How Casual Is Your Business . . . Clothes Do Make The Person

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By Steve McIntyre-Smith, Ph.D

The clothes do not maketh the man (or woman) – but they do help maketh the sale! It seems that the trumpeted arrival of the dress code that came to be known as ‘business casual' is making something of a whimpering exit.

With the ‘dot-com' boom, came a new generation of CEOs, mostly in their late 20's or early 30's who took a more cavalier approach to their business attire, and turned up for work ‘sans-tie'.

In some companies it was more extreme than others, where the newly minted millionaire would show up in ratty old jeans and a T-shirt, and before too long the masses had followed.

So, what became of the Business Casual dress code?

Well, I for one believe that it never was a genuine code in the first place.

I can site numerous examples of HR professionals and senior financial officers dismaying at how some of their younger people started dressing for work. If called upon at a minute's notice to attend a client meeting, it would have been difficult for the client to determine who had arrived from the accountants office and who was delivering the Pizza.

The problem has been that, unlike the ‘IBM unwritten rule of white shirt, dark tie and suit', the term ‘Business Casual' was always open to misinterpretation.

Does one place the emphasis on ‘Business' or ‘Casual'?

It seems that if you were 40 or older, you thought this to be a sports jacket and Polo shirt. The next generation down saw it as an opportunity to show off their more outrageous designer label purchases, and the youngest members of the workforce took it to mean ‘turn up wearing what you slept in last night, no one will mind'.

Since the demise of the largest slice of the ‘dot-com' economy, the standard of dress codes seen in most places of work seems to be on the rise again.

Call it a return to more traditional values across the board.

Just listen to your radio on the drive into work. How many ‘specialist outfitters' do you hear advertised which specialize in business suits? I seem to hear more each day.

Take a look down Wall Street. How many ‘high fliers' do you see not in the traditional designer suit? Very few upon my own inspection.

Finally, take a look around your own office. I see more business suits and ‘smart casual' than anything else. It seems we all received an ‘Emeril-like' message to ‘kick it up a notch'.

Today business casual, I believe, means a designer suit with a designer shirt, but no tie, as opposed to the T-shirt and jeans. Maybe it's because of the thought that casual attire leads to a casual approach, and as the economy tightened we had to be anything but casual in our approach to business.

I still believe there is a place for business casual – with the emphasis placed firmly on business, and many companies I work with seem to have got it about right. Many of the people I see at work would feel equally at home at a family wedding as at work, based on their choice of wardrobe. And why not?

Rightly or wrongly, we still ‘judge the book by the cover'. If one prospective supplier turned up at your office in dirty, ripped jeans and an un-ironed T-shirt and the next, in a smart suit and tie, and their product was of equal quality and similar price, who would you buy from?

I rest my case. The clothes do not maketh the man (or woman), but they DO help make the sale!

It seems that what we came to know as business casual is dead. Long live business casual…but then again, what do I know?

About the author: Steve McIntyre-Smith, Ph.D, MIDM is President of Toronto-based Practice Development and Practice Management consulting firm, Marketing For

He consults on a wide range of issues of critical importance to developing your accounting practice, and he ONLY works with public accounting firms. He has published a series of books on Practice Development issues for public accounting firms, which are available from

He offers a free marketing newsletter, LEDGER – available only to public accounting firms, from his site: You can e-mail Steve at [email protected] or call him at 905-607-3673.

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