretary, you didn’t need to deal with “business casual.” Putting on a suit was paint-by-numbers. From a finite number of choices, you could plug in a suit jacket and slack and dress shirt and tie, and your mission was accomplished. If you were the type of gent who liked to dress it up, you added your favorite color pocket square and snazzy cufflinks. Not only was the system simple, but the structure of the jacket evened the playing field of flattering the man’s physique. It emphasized the shoulders to help create the highly sought-after V shape (more on this later).

For the majority of the male workforce, the built-in safety net of the plug-and-play suiting model is now gone. In its place is a loosely defined and seemingly all-encompassing “business casual,” and what men should wear varies dramatically by:

Industry: “Business casual” at a bank looks very different than it does at a tech startup. The blue blazers and khaki chinos are perfectly appropriate for the financial industry but look chumpy at a software startup, where a shirt with a collar would be considered dressing up.

Position: Within the same company, employees with different titles can have very different considerations they need to take into account. COOs interface with other C-level executives, board members, and investors, so they need to look sharp, but they can’t be so dressed up that their attire forms a barrier with the field crew. IT managers also need to look polished but have clothes that can take a beating when they jump into a cable pit. Engineers can often dress more casually and comfortably in jeans and a T-shirt, but they can’t look so disheveled that a visiting client’s eyes would need to be shielded.

Zip code: What’s considered appropriate in DC looks stiff in LA; what looks sharp in Miami seems loud and out of place in Boston. Showing individuality is great, but equally important is showing that you get and respect the culture in which you are doing business. Men who travel a lot for business typically need more than one set of location-appropriate clothing.

Add to these factors a perfect storm of more clothing brand options than ever before, disinterested or uneducated retail staff, and vague company dress code guidelines that define business casual as anything from a suit to jeans and a polo, and you can see why men cling to the perceived safety of the typical business casual uniforms even if they don’t feel inspired by them. While this is understandable, it must be fixed. Why?

When you settle in your everyday clothes, you settle in life. You have to work at people thinking you're awesome, rather than having them know it from a glance. Not only are you making yourself an indistinguishable sheep, but you're also denying yourself the quality of life that comes with the confidence of swagger.

Emmi Sorokin is a nationally-renowned men's fashion stylist and founder of It's a Man's World. She believes that personal branding is a powerful force. Her passion in life is to help men realize their potential by highlighting their unique strengths. Previously, her expertise has been featured on NPR and in publications ranging from Men's Health and Details to Bloomberg and The Boston Globe.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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