When you think of business casual, what comes to mind? For some, the image of trouser-suits, neckties, skirts, and heels comes to the forefront. Others might picture more relaxed attire that doesn’t feel so “formal” and stuffy.

The reason people think differently about what business casual looks like is because it’s been a major “grey area” for years.

Up until the 1990s, suits and ties were considered traditional in an office setting. When a new generation came into the business world, they brought with them a more relaxed sense of style. While it hasn’t completely erased the suit and tie generation, it’s clear that there is more focus on the “casual” today than there was in the past.

Some of the most famous names in the world of business and industry have adopted an affection for casual attire, from Mark Zuckerburg to the late Steve Jobs. Richard Branson’s company doesn’t even have a dress code, and instead, uses a casual work environment as a way to boost productivity.

The definition of business casual is constantly changing, and that will likely continue. So, what does it look like today? What is acceptable to wear to work, and why are certain trends currently in style?

Creating a Casual Environment

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Photo by Kim Cruz, Pexels

One of the reasons business casual is starting to focus more on the “casual” side of things is the current work environment across the globe. Again, some of the biggest names in business focus on casual attire to create a more positive, relaxed work environment for themselves and their employees. The benefits of a happier, more relaxed workplace include:
  • More motivated employees
  • Better attitudes
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased productivity
  • Supportive employees
  • Boosted creativity

Casual attire is becoming even more prominent in the startup industry. If you choose to further your education to get an MBA and build your own business, you’ll quickly see that. You’ll also get to decide on the kind of environment you want your business to build its foundation upon. With the benefits of casual attire, this decision may be crucial.

Work environments, in general, have also seen a change. Most recently, the gig economy and remote working have both seen a huge boost. This is due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, remote working was becoming more popular even before the pandemic hit. When people can work from home or their favourite cafe, they can dress in whatever makes them feel comfortable. As a result, they’re bound to get more done wearing their favourite shirt instead of a suit and tie. It’s one less thing they have to think about, so they can focus on their job, rather than being uncomfortable and stuffy.

What Are the Current Trends?

Although many workers today prefer casualty, it doesn’t mean that all offices consist of employees wearing t-shirts and blue jeans. The basics of business casual attire today include a jumper, chinos, and an optional shirt and tie for men. For women, the norm tends to be a blouse, dress slacks, and close-toed shoes. The current trend is for things to fit snugly, but not too tightly. Needless to say, the shoulder pads and boxy looks of the ’80s are long gone.

What should you do, though, when the dress code is super casual, or there isn’t a dress code at all? Don’t assume that it’s an excuse to wear dirty, ragged clothes to work every day. You can still look your best and feel your best while maintaining a sense of professionalism. There are some basic rules to follow that usually work for everyone, including:

  • Wear what makes you feel confident
  • Tie your look together with a few accessories
  • Choose shoes that aren’t dirty, even if they aren’t dress shoes
  • Have fun with prints and patterns
  • Consider any first impressions you might have to make

Even if you’re working remotely, you’re going to feel better about yourself and your workday if you take the time to really “get dressed” in the morning, rather than spending the day in gym clothes or whatever you may have slept in. It’s still important to take pride in what you wear so you can feel confident and motivated, no matter what the current trends are.

Where Fashion Meets the Future

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One current business casual trend that is impossible to ignore is sustainable fashion. It’s not just becoming popular in the business world, of course. Sustainable fashion is something prominent on the minds of consumers, considering 13 million tons of textile waste is produced across the globe each year. Even some fashion designers are starting to adapt their designs and creations to become a part of the sustainability movement.

You can’t ignore the fact that sustainability has caused a shift in what people look for in business casual attire. Thankfully, since sustainable fashion is becoming so popular, it’s easier than you might think to jump on board, by shopping at second hand shops or recycling your clothing in other ways. You can also shop with companies that are dedicated to sustainability, including wrapping things together with ethical jewellery that betters the planet and positively impacts human rights, all at once.

Once again, current business casual fashion trends reflect the state the world is in. From the popularity of remote working to concerns about the environment, current workplace fashion is an accurate depiction of where we are as a society — constantly evolving and changing along with the people.

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Historically the Fashion Industry has been responsible for a large amount of pollution all over the world, from the use of chemicals in making fabrics usable, to waste clothing in landfill.

