Originally created 05/12/02

Condemning casual?

Suits and ties are becoming de rigueur again in the workplace.

The casual dress codes so popular during the youth-driven technology boom of the 1990s started losing favor as the economy tightened.

"Causal dress was extremely popular with the more technical fields, and with the change in the job marketplace that's no longer the way it is," said Cynthia Kelly, president of Augusta Staffing/Job Shop, a permanent-placement service.

"Offices are sprucing up again," she said. "They want that professional, polished look."

According to business lore, the casual-dress phase kicked off nationally in 1992 when San Francisco-based Levi Strauss launched a massive campaign promoting dressing down at work.

The trend was bolstered by the increasing number of Internet start-ups and a younger work force at the helm of the computer industry. Corporate America began promoting casual Fridays as a perk to attract employees.

But the demise of the dot-com boom, and stricter dress codes at major financial institutions, have influenced clothing choices locally, said Van Smith, co-owner of Lionel Smith Ltd., a men's clothing store in Aiken.

"(Financial firm) Lehman Brothers have required worldwide that if you are in front of a customer you wear a coat and tie, and if you're back-room help, you have to dress better than blue jeans and a T-shirt," he said.

"Where (the trend) starts is basically New York, and it filters down to the smaller cities."

While the Augusta area maintained a more traditional appearance than the free-spirited Silicon Valley workers, Mr. Smith said he has noticed a definite change in work-clothing choices.

"They're not going hog wild on it, but they're having a tendency to take care of themselves a little," he said.

Denim and open-toed shoes were banned at MCG Health Inc. last year after a committee of staff members refined the hospital company's appearance standards.

The Medical College of Georgia still has a "modified dressy casual" day on Fridays. But employees are expected to project a professional appearance - khaki pants and tucked-in shirts, said Gail Story, compensation manager in MCG's human resources department.

Not everyone believes that dressing for comfort will fall out of favor completely.

Casual Friday, a day when fewer meetings are usually scheduled and the power suit is not as necessary, will likely survive in some offices, said Frank Scanlan, a spokesman for the Society for Human Resource Management. According to a survey from the group, 56 percent of employees dress casually one day of the week. That was down from 60 percent in 2001.

His message to workers was not to throw out the khakis just yet.

"Casual dress is here to stay," he said. "America's a fairly relaxed society."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.


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