I am often asked what direction business dress is headed in, is it getting more formal, back towards suits and ties as the norm, or is it on a continual downward spiral, getting more casual with fewer rules and standards every day? The answer is a little of both, but more towards the formal end.
For men, suits have traditionally been the classic, internationally accepted standard for business dress, and that is still true. The classic suit, however, has changed. The look for 2014 is more fitted, with narrower lapels, a shorter two-button jacket, double-vents and flat-front pants. Fabrics are leaning towards plaids and checks, which are more casual than solids or pinstripes. Additionally, the open collar look without a tie is gaining traction.
Sport jackets for men are a practical alternative to a suit, as they are both more casual and more open to personalization. Sport jackets, like suits, are most often in a check or plaid pattern, and wearing one with a collared shirt and pocketsquare will elevate your look while remaining business casual, and not overly formal. All you need is a coordinating pair of slacks and black or brown leather shoes to complete the look.
For women, skirts and dresses remain in the forefront. Feminine dressing, from longer, pleated skirts to jeweled appliques and floral patterns allow a softer, yet professional look to emerge. Slacks, and pantsuits are still around, of course, but the masculine trends of peak lapels, pinstripes and dark colors have given way to softer, drapey fabrics and lighter colors. Jackets of all shapes and fabrics have become accessible, so it’s easy to find the style that works best with your body type and personal style.
The question of what level of formality to maintain continues to be a function of your industry, your company’s dress code, and the day’s activities. The general direction is not a straight line in either direction, but headed more towards formality. I believe that employers now realize that more professional dress in the office leads to greater productivity and better workplace etiquette. The overall look to aim for is business-appropriate, yet not stuffy. My suggestion on how to achieve this look is to emphasize professional details like elegant shoes, good fit, silk scarves and pocketsquares, and to keep most of your garments in the business dress/business casual category that you prefer. This will let you express some individuality, while remaining professionally on trend and consistent with your office and industry norms .