It has been estimated that in the UK alone around 350,000 tons of clothing ends up as landfill every year. According to Earth Pledge, a non-profit organisation committed to promoting and supporting sustainable development, "At least 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles and 25% of the world's pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton. This causes irreversible damage to people and the environment, and still two thirds of a garment's carbon footprint will occur after it is purchased." (Source - Wikipedia)

It is clear that the fashion industry needs to work harder in order to reduce this huge impact on the environment. It is everyone’s responsibility to reduce this impact, not just the large fashion houses, and Fashions finest has recently looked at how consumers can support the fashion industry become more sustainable, however, our question today is to designers. How sustainable is your product and company, and how can you improve on the environmental impact you already have?

What Is Sustainability All About?

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The goal of sustainable fashion is essentially to create flourishing ecosystems and communities through its activity. The aim is to reduce usage and waste, reuse products and materials as well as recycle as much as is possible. These targets can be met through working on causing less pollution from production and consumption, ensuring better wages and no labour exploitation for workers, reducing waste and recycling, producing longer lasting garments, and promoting local production.

Sadly however, even though sustainability is the goal, some would say there is much more work that needs to be done.

According to the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, when taking the long view and examining fashion and sustainability progress since the 1990s, there are few actual advances in ecological terms. As the Union observes, "So far, the mission of sustainable fashion has been an utter failure and all small and incremental changes have been drowned by an explosive economy of extraction, consumption, waste and continuous labour abuse." (Source - Wikipedia)

There are many theories as to why this has been the case, such as the extra costs of sustainability and the continually changing fashion trends, which potentially leads to fast fashion.

Why Should I Be A More Sustainable Fashion Designer?

Even if the existential impact on our planet is not enough to persuade you that being a sustainable designer and fashion producer is a good thing to be, it has been noted that more and more consumers are looking at buying ethically sources, green and environmentally friendly products. Ensuring that your business ticks some of these boxes can help your Unique Selling point for potential customers. Also being aware of how your raw materials are made, where and by whom can help you sell more products, as many customers enjoy knowing the back story behind their garment. There are also elements of saving time and money through thinking about packaging, and places products are made.

Is It Even Possible To Be A Sustainable Fashion Designer?

Although it would be extremely difficult, very expensive and almost impossible to reduce your carbon footprint to zero, and take all the steps necessary to become fully sustainable all in one go, you as a designer should be looking at your business, materials, sources, production line and selling in order to focus on one area you can control, and work on making that area more sustainable than it already is.

Maybe you are already working on becoming more sustainable, and are looking for another way to improve your business, or maybe you haven’t even tried yet. Either way, take a look at Fashions Finest tips to becoming more sustainable:

Look at the raw materials you use. Are they sustainable/eco/green? Do they have a low impact on the environment? Think about the chemicals that are used in the making and refining of them, as well as how far they have to travel to get to you. Can you change or re-think your raw materials to make them more sustainable and eco-friendly?

Look closely at your production methods. Are they local/community based/natural? Do they promote fair trade? Do they have a low environmental impact? Think about ways you can improve your footprint in these areas.

Look at the amount of waste in your production process. Think about the waste materials after your products have been made. What happens to these? How do you use packaging, and what happens to your product at the end of its life?. Can you put measures in place to reduce any of the waste or usage here? It will not only save you money, but you will be improving your sustainability.

How can you plan ahead for the recycling of your products? Think about offering to take back garments people want to dispose of, offering extras to support customers, and make your products last longer including spare buttons, re-waxing of leather jackets, repairs services and instructions on washing and care of your product.

Typically, a garment used daily over years has less impact than a garment used once to then be quickly discarded. Studies have shown that the washing and drying process for pair of classic jeans is responsible for almost two-thirds of the energy consumed through the whole of the jeans' life, and for underwear about 80% of total energy use comes from laundry processes. Thus, use and wear practices affect the lifecycles of garments and needs to be addressed for larger systemic impact.(Source – Wikipedia)

Rounding It All Up

Any industry can be considered to be sustainable when it doesn't take away more than it gives back; the most sustainable industries actually improve the environment. That is what the Fashion industry is working towards. You can play your part in making this happen, and driving it forward.

Don’t get bogged down by the big picture, just begin by choosing one area you want to improve in, and march forward from there. Start by thinking about, and defining your ethical stance as a part of your business plan, and then stick to it! Be creative with the solutions you find as a designer, and have fun with looking for ways to be more sustainable. In this way you can add another dimension to your business model, and share your insightful knowledge with your customers, creating a loyal fan base, and attracting more customers with your new ideas.
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