Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:45 pm
Professional clothing can be hard to define these days, since many companies have stopped requiring employees to wear a business suit and starched collar.
Misconceptions on what is corporate or business casual and what is inappropriately casual can cost companies their clients and their reputations, local clothiers say.
“Image has a great deal to do with how employees package themselves as part of a company, especially when meeting with clients,” said Steve Schroeder, president and owner of Roger Stevens in Milwaukee. “The company is etched in the employee and how the employee is dressed.”
Men and woman in professional fields can get confused about whether the clothes they choose for their style and budget are appropriate in the office. Men typically have the most problems with the definition of business casual, while many women are looking for versatility in their wardrobe.
“Business casual can be the most misunderstood descriptive,” Schroeder said. “Men don’t quite understand how it is to be developed and equally, companies don’t know how to define business casual.”
Business casual was introduced about 10 years ago when many companies in the area decided to do away with the requirement of employees wearing business suits, said Mark Pasch, owner of Mark Pasch Ltd. in Bayside.
Pasch opened his first store in Bayside 24 years ago and opened his second location in downtown Milwaukee two years ago. He believes the way professionals view business casual today is sloppy compared with what the intention was.
“When we opened our store, men were wearing suits five times a week, and now, overall, business is dress casual,” Pasch said. “Dress casual is intended to be nice slacks and a nice shirt with a blazer or sport coat to wear over it.”
Men’s clothiers are seeing an increase in popularity of dress casual clothes, which are a step down from a suit but a few steps up from old jeans and a fading polo shirt.
“We are seeing dressier fabrics. For instance, trousers used to be denim or khakis for business casual, but now we are seeing khakis or any cotton trouser as the staple and in dressier fabrics and classic patterns,” Schroeder said. “The dressier fabrics begin to move the wardrobe up a notch.”
Sport shirts, which are long-sleeved cotton dress shirts, are popular for dressing business casual at work or going to a restaurant at night or on the weekend. But layering is key to looking more dressed up and put together, Schroeder said.
Whatever the industry a professional is working in, what employees wear to work should always be a step up from what they wear socially or when relaxing, Schroeder said.
“If you get home from work, and you don’t find yourself changing into casual clothes, you are too casual. That is too low for what is appropriate at a business level,” Schroeder said. “This is a standard all professionals should adhere to.”
Female professionals are looking for ways to make the traditional suit more feminine or take an outfit seamlessly from the office to an after hours event.
Kathleen Warner, a sales consultant for New York-based Casuals Etcetera Inc., sells the clothing line out of her Milwaukee home to professional and social women who need appropriate casual, business and cocktail wear.
“Women in high-powered traditionally-male roles want pinstripes and still dress in a traditional look but look for design detailing that reflects their femininity,” Warner said.
More women are achieving this through skirt suits and blouses that have a modern twist, whether it is ruffles, crystal adornments, prints or flattering tailoring, according to Elissa Elser, owner of Hers, an upscale women’s boutique in downtown Milwaukee.
The local clothiers agree that it never hurts to be overdressed, and it always helps to dress confidently.
“You have to make people around you feel comfortable,” said Joseph Hughes, a sales executive with the Glendale location of Jos. A. Banks Clothiers Inc., based in Hampstead, Md.
Jos. A. Banks offers clothes considered sophisticated casual, including small print Hawaiian shirts, cotton silk textured weaves and stay-cool technology that dissipates moisture from the body. But it is up to the individual to understand what is appropriate for the occasion and for the company.
Schroeder, Hughes and Pasch have spoken to companies on topics including dress casual and how to dress in a professional manner. Schroeder and Pasch will also serve as wardrobe consultants and go to a client’s home for a closet evaluation.
Hers and Etcetera offer in-store consulting and advising on ways to utilize one piece of clothing in five or six different ways. One-on-one consultations will also help women who want advice on which types of clothing are flattering for their figures.
“A wardrobe should have consistency, but it should not be black and white,” Schroeder said. “Individuals should be flexible between lifestyle, professional demands and things that are flattering to who they are. Apparel is all about personality and impressions.”