Recently I attended a large business event in a warm and humid city in the southeast. The agenda asked participants to dress “casually”. Not casual for business. Women have largely cracked this code. For those who are not lacking in advice. And retailers have dedicated sections with business smart brands like INC, JCrew, Lafayette 148 and my favorite, Halston Heritage.
But casual? You’re on your own.
The problem with “casual games” is particularly acute when it is an industry conference where you may first meet a lot of people – customers, competitors, potentially valuable contacts, or industry experts – who you want to impress.
Or it is an internal meeting of the highest levels of corporate management. “One thing that makes me particularly stressful when I hear ‘nonchalantly’ is that senior business leaders may be attending an event or meeting,” one senior female professional told me. “The CEO sets the tone and what he or she wears can be a wild card.”
And if the company is a multinational, the event can be attended by colleagues from around the world, each with a different definition of casual. You don’t know what small feels like until an effortlessly stylish Parisian cold-evaluates your clothes one more time.
At the meeting I attended, the puzzle of “casual” attire at a business event was a main topic of hallway conversations among the approximately 25% of participants who were women. “Finding the right outfit that isn’t too casual or too formal is stressful,” was a common refrain. “You don’t want to be overclothed, but you don’t want to come in yoga pants and a t-shirt” was another.
How about sharing the difference with jeans? Okay, but which one? Pants? Skinny jeans? Definitely not jeans with holes. And shoes – they’re a big enough problem anytime. Everyone agreed that sneakers and flip-flops are a no-no, but the right footwear was also available. Women have to ask themselves the following question from head to toe: “What impression will I make when I wear[[[[Insert garment or accessory]]? “
Husbands are of no help. One attendee, whose husband also attended the event, said, “He wasn’t stressed about the dress code at all. When I asked him what he was going to wear, he said shorts and flip flops. I said no way. He said: path. ”
We conducted an informal survey of the men present. Around 90% of respondents said they were confused by the word “casual” but were not concerned about clothing or accessories choices – or the impression their choices might make.
The good news for women is that we are right to be stressed about clothing. A Salary.com survey of 4,600 business people found that 56 percent of respondents admitted that they make assumptions about people in the office based on their clothes. Almost a quarter of respondents said the dress code in their workplaces was too mild.
The next time you are advised to wear casual clothes to a business event, you can reduce stress by following these guidelines:
Use common sense: Dress for comfort. Wear suitable clothing. Avoid low cut or backless tops, tight dresses or skirts, ripped or faded jeans – and keep your tattoos and piercings private.
Wear layers: If you’re not sure how casual your group will be, wear a couple of layers. You can remove or reinstall layers at any time, depending on the formality or informality of the group. Your innermost layer should be the most casual, like a t-shirt or a modest tank top, and then formal to a casual blouse, and finally a knitted sweater, and then a jacket. And don’t forget that most meeting rooms are cold. So layers keep you warm.
Equipment: Beautiful accessories can take your eyes off that blouse or pants that you weren’t sure about. You can always take off or put on earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, depending on the formality of the group you are in and the activity you are engaged in.
Leave the bright red shirt at home: If you’re unsure of how casual to go, choose pieces with more conservative colors – blues, blacks, grays, and tans are always safe. Brands like Iris and Ink and Eileen Fisher offer comfortable and elegant pieces in muted tones.
Don’t cut corners with your shoes. Never wear sneakers, flip-flops, or strappy sandals. Choose and wear stylish shoes that are in season. Take care of toes by avoiding too much cleavage and making sure the nails are well manicured. Last but not least, a good pair of shoes attracts the attention of connoisseurs (like other women) and does not set off alarm bells for those who are not.
And one last plea for meeting organizers: if you decide on casual wear, please be more specific. “Business Casual” was a contradiction enough when it first appeared. “Casual business” is even worse.