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by Vault Careers | March 31, 2009

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The invention of the "casual" or "dress down" day has made the workplace a little more human-looking, brightening the assembly line of black suits and brown skirts, but it has also made life a little more confusing for the office workers who dont make the rules. Any experienced employee knows that a soft and friendly workplace is usually an optical illusion--office permissiveness always has a concrete wall in back of it. So for the touchy question of what to wear on "dress down" morning, the trick is to know how far you can go before you hit the wall. Here are three basic "zones" of casualness within which most businesses can be found; during your job interview, you may want to find out where that particular business sits.

"Business" Casual

Basically, this means you can have a little sugar on your gruel. The most traditional businesses, such as law offices and financial institutions, practice this form of dressing down. Business casual clothes are almost the same as business clothes, but with splashes of color added.
  • The skirt can be replaced with slacks or a dress, the dress shoes with casual pumps
  • The shirt can be blue or pink, the jacket tan or another light color, the tie a little brighter and more playful

In other words, think like a Victorian going out for a day in the park (not like yourself in the same situation).

"Dress" Casual

This is perhaps the most confusing and perilous zone of all, because it can only be described as "in-between." At the same time, it is where the majority of offices are located, including advertising firms, government agencies, and medical offices.

  • A vest or soft knits, including dresses, can replace the womens suit.
  • A sport shirt with vest, sweater or jacket, and corduroy or patterned pants can replace the mens suit

Dress down day can be a little like a costume ball at an office like this. See your fellow workers attempt to look half-relaxed and half-professional! The results may be more festive than casual.

"Relaxed" Casual

Beware: life is still no slice of cherry pie at these places. However, your "weekend wear," including jeans and dignified single-colored T-shirts, may get some weekday exposure. Relaxed casual days happen at offices where there is little face-to-face contact with customers, such as high tech firms, sales support teams, and telemarketing operations.

  • No ties or pantyhose. No, we insist!
  • Khaki or denim skirt or pants, with crisp shirt, vest, blazer, or cardigan for women.
  • Jeans or khakis with denim or polo shirt, vest, or sweater for men.

Remember, if you use one bit of aggressively casual clothing, like jeans, T-shirt, or tank top (that was a joke), balance it with an equally strong bit of fanciness, such as a belt, nice shoes, or a crisp shirt.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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