Business Casual in the Office is Waning

Business Casual in the Office is Waning

11-11-2007 17:36

Casual Office Attire Losing Edge Worldwide

By Jane Han
Staff Reporter – The Korea Times

Business casuals are seemingly falling out of style worldwide as more companies are going back to suits and ties, pushed by the tough economy and misunderstanding of lenient dress codes.

Almost 50 percent of U.S. companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resources Management allowed employees to dress down in 2004, while less than 40 percent were accepting it this year. Likewise, U.K. businesses permitting casual wear dropped from 40 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2004.

“Many companies are starting to feel that employees are less effective at work dressed in casuals,” said Kim Young-hoon, a business etiquette specialist at Happy Training Consulting.

But not only are employers tightening up office dress codes, employees are also voluntarily wanting to go more professional.

“People dress up more in times of financial uncertainty and intense competition. It helps their sense of stability,” Gary Brody, president of the Marcraft Apparel Group, recently told the New York Times.

Although waning now, the casual boom enjoyed its peak with the dot-com craze of the late 1990s. While IT and creativity-focused firms still champion dressing down, others ― namely finance and customer-service related businesses ― are starting to redefine the term “business casual.”

So, what is business casual? Khakis and a polo shirt would be the textbook answer, but more are recommending that men add a jacket and women wear stockings.

Among the many that recently renounced the corporate attire are Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.

And they’re not regretting it, as a recent report by the Daily News Record, a men’s-wear news and trends publication, said that companies reinstating the shirt, tie and jacket rule reported as much as a 20-percent hike in productivity.

Some examples of local firms joining the run are GS E&C, POSCO and almost all banking firms.

To prevent employees from going overboard in casual-wear, GS last year issued a guideline to be followed, and POSCO clearly defines a business attire dress code in its employee handbook.

“Local IT firms are going toward an even more down-to-earth wardrobe, but many of the major corporations seem to be taking an opposite shift,” said Kim, the business etiquette specialist.

He added that even though firms outwardly say they root for “dressing casual for more creativity,” human resources still keep a close eye on anything “too much.”

Especially in the more conservative banking and finance sectors, Kim says it wouldn’t be hard to find sloppily dressed employees getting corrected by superiors.

Although the general trend is shifting toward more the serious, wardrobe decisions seem to be taking an industry split, where what works for Apple doesn’t necessarily work for Goldman Sachs.