The ‘smart casual’ dress code has come of age in the British office, with most employees putting on their suit only for business meetings, according to research by executive leadership and development consultancy The Aziz Corporation.
Just over half of employers allow their staff to wear smart casual attire for everyday office life, but require them to wear a suit, or equivalent for women, for business meetings.
A further 12 per cent have gone a step further and allow their staff to wear smart casual for business meetings as well.
Fewer than one in four offices now require staff to wear suits at all times, representing a considerable slide from over a third in 2004.
However, completely casual dress is still frowned upon, with only 12 per cent of employers allowing their workforce to dress exactly as they wish.
The research suggests that most people want to appear smart and professional at work, but no longer equate this with wearing a suit.
66 per cent consider smart casual to be the most appropriate dress code for everyday wear.
An overwhelming majority of office workers believe that simply wearing a suit does not automatically make you look smart.
A completely casual dress code, allowing staff to wear whatever they want, including jeans, trainers etc, is rejected even amongst those whose offices have such a code.
Two thirds of employees who are allowed to dress casually at work in fact disagree with this policy, and only 6 per cent of them consider it appropriate to dress casually for business meetings.
Professor Khalid Aziz, Chairman of The Aziz Corporation, commented:
“Far from wishing they could get away with ripped jeans and T-shirts, most employees take their professional image at work very seriously and will dress smartly by choice. However, there is no longer a perception that we have to wear suits in order to be smart. Enforcing a suits-only dress code is seen as outdated and perhaps a little insular in an increasingly international workplace, an image which savvy modern companies want to steer clear of. Suits are best saved for business meetings where a very formal appearance is desirable.”
The research does however suggest that, if the current economic downturn worsens, many workers fearing for their jobs may want to smarten themselves up.
Almost half would seriously consider dressing more smartly than usual if they felt their job was at risk due to financial conditions.
Professor Khalid Aziz concluded,
“Like it or not, people will always be judged on their appearance as well as their abilities, and in the current climate some bosses will be reassessing their workforce. So it’s only prudent to look the part as well as acting it.”
Other office dress issues meet with a more varied reception. Men are much more tolerant than women of very short skirts at work: 34 per cent of men see them as appropriate compared to just 16 per cent of women.
Middle-aged men tend to appreciate a bit of cleavage on show, with 60 per cent feeling that this is acceptable in the office.
But female bosses become less tolerant of low-cut tops as they age, with only a third of those over the age of 50 prepared to put up with displays of cleavage at work.
Many executives admit to being puzzled by the smart casual dress code, with 62 per cent voicing a concern that the term causes confusion about what was appropriate.
Some items of dress were vetoed by the vast majority.
Flip-flops were deemed unacceptable by 84 per cent of respondents.
Perhaps of greater surprise is the fact that visible tattoos are thought acceptable by 45 per cent, while facial piercings other than earrings are deemed acceptable by 40 per cent.
Unfortunately for men gearing up for a hot summer, shorts are still an office pariah with almost nine in ten considering them inappropriate for office wear.
The jury is also still out on the subject of ties carrying a jokey motif: respondents were divided almost fifty-fifty in their opinion of them, with 47 per cent happy to see them worn about the office and the remaining 53 per cent insisting they should be banished in favour of something more sober.
Professor Khalid Aziz continued,
“The office is not a catwalk, and it is desirable to be noticed for your professionalism rather than for your mini-skirt. Jokey ties and other items of questionable taste are probably best saved for the weekend. Even if half of your colleagues wouldn’t bat an eyelid, the thought of the other half questioning your sartorial decisions should be enough to put off any career-minded dresser. As a rule, conservative clothing will always be the wiser option if boundaries are unclear.”
Attitudes to office dress vary significantly across sectors.
Almost half of those in financial services are still required to wear a suit at all times.
The media business is resolutely informal, with one in four being allowed to wear casual clothing to work and to business meetings.