Business Casual Or Casualty?

Mar 17, 2014 1 Min Read

Photo Source: Kevin Dooley

I was reading an article onboard a plane when a little paragraph caught my attention – A survey done with human resources (HR) professionals in Malaysia found that more than 60% of potential candidates would be well groomed during interviews, but would slack off after that.

It’s similar to going for a cake with beautiful icing, only to find after a few bites that it tastes bland.

A female employee would be in her court shoes on her first day, but ballerina flats a year later.

A male employee would pick his best shirt on the day of the interview, but six months later, he would turn up in his just-woke-up-from-bed-T-shirt, should no one say anything about it.

Sounds familiar? This is common at workplaces here in Malaysia, except perhaps for the hospitality industry, where good grooming is part and parcel of the job description.

In general, we see people slack due to several reasons:

1. Complacency – I’ve secured my position. No one is going to fire me if I decide to wear my worn-out 20-year-old shirt today.

2. Office culture – No one else dresses up. Why should I? I’d be so out of place!

3. Attitude – You want me to wake up at 5am to mix and match my attire?

4. No specific guidelines – Who says my skirt is too short?

5. No proper training – I didn’t know my blouse is considered too trendy for work wear.

And when you have companies that adopt dress-down Fridays, the lines between what is acceptable and what is pushing the limit becomes blurred.

This is one of the headaches faced by many HR managers and employers, especially when a company has never had dress code guidelines, or when long-tenured staff have always dressed down at work.

Casual Fridays often create more wardrobe anxiety than its “casual” name suggests.

So how do you nail a relaxed yet work-friendly outfit for Fridays?

First and foremost, the term “casual” doesn’t give you the freedom to wear whatever you have in your closet.

Different companies will adopt different ideas on the term casual Fridays. There are companies that will only allow corporate T-shirts and there are those that will not have anything more casual than a short-sleeved shirt.

So, for the benefit of those that are trying to decipher the boundaries of business casual, here are a few pointers.


– “Tired, worn-out” clothes that are faded should be used when you are doing gardening.

– Clothes that no longer fit you – either too tight or too loose.

– Ask yourself before you slip into any item – “Can I wear this for an after-nine clubbing?” If the answer is yes, then don’t wear it to office.

– Anything that either a cockroach or mice have had a share on. Even if it’s a tiny hole, the thread will eventually give way.

For ladies:

– No matter how much you want to flaunt your assets, the office is not the place for you to show off your ultra-short hemlines and plunging necklines.

– Flip-flops, no matter how comfortable they are, are a definite no-no in the office.

– For business casuals, you may replace your jackets with chic cardigans. But don’t go into anything that is made of leather or denims. Even suede materials will not look good after a few washes.

– You may swap for clothing that is slightly relaxed like cotton or linen. But don’t play hide and seek with sheer or opaque tops.

For Gentlemen:

– Collared T-shirts are still preferred. But do make sure your collars are not wrinkled.

– Your T-shirt must be relatively new, not stretched out of shape, or have bits of fibre coming out everywhere.

– Choose well-pressed khakis over jeans. But if you do pick jeans, pick darker, dressier fabrics.

– Forget safety boots and anything that looks old and scruffy. Dirty shoes don’t speak well of you no matter what the brand or the rest of your outfit is.

– Keep on shaving.

When it comes to business casual, the general idea is that you are still able to conduct important meetings or be presentable enough to meet clients. You never know who you may bump into.

Would you feel comfortable sitting with a VIP client wearing whatever outfit you have on that day? If a vendor or a supplier were to wear what you are wearing today, would you be impressed by him or her?

Would you trust and buy whatever product or service he or she is selling? If you are not 100% sure, don’t wear it.

Your image is your brand. How you look says something about you, the work you do, and the company you represent. If any of the five reasons above resulted in you slacking, do something about it. Don’t allow your business casuals to turn you into a business casualty.

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