Ingredients to a business professional outfit

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There are certain elements to beauty and fashion that shift as the years go on. Bell bottom jeans go out, skinny jeans come in. Bangs cut straight across the forehead disappear for a while and then make a reappearance.

There is, however, one dress code that has experienced little to no change over the past decades, and perhaps that is a good thing. Business professional attire has always been a rather intuitive means of dress.

Twenty years ago, if a professor instructed his or her students to come to the next class wearing business professional attire, there were few questions on what was considered acceptable. College students of 2017 are an entirely different animal.

Speaking from my own personal experience, when a professor requests business professional attire, several hands fly upwards with questions ranging from, “Do I have to wear a tie?” to “How long do our skirts need to be?”

This always surprises me, because I find the expectations that accompany the words “business professional” to be rather clear. Throughout high school I was involved in numerous extracurricular activities like which required me to be dressed as such, normally no less than once a week. It would seem that this understanding is not the norm among my classmates.

Time and time again, I have seen portions of outfits worn by students in what was intended to be a business professional setting that caused me to think, “I definitely would have gotten points taken off during my high school DECA presentations for that.”

I find that I cannot decide whether the misinterpretation of the standards of business professional attire is intentional or not. Are students purposefully wearing items that do not fit the dress code in rebellion of being forced to dress nicer than usual? Or do they truly not understand what business professional attire entails?

According to The Balance, men’s traditional business attire consists of items such as, “formal suit, tie, business shirt, upscale sports jackets with ties and a business shirt, leather dress shoes, appropriate conservative leather accessories…” The Balance goes on to mention appropriate clothing items for women including, “skirt suits or pant suits with formal business blouses or tops, stockings, closed toe and heel leather shoes, and appropriate business accessories…”

Though some may argue that anything labeled “traditional” attire is too old-folksy to be expected of today’s average college student, knocking the standard down a level to what The Balance calls “smart casual business attire” does not make much of a difference. Most importantly, it is still recommended for men to wear ties and leather shoes, and for women to wear hosiery and closed toe shoes.

If, then, it is as easy as conducting a simple Google search to find guidelines and how-to articles focused on business attire, why do college students seem to lack a firm grasp on what is expected of them?

Students can see the evolution of casualwear over the period of their lifetime, as the most popular styles of everyday clothes change with every season. However, maybe it is when they try to equate this frequent change to the virtually immovable standard of business professional that they become confused.

The challenge of ‘business professional’ attire is that although it has evolved, it has not kept the pace with casual attire evolution,” said Eileen Taylor, a visiting instructor in human communication and leadership. “I also believe that the millennial generation of today will define ‘business professional’ attire tomorrow. It may or may not be similar to the late 20th or early 21st century attire.”

When Taylor was in college, she said she recalls images of dark-colored suits, skirts and light-colored blouses as the standard of business professional, something that does not sound too far removed from the definitions that can be found today. It would almost appear that the rules have not changed, and whether or not they will is now left to the professionals of tomorrow.

Personally, I see something to be honored in the fact that the standard has remained so consistent over the years when everything else — from swimsuits to wedding gowns — has been changed, redesigned and changed again year after year.

The next time you are up against a big presentation or important job interview, just remember: if the elements of your professional look have withstood the test of time and the whimsical fashion industry, so can your confidence. Go get ‘em, Dawgs.



  1. Tom Harly said:

    Just ran across this article. As yet calming to consider. I recall precisely where I was and what I was doing. Very little work completed that day the nation over I presume.