Against ‘Business Formal’

By Chris Barton, Staff Writer

Business formal: the seemingly ubiquitous uniform of the professional world. As attendees of a business school, there is an assumption that we Tbirds can and will don the necessary attire to look the part. But what part are we looking, and is it really in our best interest?

There is definitely value in dressing up. It conveys power, authority, and makes you look good. But I would like to propose a couple reasons why we may be doing ourselves a disservice by adhering to the norms of ‘business formal’.

Firstly, business formal is homogenizing. Style exists for a reason – it’s an expression of individuality, a way to show on the outside what we are like on the inside. It’s a form of communication, and any organization that shuts down communication is shooting itself in the foot. You can tell a lot by what someone wears, but if everyone wears the same thing we hinder our ability to understand each other, to empathize. This is not to say that people shouldn’t dress up, rather that it means so much more if people wear business formal because they want to rather than because they have to.

And from the perspective of the individual, it makes sense to stand out. Being the best dressed person in the room is certainly advantageous – but when you join a sea of black and blue suits you become indistinguishable. Without expected adherence to business formal there would more opportunity to both look good AND stand out.
Which of these people is in charge of a important global organization (hint – he’s not wearing a suit)

Secondly, Business formal is classist. One simple outfit can cost upwards of 100 dollars. A week’s worth of business formal could easily cost a month’s rent. Though as students we certainly feel this pain in our wallets, it can mean a lot more to those who live close to or below the poverty line. When business formal is a requirement, it puts at a disadvantage those who can’t make the initial investment in ‘professional’ clothes. This can result in a vicious cycle of not getting a job because you don’t look professional because you can’t afford it because you don’t have a job.

Expectations are changing. Mark Zuckerberg wears almost exclusively a grey t-shirt and hoodie. TerraCycle has an anti-dress code – you get told to dress down if you come to work in a suit and tie. The reasons for this shift are, of course, myriad, but it helps to think about this topic from the perspective of the new generation of professionals, us here at Thunderbird. We often hear “dress for the job you want” – but do we really want to dress for a job that homogenizes us, crushed individuality, and bars entry to the underprivileged? I know I don’t.

2 thoughts on “Against ‘Business Formal’

  1. Very interesting, Chris! I definitely agree that we are moving away from the uniform of the business suit. As a side note on cost, I think the decline in this general trend also means that there are business suits readily available for around $10-$15, if you’re willing to do search through some of the racks at goodwill or savers. I’ve had clients who were panicking about business attire for an interview and they couldn’t afford the cost of buying new. These days suits aren’t worn until they wear out, and many people donate suits that were only worn once or twice. I’d say, in this day and age, if there are times where you’re still expected to dress in a suit, reduce and reuse if you can!

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