HR Strange But True!
August 21, 2008

While it used to connote "power," the dark business suit may now be going the way of the tie in becoming a dinosaur from another millennium. Now "CEO casual" is the way for execs to show command, according to a recent article.

After the Wall Street Journal told us that ties were passé (see SBT-Casual Dress Codes Claim Another Victim ), WSJ writer Cristina Binkley is telling us that suits may be out as well, and there may be psychological reasons at play.

For the last 200 years, suits have been a sign of authority, says Binkley, and in the 21st Century, they can "provide psychic distance" that executives can use to their advantage. However, in the new era, suits can also "signal old-fashioned inflexibility," especially in high-tech and creative fields, where suit-wearers are considered "out of sync."

In fact, according to Trevor Kaufman, a branding expert quoted in the article, wearing a suit to work now can mean either the employee has something to be nervous about or is going to ask for more money.

Poster boy for CEO Casual is Steve Jobs, whose trademark dark turtleneck and cords command authority as well as any Brooks Brothers three-piece pinstripe. Alternative-style execs can still shop at Brooks Brothers, which came out with a special shirt for going tieless with rearranged buttons (flashing chest hair ruins the look).

Kaufman describes a classic CEO casual outfit as blue jeans, a white made-to-measure shirt over a designer undershirt, and polished loafers with no socks. (Didn't they use to call this look "dirt Preppy"?) Women can attain the same look by wearing designer jeans and trendy jackets.

The article says the new way to show your "insider status" and power is through your accessories. Men should have those custom shirts made with a widened left cuff to accommodate an "important" (read thick, gold) watch such as a Piquet. Women signal their executive stature by toting a handbag costing at least four figures. And, says the article, both genders should be aware that the Devil's in the details (as well as Prada). For example, looking wrinkled and sloppy is still--and will always be--out.

The article warns that dressed-down executives who adopt the casual CEO style may have a little trouble enforcing antiquated dress codes on subordinates. You know HR staffers will end up solving this problem, whatever they are wearing.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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