Build a business casual image

November 1, 1997
Roz Usheroff

Pharmaceutical Representative

As "casual Friday" gives way to "casual Everyday," some reps may be confused about how to interpret business casual. Roz Usheroff, an image consultant based in Toronto, offers the following advice.

Editor's note: As "casual Friday" gives way to "casual Everyday," some reps may be confused about how to interpret business casual. Roz Usheroff, an image consultant based in Toronto, offers the following advice.

Dressing in "business casual" does not mean that you can wear whatever you presently have in your wardrobe. It means dressing in clothing that spells quality, comfort and unquestionable professionalism.

Whether you are wearing a formal business suit or a relaxed outfit, maintain an image of self-pride. Use a strategy. Before choosing your clothing for the day, ask yourself what type of meetings you will have and who you will meet. Tailor your choice accordingly.

Think about how you would like to be perceived. You represent your company and your product. You must show respect and project a polished image in everything you wear. If nothing in your closet meets this criteria, you will have to go shopping.

Get thee to a mall

Invest in classic clothing. This is far more economical because it will stay in style longer than trendy clothing and you will always look appropriate.

Buy co-ordinates and build a wardrobe around a specific color scheme for more versatility in your clothes. Combine some of your existing business wardrobe with casual attire. Try wearing a button-down shirt with khakis, loafers, a colorful tie or scarf or a blazer or sweater.

Think quality when you shop. Do not reserve money only for your more formal business look. Poor quality clothing could discredit your authority.

Be a smart shopper. Shop at discount stores. Buy when stores have sales. Buy only when you need something and when it fits the occasion.

When purchasing business casual clothing, look for a softer silhouette in lighter, flowing fabric. Check out the new fabrics and blends which are virtually maintenance-free. Think comfort, freedom, simplicity.

Build a casual wardrobe around patterns and textures which create interesting effects. Use accessories such as belts and scarves to upgrade your business casual look.

Be a chameleon. There is no law stating that you must always dress the same. Change your clothes to suit your strategy.

From head to toe

Cotton and wool slacks are acceptable provided they are clean and wrinkle-free. Corduroy pants may be a good choice during the cooler months. Inappropriate items include sweat pants, shorts, overalls, Spandex or other form-fitting pants and - unless your company has indicated otherwise - jeans. Choose pants that flatter your figure.

Belts can finish an outfit nicely. Women may dress up casual cotton pants by wearing blouses with attractive belts. Men should invest in braided belts that match their shoes.

Casual shirts with collars, golf shirts, sweaters and turtlenecks are acceptable. T-shirts can be worn provided they look professional. Avoid sweatshirts, tank tops, halter tops, shirts with large lettering or logos and any tops with bare shoulders unless worn under another blouse or jacket.

Replace blazers with cardigans or sweater vests. Women may be able to make suit jackets multipurpose items by coordinating them with skirts, pants and walking shorts of contrasting colors and fabrics. Men should always keep a sports jacket or blazer in their office for emergency presentations. A versatile tie is also a good article of clothing to have around for social or professional "emergencies."

Casual dresses and skirts, jean skirts and mid-length split skirts are acceptable.

Loafers, boots, flats, dress sandals and leather deck shoes are fine. Athletic shoes, sneakers, thongs and slippers are not acceptable. Casual socks and even no socks or stockings are acceptable if it's appropriate for the rest of the outfit. But socks and nylons do add to a more professional look.

Be neat, tidy and appropriate. Focus on makeup and hairstyle as a finishing touch. Wear clean, ironed clothing, and remember that grooming contributes to your business casual image. PR