We do our best at Alsco to keep up with uniform trends. After all, it is our business. So it was with great interest that we read a recent Quartz article discussing the growing trend of business casual in the workplace. The article made mention of a recent survey showing that half of all U.S. companies now at least allow business casual.

That is impressive when you consider that just under a third of companies were on board with business casual just five years ago. But that’s not the point. What we want to address in this post is a very simple question: Do work uniforms have to be business casual? We ask only because it has been our experience, during more than 100 years of providing uniform rental services, that casual is not always a good idea.

A Recent Phenomenon

As a style of dress, business casual didn’t really exist until the late 1980s. And even at that, it didn’t really take off until the mid-1990s. It used to be that all work uniforms were either formal or utilitarian. A formal work uniform consisted of suits for the guys and semiformal dresses for the ladies. More utilitarian uniforms were generally workwear apparel intended to protect workers whose jobs involved certain hazards.

Formal uniforms were the norm in office environments. Utilitarian uniforms were found in auto repair shops, the construction trades, etc. Workwear uniforms are still pretty common, but more and more offices are dispensing formal uniforms in favor of business casual.

Determining the Purpose

Do not misunderstand. We are not implying that business casual is a bad thing; it’s not. Rather, we want to convey the idea that choosing a company uniform is about more than just style. Determining the right kind of uniform for any company starts by determining the purpose of the uniform.

A business in which the vast majority of staff are customer facing needs to be highly cognizant of the image being presented on a daily basis. Take your typical airline. Everyone from cabin attendants to ticket counter personnel deal with customers day in and day out. Their uniforms play a significant role in how they are perceived by the public.

On the other hand, you might have a company in which very few staff members interact with customers. Most employees work in the office environment, while only members of the sales team actually get out and about. This is an environment in which business casual might be quite appropriate.

Don’t Forget About Function

Whenever you talk work uniforms, you have to consider function as well—take workwear. Your typical workwear uniform offers some measure of protection. A heavy-duty workwear uniform in a manufacturing setting is a perfect example. Such a uniform is designed with long sleeves, long pants and heavy-duty fabrics that can stand up to the rigors of the environment.

Business casual wouldn’t be appropriate in a manufacturing setting. It might be fine for office workers, but the people on the floor need more protection than business casual affords. They need a uniform that functions according to the environment in which they work.

While it may be true that half of America’s employers now embrace business casual, it’s not true that business casual is appropriate in every environment. Sometimes formal uniforms or functional workwear are better choices. It is not about what outfit choice employees vote for on a survey. Is your company thinking of establishing a new uniform policy? If so, we invite you to take a look at Alsco uniform rentals.

We have been renting uniforms for more than 100 years.