On Business Casual, Rebellion, and the Canvas: #30folds30days, Flower / Reverse Puff / Sprezz Fold, Day 14

There is a sort of uniform that predominates the small border city of Stamford, Connecticut. Influenced by the hedge funds that adopted a business casual style of dress, much of the city has adopted the same dress code. Business Casual.

If you are looking for advice on business casual, here it is in its simplest form: Start with a suit and tie. Take off the jacket and tie. You are now business casual.

What this really means though, is that so many men that I see are wearing the same thing. A powder blue oxford shirt (that doesn’t fit one way or another), and dark suit pants or slacks (which also may or may not fit), and probably some hideous slip on loafers that haven’t been shined in a year. And are also probably square toed.

This uniform is everywhere. Maybe the shirt changes. A white here. Tan there. Maybe a pink. It’s mostly a sea of oxford blue. This is to wearing clothes what gruel is to food.  Merely cover the body, and do the bare minimum to provide an air of business.

More and more often businesses are getting rid of suits. And ties. Business casual is the new business. And people are happy about this. More people are calling for it. Richard Branson espouses getting rid of ties.  He doesn’t even bother mentioning pocket squares. He claims that they stifle creativity, and that allowing people to wear whatever they want liberates them from constraints and expectations. That the state of the business world is overdressed, and it is not necessary. He points to Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Richard Reed as examples of people who shunned ties and formal dress for comfort.

This is all framed as a way of expressing freedom, non-conformity, and individuality. Here’s the problem as I see it. Most businesses are already business casual. While Mr. Branson knows more than I do about being successful, I have to disagree with his analysis. Framing not wearing a tie as an act of rebellion from the old guard is an inapt metaphor. The rebellion already happened. Men are no longer expected to wear suits and ties except in the most formal of circumstances. We have already broken free from this tradition, into a land of poorly fitting button downs and khakis. Not only that, but ties were the one area where many men would express themselves to some degree. They’d add a splash of color, or a pleasing pattern to their outfit. So by losing the tie, you’re losing a definitive vehicle of expression.

And the other problem is, business casual is still a uniform! If everyone is adopting business casual, then how is not wearing a tie an act of rebellion?  As a man that frequently wears suits, jackets, sportcoats, and ties both inside and outside of the office, I can tell you what is the greater rebellion.

It is wearing the suit.

It is saying that even though less is required for what I am to wear, I will exceed it. Not in a Tuxedo to a business interview sort of way. But rather using business casual as a justification for me to express myself more. If Frank from down the hall can get away with cargo shorts and a faded polo for casual Friday, then you’d better believe I’m wearing a wooden tie and sneakers made from recycled Peruvian blankets.

And as for the argument about it creating more creativity, I believe that’s a total cop out. People are either creative or they are not. Jerry Garcia made ties. Oscar Wilde: Notoriously creative, Fabulously well dressed.

Oscar Wilde does not do business casual.

Dressing well is an art. And any artist will tell you that you have to learn the rules before you can break them. At a museum I saw some of Picasso’s masterfully detailed pencil drawings, but his greatest work is his groundbreaking cubism. First though, he learned to paint. In creative writing classes, you are taught to write in iambic pentameter. In rhyming couplets. Master the origin of the form, and then you can move beyond.

Clothes are nothing more than a canvas to express oneself. And the suit is the basic form for a man. In reality what is more creative than taking a suit and making it edgy? What is more rebellious than wearing shined rounded and pointy cap-toes in a sea of square toed elastic slip on loafers? Business casual is not an excuse, it is an opportunity. Use it, express yourself, and ditch a tie one day, but keep the jacket and pocket square. Or try wearing a vest with dark denim, a big belt buckle, cowboy boots, and a casual tie. Your clothes are your canvas, tell your story.

Today, we’re going with a more relaxed and easy fold. I like to call it the Sprezz for the italian word of Sprezzatura, which loosely translated means “studied carelessness.”

1. Start with a square.


2. Dangle it from the middle.


3. Run it through your opposite hand, but instead of making the rounded edge for a puff fold, go the opposite way so you can see the corners. There should be four.


4. That’s it. Place it in your pocket and arrange. It should look like a flower blooming from your breast pocket. Like it just sort of happened into your suit jacket.


That’s it for today. I was going to talk about color, but got on too much of a roll with business casual. Any questions: seamus@smkstyle.com.

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