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STYLE

Fashion face-off: power suits vs. business casual

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By Arthur Tam

Dress for success. It’s a common phrase that we hear that usually refers to wearing a well-cut, fitted suit that reflects qualities of professionalism and confidence in the workplace. However, in today’s diversifying business landscape – especially in creative fields – the notion of suiting up has become less relevant. Many find corporate uniformity stifling. These individuals often opt to go business casual, a category of dress that varies vastly between companies but definitely means not wearing a suit and tie.

Essentially, we have two contrasting fashion philosophies in the workplace: formal versus casual. Tom Ford who wouldn't be caught dead out of a suit and Mark Zuckerberg who would nary be seen in one. Let’s pit these two against each other and see whose fashion motto reigns supreme in the office.

Business casual
Photo slide 1: (From left to right) account executive dressed in textured white top, layered with a trench coat and paired with wide-legged jeans; art director dressed in blazer, white shirt, jeans and a pair of chucks

If you’re not working for a big corporate company with strict formal dress codes, let your outfit be an outlet for your individuality and creativity. This, however, does not mean you can show up to work in your activewear (unless you’re a fitness trainer), hoodie, shorts or flip-flops. However, jersey fabric garments are acceptable as long as they are tailored pieces. Tailored sweatpants make all the difference between casual cool account manager and aimless homebody. Business casual means you have flexibility, but it's not an excuse to be sloppy. An alternative to a power suit for women can be a sharp and vibrant A-line dress, which can often be seen on Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, former first lady Michelle Obama and Vogue’s Anna Wintour. Powerful, successful women are redefining what's appropriate in the office and they've done so by wearing fun, bright colours and by tastefully playing with textures and proportions. The same can be said for men who want to break out of the confines of a suit and stroll into work in a comfy knit cardigan over a short-sleeve shirt, matched with a pair of slim chinos rolled up just enough to see the print on a pair of socks. The combinations can be endless, but just remember that the fit is the most essential base to build upon a business casual outfit.

Boardroom formal

Photo Slide 2: (From left to right) male editor dressed in plaid print suit, lavender shirt, accessorised with knit navy tie and brown loafers; managing partner dressed in black pant suit, white knit jumper, accessorised with black handbag and black pumps

The power suit has come back in a big way for women this season, as seen on the catwalks of luxury brands like Jil Sander, Céline and Balenciaga, bringing back that signature feature of the 80s: big shoulders. Women who wear big-shouldered blazers look confident and ready to dominate a boardroom. And according to multiple studies, suit wearers benefit from an increased sense of power and focus, as well as elevated degrees of abstract thinking. It’s difficult to go wrong with wearing a tailored and pressed suit. It’s a polished, classic look that works well in the workplace or out at a fancy restaurant. The downside to a suit is feelings of constriction and discomfort, especially in Hong Kong’s unrelenting, sweltering climate. A solution for both men and women is opting for summer-friendly suit options made of lighter and breathable fabrics like linen or seersucker. The tricky part is the colour and fit, which can tip over on the casual side if you go for pastels. If you work in a high-powered, corporate environment, you might just have to endure and wear a bespoke, structured wool suit in classic colours. Your temporary discomfort is a small price to pay in order to close that big deal.

We conclude:
However hard we try to banish the stiff nature of a suit, it is an outfit that commands respect. Sorry business casual, the power suit is here to stay.

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