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Unpacking the Business Casual Wardrobe

One of my dear friends started a new job last month and left the world of scrubs - full of certainty and comfortable shoes - for a position that requires business casual attire. After about a week in, she came to me thoroughly confused on the definition of business casual.

On one hand, she had co-workers who were rocking leggings and yoga pants with casual tees. While on the other hand, she had co-workers who showed up for work in pencil skirts and stilettos every day.

In the moment, I told her to find a happy medium, but the more I think about it, I realize it’s not a very complete answer. At my job I work with so many business people that have a variety of responsibilities and commitments and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

So how are you supposed to know what business casual means?

1. Check your company’s dress code policy.
Most have them. In fact, in the first couple months I worked at the Chamber, I had to check up on the Chamber’s policies about open-toed shoes and sleeveless blouses. Both are okay, but I wasn’t sure.

Here’s what our dress code policy states (it’s a pretty good guideline):

2. Check your calendar and to-do list.
If I’m going to be sitting at my desk all day, I tend to err more on the casual side. If I know I’ll be in meetings with CEOs and VIPs, I’ll probably don my most professional look - pencil skirt and a jacket. If I see there’s an event scheduled for after hours, you better believe I’m leaving my heels at home. Know your audience and dress accordingly. You want to look your best for potential clients and upper-level management, but if you’re going to be sitting in front of a computer screen all day - don’t overthink it!

3. Check your goals. I was waiting for a meeting to start last week when I overheard one guy say to another, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” My boss immediately leaned over to me and said, “That’s not true. Always look your best.” Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” So next time you’re in doubt, take their advice. If you're always dressed to impress, you never have to worry about whom you might run into. And if you're goal is to advance in your field, you definitely want to dress like it.

My apologies to the readers who were looking for a clear list of “dos” and “don’ts” - trust me, I’m one of you. But clothes - like most areas in life - are not black and white (unless you shop exclusively at White House | Black Market). However, following the guidelines above will put you on the right track. And if you need a little inspiration - check out the looks below from our ever-stylish Business Development Consultant Erik Hennegan and yours truly:

Have a business casual conundrum or a piece of advice? Leave it in the comments below or send us a tweet @MemphisChamber

Jenny C. Fish
Communications Specialist
Greater Memphis Chamber

Posted: 9/2/2014 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: business, casual, clothing, dress, professional, work, young

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