The professional dress code is becoming increasingly casual and has only accelerated in recent years. What began as Casual Friday morphed into Casual Every Day and Everywhere. And as if we as women didn’t have – and have – a hard enough time navigating within professional contexts, the business casual trend and additional challenge.
The meaning of business casual
What does business casual mean anno 2022? According to an article by Career Contessa, the definition of business casual is the following:
Business casual means clothing that’s clean, unwrinkled, well-fitting, and professional, but also personal to your unique style.
In other words, business casual is an outfit consisting of clothing that is clean, unwrinkled, well-fitting, professional looking, and personal to your unique style.
We at The Acquired Report believe that every outfit should look like this.
A little further into the article, the business casual dress code is defined as:
“a professional yet more relaxed dress code.”
This already more clearly distinguishes it from business formal – which in our opinion should still fit your own style.
Where then the problem arises: what is the interpretation of more relaxed? And why is this a problem especially for women?
The gender inequality in business casual
At first glance, business casual does not seem to pose a problem. More freedom thanks to a business casual dress code is a great advance considering the strict rules that used to be imposed. The former dress codes were actually male dress standards enforced by women – since they usually held the HR positions. So the ability to reflect your personality more in what you wear every day is definitely a positive progress. Only there is also a downside. The price for more freedom is the increasing pressure on the working woman to look good. A pressure that is only increases with your responsibility within the company.
Moreover, business casual was created for men. More specifically in the 1980s in Silicon Valley for the male-dominated tech scene. So business casual for men usually translates into a good pair of jeans, a belt and a clean t-shirt or shirt. This is indeed more relaxed than the former tight suit and tie and coincides with the first definition – though it doesn’t leave much room for personal style.
And that is where inequality lies because women experience an abundance of room for personal interpretation. Business casual clothing can include dresses, skirts, jeans, pantalons, jumpsuits, maxi dresses, boots, heels, sneakers… The list is endless and has multiple nuances. In addition to these options, women are expected to conform to “appropriate” clothing- with reference to hemlines, necklines and fits.
Prejudices and stereotypes
Of course, we can argue that this is only a “trivial” problem and there are bigger problems affecting our living world. Agree on the one hand, disagree on the other.
A seemingly simple task like dressing yourself for the work day does affect our careers.
As women, we already have challenges enough due to many prejudices and stereotypes. Wage negotiations, pitching to investors, being seen and heard in meetings, etc.
“As a woman, if you dress too casually at work it’s easy to be perceived as being lower down the food chain. If you want to hold your own and be perceived as a serious contender, you need to dress the part”
Clothing thus becomes an extra challenge, an extra to do on an already far too long list. But one that cannot be ignored, because your outfit does influence your career.
Business casual series
Because we believe that women already have enough challenges and clothing and shopping should not be one of them, we have developed a series around business casual to eliminate confusion around business casual and inspire you to confidently choose a business casual style that suits you, your work environment, function and career goals.
Every week you will find a blog around business casual on The Acquired Report.
If you want to get started immediately, share your opinions and insights on this topic and be inspired by a community of like-minded professional women, join The Acquired Club.