Bring Yourself To Work

What will I wear? It’s a familiar weekday morning dilemma. And after decades of change and confusion, corporate America may have finally found a likeable, sensible standard of dress. From a dash of personal taste to a smattering of classic, elegant decorating techniques, here’s what people are wearing to work.

Corporate Dress Codes What Casual Means Now

Employers around the country are shifting dress code guidelines in order to promote a more polished appearance among employees. But guess what? The new rules also seek to accommodate personal taste and expression, encouraging staffers to showcase their personalities through the clothing they wear to work.

“The 2008 economic slowdown forced companies to rethink the ‘casual Friday’ concept,” says Jackie Whitfield, VP of merchandising at Richmond Hill, Ontario-based supplier Trimark Sportswear Group (UPIC: TRIMARK). “As more companies re-focused and saw the need to ‘step up to the plate,’ a new business attire concept was born, and the term ‘smart casual’ came into play.”

Smart casual fits somewhere on the spectrum between boardroom attire (think dark-colored suits) and business casual (khakis and polo shirts). It’s built on dress-up basics such as oxford shirts, slacks, blouses and scarves, but it gives employees the freedom to style their clothing in accordance with fashion trends and personal preferences. Whimsical prints, bold color combinations and stand-out accessories are all acceptable in a smart casual environment.

Put It Together Key Elements Of ‘Smart Casual’

• Sport coats, jackets or pull-over and half-zip sweaters work well.

• Ties are optional for most situations.

• Patterned socks, or “sock flair,” express individuality.

• Standard blouses get an update with vivid prints.

• Hemlines are work-appropriate.

• Trendy footwear provides self-expression.

Business Wear Decoration Classic Still Wins

Though corporate dress codes are loosening, decoration techniques still lean toward the traditional. “The most popular type of decoration is traditional embroidery,” says Gina Barreca, marketing director for Avenel, New Jersey-based supplier Vantage Apparel (UPIC: vantage). “For the most part, companies will go with primary logos and stick to standard left-chest decoration zones.” For more upscale office wear, Barreca suggests tone-on-tone embroidery, which uses different shades of the same color. If classic left-chest details won’t do, try placing logos on the cuffs or collar tips of a woven shirt.

Work At Home, Lounge At Work

Work-life balance seekers can sigh with relief, as sweatpants have (softly) pushed their way into the canon of work-appropriate clothing. Retailers such as Banana Republic, J.C. Penney and Ann Taylor offer knit drawstring pants for women, suggesting consumers dress them up with heels and blazers for work and pair them with sneakers on weekends.

>>Click through to see more workplace fashions.

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