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In Praise of Business Casual

Sir Jack II

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I’m going to take my virtual life into my own hands and offer an apologia for business casual (BC) dress, the preeminent.... no, the prevailing office-drone style of the 21st century.

My definition of business casual (BC) is simple: shirt with a collar, slacks of some sort, leather shoes that are not sneakers.

Beyond the straightforward premise that business casual is simply increased casualization via subtraction (subtract the hat, tie, coat/pocket square of traditional menswear, and what you’re left with is BC), I contend that BC can represent an elegant middle path between CM, which is arguably out of sync in many contexts, and SWD.

I believe that within the parameters of BC you can dress with taste and maybe even good style.

Rest assured that I understand all the flak BC gets: Business casual is just so common, for example. But this is also what I like about BC: its everyman vibe, the democratic feeling of dressing like others in your time. Poets, musicians, and other lowlifes have resorted to BC for generations now. (I think? Maybe?) Just check out the guy in my avatar, one of our best men, who went casual with a rough elegance back in the 1850s. Some of you might say, Why don’t you at least throw on a sports coat/jacket. I agree that a jacket would likely improve a given outfit and I understand it flatters the body. But I think for most people the jacket signifies, I have an important occasion to attend. For most people, it might be a little much for daily life. Anyhow, in the summer, it’s too hot; and in the winter, it might be better to wear a cardigan or pullover instead. And a decent shirt that fits well can frame the body just fine.

Moreover, the suit used to be just as common and probably just as poorly done on average as BC is today. Nowadays, the only men who wear CM regularly (aside from those who have to for work) tend to be enthusiasts, and so they all dress extremely well, perhaps better than nearly anyone dressed when wearing suits was the norm. I think this skews our perception of the CM era. It wasn’t all Cary Grant wearing whatever tailored masterpiece; it was often just a guy with a mediocre job in some office, wearing a suit from JC Penney. He looked okay, and a lot like everyone else, and that was enough.

I think you could analogize this to business casual today. It can be done well, or it can be done poorly. But perhaps it’s not the genre itself that’s flawed. Within CM and within SWD, there are all sorts of ways to look good. Maybe the same applies to our friend in the middle path, BC.

So let’s celebrate business casual attire together. Or let's trash it. I really don't know which I'd prefer.
 

FlyingHorker

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I see your point to daily life.

I admit I wear BC often, but this isn't ideal or my style goal in life.

I'm still in school with online lectures, and an OCBD and pants has me in an appropriate context.

When I went to an internship or when I now go to a restaurant, I'm wearing a sports coat.

Hopefully when I graduate, I'll have an opportunity to wear one daily.

I am still acquiring the confidence to wear a jacket when I feel like it, ex: visiting a friend in their house or grabbing tea.

I like to think my style is still evolving and hasn't settled yet.
 

JFWR

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I’m going to take my virtual life into my own hands and offer an apologia for business casual (BC) dress, the preeminent.... no, the prevailing office-drone style of the 21st century.

My definition of business casual (BC) is simple: shirt with a collar, slacks of some sort, leather shoes that are not sneakers.

Beyond the straightforward premise that business casual is simply increased casualization via subtraction (subtract the hat, tie, coat/pocket square of traditional menswear, and what you’re left with is BC), I contend that BC can represent an elegant middle path between CM, which is arguably out of sync in many contexts, and SWD.

I believe that within the parameters of BC you can dress with taste and maybe even good style.

Rest assured that I understand all the flak BC gets: Business casual is just so common, for example. But this is also what I like about BC: its everyman vibe, the democratic feeling of dressing like others in your time. Poets, musicians, and other lowlifes have resorted to BC for generations now. (I think? Maybe?) Just check out the guy in my avatar, one of our best men, who went casual with a rough elegance back in the 1850s. Some of you might say, Why don’t you at least throw on a sports coat/jacket. I agree that a jacket would likely improve a given outfit and I understand it flatters the body. But I think for most people the jacket signifies, I have an important occasion to attend. For most people, it might be a little much for daily life. Anyhow, in the summer, it’s too hot; and in the winter, it might be better to wear a cardigan or pullover instead. And a decent shirt that fits well can frame the body just fine.

Moreover, the suit used to be just as common and probably just as poorly done on average as BC is today. Nowadays, the only men who wear CM regularly (aside from those who have to for work) tend to be enthusiasts, and so they all dress extremely well, perhaps better than nearly anyone dressed when wearing suits was the norm. I think this skews our perception of the CM era. It wasn’t all Cary Grant wearing whatever tailored masterpiece; it was often just a guy with a mediocre job in some office, wearing a suit from JC Penney. He looked okay, and a lot like everyone else, and that was enough.

I think you could analogize this to business casual today. It can be done well, or it can be done poorly. But perhaps it’s not the genre itself that’s flawed. Within CM and within SWD, there are all sorts of ways to look good. Maybe the same applies to our friend in the middle path, BC.

