Despite being only two words long, “business casual” is the second most ambiguous phrase in the English language. The first most ambiguous is “no,” which can mean any number of things ranging from “yes” to “if you touch me again I’ll call the cops.” Surprisingly, it wasn’t the worst date I’ve ever had.
The reason “business casual” is so confusing is that neither word carries any meaning. “Business” doesn’t clarify anything because if I already knew how to dress for your business I wouldn’t have asked about the dress code in the first place. It turns out that you have to wear clothes to pretty much every business on the planet, and many of those businesses require very different outfits. I know from personal experience that my summer job at a burger joint required a different outfit than my stint as a European sex god, so the adjective “business” sheds no light on how you’re actually expected to dress for a money-earning institution.
This coalminer is dressed casually for his business. The cigarette is actually part of the outfit since the only way to keep the coal dust out of your lungs is by filling them with tobacco smoke first. (Photo courtesy of http://www.outofrange.net/blogarchive/archives/coalminer.jpeg)
The word “casual” doesn’t answer any questions either. My casual attire typically includes a wife-beater, a minimum of two dozen temporary tattoos, and ample amounts of ear hair. This is unacceptable at most businesses because ear hair clogs printers and fax machines. The only way to define business casual, then, is by comparing it to more formal styles of dress.
The opposite of business casual is the shirt and tie, a dress code that requires little risk. Ties were first implemented in the 1950s because the sight of buttons proved distracting to female coworkers. Shirts were implemented around 100,000 B.C. as an effective barrier against the cold. Shirt technology hasn’t advanced much over the years. Today, dress shirts only come in solid colors so that workers can be quickly sorted by the hierarchy of the rainbow. In all of human history, no man has ever been promoted while wearing violet.
The only variation with the shirt-and-tie dress code is in the design of the tie, which many people mistakenly use to reveal personal information about themselves. Before you use your tie to inform the world that you love the Packers, golfing, or Bugs Bunny as more than a friend, remember that your tie is not a Myspace account – unless you have one of those new digital ties from Verizon. Instead of being a billboard of your personal interests, your tie is merely a window into your soul, and as such it should be unremarkable and devoid of hope to reflect the true inner you.
Ties have been a sign of corporate ownership ever since it became unconstitutional to use branding irons on fulltime employees. (Photo courtesy of http://www.monash.edu.au/merchandise/assets/images/tie.jpg)
Conversely, business casual isn’t so much a dress code as it is a test of character. Whereas ties force uninteresting people to demonstrate uniform lameness with an elaborate and uncomfortable button covering, business casual dress forces similarly unremarkable people to demonstrate a slightly varied stratum of lameness confined only by the depths of their imaginations and the collaredness of their shirts.
At some point in the course of human events someone decided that a collar was the difference between professionalism and anarchy. Once you lose the useless piece of fabric around your neck, you’ve started down the slippery slope to full frontal nudity. As far as I can tell, this is the only absolute commandment of the business casual dress code. Lesser, more flexible rules also discourage outfits featuring confederate flags and Nazi paraphernalia, but employers are generally willing to wave this one if you’re a historical reenactor. In my office, every Wednesday is “Jefferson Davis vs. Hitler Day,” which is always popular with the kids.
To some, the flag is a symbol of intolerance. To others, it is a reminder of the South’s brave struggle against the Third Reich. (Photo courtesy of http://wwwstd.enmu.edu/scottco/confederate_flag.jpg)
Although I eventually learned that business casual includes anything with a collar, I also discovered that it is still possible to go astray. On my second day of work, I wore a Kevlar vest with spandex pants and straw hat. I thought it was okay because I gave it a makeshift collar, but apparently it’s company policy to not allow anyone in the office to be bulletproof. If my supervisor had not acted as quickly as he did, my Kevlar vest would have upset the delicate balance of office power. I would have been able to propose all sorts of crazy ideas without fear of being hit by a 12-gauge from behind, which is unacceptable in an equal opportunity workplace. The moral of the story is that if you start a new job, wear an outfit with a collar that is still vulnerable to projectile weapons and standard exorcisms. Only then can you be properly ranked on the office-wide stratum of lameness so that the rainbow hierarchy can be complete.