Dressed For Distress

Is business casual in for a backlash?
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This story appears in the March 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There was a time when going to work meant putting on a suit and tie-now it's not unusual to see employees in jeans and sneakers. But are people going too casual?

According to a poll by employment law firm Jackson Lewis, 44 percent of managers noticed an increase in tardiness and absenteeism when casual dress policies were introduced, and 30 percent saw a rise in flirtatious behavior. "There's still a lot of confusion," says Ilene Amiel, founder of Scarsdale, New York-based Business Casual Publications Inc. Because words like "appropriate," "professional" and "businesslike" mean different things to different people, Amiel says, "businesses need to be clearer in how they describe 'appropriate.' "

Most of the backlash seems to come when "people confuse casual with sloppy," says Mary Lou Andre, image consultant and editor of DressingWell.com. "What we're seeing from clients is a desire to step it up a bit." Experts also point out that most of casual's critics come from the retail clothing industry-the same people who profit when people buy business suits.

Still, traditional business attire, aka business formal, has its devotees. StrataSys Corp., a technology consulting firm in Miami, has had a suit and tie policy since its 1995 inception (though they've adopted classic business casual Fridays). "[Business formal attire shows clients] our level of seriousness as it relates to business," says principal managing partner Arnie Girnun. "We're very serious about what we do."

On the other end of the spectrum, supercasual is the code at The Princeton Review, a provider of test preparations and college admissions services in New York City. Founded in 1981, the company has allowed casual dress from Day One, even before it was the rage. Says CEO John Katzman, "I've never seen a company go to a casual dress code and then find revenues plummeting."

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Edition: July 2017

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