The reversal of 'dress down'

Attitudes are changing dramatically when it comes to “dress down” attire in work settings.

According to research by the INCOMM Center for Research & Sales Training, only 45 percent of customers visiting a trade show exhibit responded favorably last year to the casual attire of the salespeople staffing it. That’s down from an 86 percent approval rating for such work clothes in 1998.

The reason: Casual dress became too casual.

Exhibitors moved from golf shirts to denim work shirts and even Hawaiian shirts and football jerseys. What was meant to be a friendlier look became so relaxed that it created a negative image, according to customers visiting the exhibits.

So what’s next? According to Chicago-based INCOMM, the new trend in business attire is sharper, cleaner and more professional.

General Electric Plastics changed its staff’s trade show attire from sweater vests with open-collared shirts to crisp, blue business shirts, bright ties, black dress slacks and polished leather shoes. Research found 81 percent of visitors polled at the exposition said the appearance of the GE staff was more professional and credible than exhibit staffers in casual attire.

As one customer put it when asked about casual attire, “The denim shirts with logos make exhibitors look like bowling teams — not professional experts.”

Now there’s an image your business probably isn’t looking to portray. How to reach: INCOMM Center for Research & Sales Training, (312) 642-9377 or