So let’s celebrate business casual attire together. Or let's trash it. I really don't know which I'd prefer.
Your most pertinent point is that not everyone wore suits well. We have pictures of attractive men in attractive clothes that we use as an ideal, but for everyone Ricky Ricardo, there was a Fred Mertz. This skews cm as being so nice, when in reality, Fred was way more common than Ricky. Contrariwise, we see more in everyday life the run of the mill bc. Perhaps some people pull that look off well.

That being said, a jacket elevates an outfit well and more men should wear them as it looks good. Of course, many people look fine in bc, but it just doesn't scream stylish of interesting.

Bc is boring. Then again, so is a lot of CM. But BC is deeply boring.

That being said: I think many street styles look childish. I'd rather see someone in a nicely fitting and aesthetically pleasing bc outfit v. 200 dollar sweat pants.
 
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JFWR

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I see your point to daily life.

I admit I wear BC often, but this isn't ideal or my style goal in life.

I'm still in school with online lectures, and an OCBD and pants has me in an appropriate context.

When I went to an internship or when I now go to a restaurant, I'm wearing a sports coat.

Hopefully when I graduate, I'll have an opportunity to wear one daily.

I am still acquiring the confidence to wear a jacket when I feel like it, ex: visiting a friend in their house or grabbing tea.

I like to think my style is still evolving and hasn't settled yet.
Just put on a jacket. That's where you get the courage to wear one: by doing it. It really won't make you stick out that much. It isn't outlandish to wear a jacket in almost any context where bc would be acceptable.
 

FlyingHorker

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Just put on a jacket. That's where you get the courage to wear one: by doing it. It really won't make you stick out that much. It isn't outlandish to wear a jacket in almost any context where bc would be acceptable.
I agree.

Depends on the context though, a student wearing a SC to class every day looks goofy so I won't be doing that.

I do think shawl cardigans are a great intermediary for this though.
 

JFWR

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I agree.

Depends on the context though, a student wearing a SC to class every day looks goofy so I won't be doing that.

I do think shawl cardigans are a great intermediary for this though.
Depends on the context. Undergrad: maybe, but undergrads look like shit. Like sincerely, they all dress like garbage. I swear, I have students who wear pajamas. Graduate: totally respectable.
 

FlyingHorker

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Depends on the context. Undergrad: maybe, but undergrads look like shit. Like sincerely, they all dress like garbage. I swear, I have students who wear pajamas. Graduate: totally respectable.
I laughed. Yeah it's undergrad man.

I agree that I'd probably do that if I was a grad student.
 

JFWR

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I laughed. Yeah it's undergrad man.

I agree that I'd probably do that if I was a grad student.
Probably right then to stick with the cardigan. It'd look a bit too conspicuous.

Rocking the sports coat in private is totes cool, but gauge the room. Undergrad party bars aren't a great place for a sports coat, but a nightclub might be a cool place for one.
 

reidrothchild

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My definition of business casual (BC) is simple: shirt with a collar, slacks of some sort, leather shoes that are not sneakers.

Beyond the straightforward premise that business casual is simply increased casualization via subtraction (subtract the hat, tie, coat/pocket square of traditional menswear, and what you’re left with is BC), I contend that BC can represent an elegant middle path between CM, which is arguably out of sync in many contexts, and SWD.

I believe that within the parameters of BC you can dress with taste and maybe even good style.
I agree with your definition of business casual AND your contention that you can dress within the parameters of BC and look good. But I think the bolded part of your statement is why business casual gets thrown around here as a pejorative. When I think of business casual, I don't think of someone wearing nice chinos with an OCBD and suede loafers. Most men view BC as casualization simply through subtraction from their prior business mode of dress. So they'll wear their same dress shirts, just without a tie or collar stays. They'll wear the same shiny leather oxfords with either orphaned suit pants or khakis. So it ends up being this odd mish-mash that doesn't end up look as good as CM and isn't as comfortable as casual clothing.
 

Sir Jack II

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Most men view BC as casualization simply through subtraction from their prior business mode of dress. So they'll wear their same dress shirts, just without a tie or collar stays. They'll wear the same shiny leather oxfords with either orphaned suit pants or khakis. So it ends up being this odd mish-mash that doesn't end up look as good as CM and isn't as comfortable as casual clothing.
But you can also view it from the other direction: BC is SWD with a couple “nicer” elements. Maybe cords instead of jeans, bluchers instead of sneakers, a quality sweater instead of a sweatshirt, OCBD instead of a t-shirt, etc.
 
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JJ Katz

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BC has all the dull conformism, potential for soulless repetition and comparative impracticality (relatively speaking) of the former “corporate uniform” with much less sharpness/ smartness.
Like any mode of dress, it can be done better or worse but it’s basically a pawn to mediocrity.
 

Jmr928

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But you can also view it from the other direction: BC is SWD with a couple “nicer” elements. Maybe cords instead of jeans, bluchers instead of sneakers, a quality sweater instead of a sweatshirt, OCBD instead of a t-shirt, etc.
I can’t help but chuckle at the notion that SWD is just dressed down business casual.
 

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