Business casual seems the common dress code for workplaces. But what exactly defines business casual? And do you include jeans in the mix for your small business’s dress code?
You’ll find conflicting rules about business casual these days. So you might end up wondering, “Are jeans business casual?” See the answer below.
Are Jeans Business Casual?
It turns out they could be. But it depends on a number of factors. Small Business Trends recently spoke with some style and etiquette experts to dig into the details.
Bridgette Raes serves as the personal stylist and consultant behind Bridgette Raes Style Group. Raes says, “With the continued casualization of the workplace, jeans have become increasingly more acceptable. Of course, there are still work environments where jeans are either never acceptable or are only acceptable on Fridays and these environments tend to be more corporate or professional, like law or finance or situations where employees are interfacing with more corporate companies.”
Sherry Maysonave works as an author, speaker, and founded Empowerment Enterprises. Maysonave adds, “In my book, Casual Power, I discouraged jeans in the workplace. At that time, sloppy casual was the norm. Today, the pendulum has leveled and professional attire embraces suits as well as many levels of business casual. I do believe that jeans have their place in some work environments, especially when they’re worn smartly. It’s important though that the employee understand what type and when appropriate.”
Where Business Casual Jeans May and May Not Be Acceptable
The first factor experts recommend when determining whether or not denim may be appropriate is considering industry itself. A casual business could include things like an online marketing firm, app development company, or bicycle repair shop. However, many traditional industries require formal attire like suits, dresses, or nice pants.
Lucy Hume works as Associate Director at etiquette training provider Debrett’s. Hume told Small Business Trends, “The level of formality demanded by office wear is largely dependent on the industry and culture of the organisation. Jeans may be considered more appropriate for modern creative fields such as PR, marketing and media, and less so in more formal and traditional industries such as insurance, law and finance.”
Think About the Job
Think about the types of jobs you have to complete on a daily basis. Do you do a lot of behind the scenes work? If so, jeans translate as a comfortable option. Do you meet with big clients? If so, consider something more dressy as an option. Additionally, don’t wear jeans for a job interview, unless specifically stated otherwise.
Raes says, “A dress code that is becoming more common is “dress for your day” which means the dress code is more situational and an employee can make their own decisions on what is appropriate for the type of day they have or who they will be interacting with. In dress for your day workplaces, an employee is entrusted to know when it is or isn’t appropriate to wear jeans. This can be very empowering for employees an employer is trusting their employees to make smart choices.”
In fact, businesses don’t need to have just one basic dress code. Some employees can get away with more casual attire than others.
Maysonave says, “Many companies today require one level of dress for salespeople and those employees interfacing with customers/the public, while allowing a more casual level for workers in cubicles or back offices.”
However, please note that many small businesses have fairly fluid roles. So don’t assume your employees will be doing the same job everyday.
Maysonave adds, “And one never knows just when opportunity may knock. You may seem to be stuck in a back office and suddenly be thrust in front of the customer unexpectedly. In small businesses, employees often must double up on roles when understaffed.”
How to Wear Business Casual Jeans
Look at Your Superiors’ Attire
Hume suggests, “Observe how other people dress, particularly those who are senior to you, and try to reflect this in your own office wear. Consider the style of communication within the organisation – does it tend to be formal and official, or quite casual? Do you have to attend meetings with clients, where it’s necessary to present a professional persona? All of these factors will give you some idea about whether or not jeans are appropriate.”
Keep Jeans Professional
Raes explains, “Employees who are allowed to wear jeans to work should avoid wearing a casual pair of jeans they would wear on the weekends. Darker and unfaded jeans are typically seen as less casual and more professional. Fit is also important. Employees should test bending down to make sure nothing unsuitable is exposed when bending. Jeans should not be too tight or too body hugging. Jeans should be hemmed properly, fresh and clean.”
Pair Them With Other Business Casual Attire
Maysonave says, “Keep in mind that your physical/visual image is a shocking 55% of your overall communication. The multitude of nonverbal messages inherent in clothing and grooming often supersede intentions and even good performance, affecting how one’s abilities and aptitudes are perceived by the powers that be. Your personal image matters. You send critical messages about yourself, your habits, and your goals simply by the way you present yourself. Think of it this way: your choices of garments (and how they’re put together as well as their color, condition and quality), your shoes and other accessories, and your grooming all shout out information about you.”
Tips for Setting a Small Business Dress Code
Consider the Perception of Your Work Wear
Small business owners should consider this. Don’t just think about dressing appropriately yourself. Also make sure your employees represent your brand in a positive way. Carefully think about when, and how jeans may or may not be acceptable in your workplace.
Maysonave says, “Also, it’s important to address how you want jeans to be worn. What’s acceptable and promotes your company brand? Jeans with t-shirts and sneakers? Or jeans with business-like shirts, blouses/tops, and shoes. Employers must consider how they want to be perceived, and their employees are their golden face to the public.”
Be Specific When It Comes to Style
Ideally, your dress code should make it very clear what you expect from your employees in specific situations.
Hume says, “If business owners wish to impose an office dress code, it’s best to set this out in an employee manual or introductory document for any new recruits. Be as specific as possible, eg. ’No jeans or trainers’ or ‘Jeans may be worn, but should be neat and clean with no rips.’”
This improves your company’s professionalism when working with clients or customers. But it also give employees more confidence and clarity. They know what’s expected when getting ready for work.
Raes says, “Many employees I have spoken to miss having to wear suits not because they necessarily want to go back to wearing suits again but because it was easy and clear for them to figure out what to wear. In a time where offices have become more casual and sportswear driven, employees are expected to figure out how to create dynamic and professional looks with mix-and-match separates. And because employers can be too general with their dress code do’s and don’ts, this leaves a lot up to the employee to figure it out.”
Address Dress Code Issues Fairly
In some cases, simply explain what you expect from employees. But this may not ensure they live up to your dress code standards. Still don’t disallow jeans altogether. Consider simply providing examples of what is appropriate and what isn’t.
Raes adds, “Visuals partnered with verbal direction can be helpful in making the guidelines clear. Also, go beyond just giving parameters on the type of jeans that are allowed. Show examples of complete denim looks so employees understand that general the type of jeans outfits that are allowed in the workplace.”
Bring in a Style Expert
Finally, you may not wish to design a dress code or address business casual jeans in the office. If not, let a style consultant help. Raes and similar professionals offer consulting services. They can determine the types of clothing that work for your business goals and objectives.