Mon, 11 Jun 2001

Casual in the office doesn't mean dress-as-you-please

By Muara Bagdja

JAKARTA (JP): It used to be a Friday thing, when men squeezed themselves into their best jeans and women had the freedom to put on a pair of pants for work.

But now wearing casual clothes to the office has become standard attire in some workplaces.

It was inevitable that in this era of fast food, long work hours and an emphasis on practicality, people would also downsize in their clothing, both in the office and in life in general.

It's now common to see local men strolling through malls in shorts, T-shirts and sandals, which would have been frowned upon just a few years ago (foreigners are a different matter). Women also no longer have to pile on the makeup, don a kebaya (traditional blouse) and have their hair in a bun to go out.

Although many companies have adopted a laid-back approach to defining their company dress code, some of us are obviously confused about when we cross the line from being comfortably casual to scruffy.

For instance, some women wear T-shirts, tight skirts and sandals to the office. Relaxed indeed! We are in the office to work and do business. Of course, we want to be comfortable, but that does not mean showing too much of a body pumped and primped at the gym (save that for the party circuit) or those recently pedicured toenails. Casual should not be construed as dress-as- you-please.

If you are new to a workplace, look around you and live by the adage, "You've got to know the rules before you can break them".

Take the work context and atmosphere into account. Does your job have something to do with legal matters, sales, advertising or finance? It is important to consider your role and activities in the company. For instance, a publisher and an editor in the same publishing company would dress in different styles.

You also have to understand the culture of your office. Do office regulations allow staff to dress casually every day or only on Friday? The safest way is to follow suit; notice how your colleagues dress and when they don casual attire.

There is no denying that casual work attire can look dynamic; a man doesn't have to wear a jacket or a tie to appear professional. Women may be wearing a blouse and skirt, but they can still show their identity as working women. What is important is that the casual work attire gives the impression that you are serious about what you are doing.

Below are some tips on appropriate casual working attire for men and women, and what should be avoided:


* A jacket without a tie will give a more relaxed impression yet still retain the seriousness needed for the office setting.

* A double-pocketed, short-sleeved shirt or long-sleeved polo shirt. Tuck in your shirt to look smart.

* Loafers are OK for footwear.

* Jeans may be worn but match them with a blazer or a shirt and belt with leather shoes (to set off casual attire, use accessories such as shoes and belts made of leather).

* Use a plain casual jacket with a zip in place of a blazer.

* A light blazer and a shirt.

* Denim pants are OK as long as they are matched with a silk tie and leather accessories.

* Khaki pants, corduroy and linen appear comfortable but not sloppy.

* A long-sleeved or sleeveless sweater contrasted with a cream-colored shirt will give a casual impression.

* A plain vest can take the place of a jacket.

* T-shirts? Better save them for your days off. The one exception is a good quality plain T-shirt combined with a sports jacket.

* A turtleneck under a blazer is a good choice.


* A collared or collarless blouse, either with short or long sleeves, can be worn as casual work attire so long as they are tucked in and neatly strapped with a leather belt.

* A sleeveless blouse or T-shirt must be covered with a jacket or blazer during office hours.

* Cardigans give a representative and casual image.

* Sandals displaying toes are not a good choice. For comfort, choose a pair of shoes with a low heel.

* A turtleneck tucked into a skirt gives a relaxed impression.

* Long pants are also a good choice for casual attire. Stay away from casual pants. Choose a more formal model which is not too modish or too baggy. Dark-colored pants are preferable.

* A light-colored blouse will also give a casual impression compared to a conservative dark color.

* Clothes with a motif are understated. Use classic, geometric, small and regular patterns.

The writer is a fashion consultant based in Jakarta. Questions? Contact Muara Bagdja at