Work in Japan Advice Board
Business dress codes drastically differ depending on the industry, gender, and country. I can’t possibly describe every single possible dress code in the world. But first I will describe a few variations of American business styles in detail. After that, I’ll talk about some other countries in more general terms.
American business dress code has changed dramatically over the last 40 years. The overall trend has been a shift towards the casual and comfortable. Ties are almost never worn as they’re seen as something worn by waiters or as an uncomfortable accessory having no functional value. American women rarely high heels and skirts; this is true in the workplace as well.
Most office jobs require what is called Business Casual. Men wear a shirt with a collar (polo shirt) -- long or short sleeves OK -- and cotton pants (khakis). Women usually wear a tennis shirt or polo shirt and khakis. Skirts and dresses are rare, but if dresses are worn, they usually go down to the knees.
While Business Casual is practiced in the majority of offices in the US, a slightly more formal style is also acceptable: Smart Casual. This is similar to Cool Biz in Japan except it is acceptable all year long. The amount of colour combinations (for example, tan pants with a navy blue shirt) and degree of flashiness (派手) is more flexible than you generally see in Japanese offices. Tight jeans may be acceptable if a jacket is worn. When President Obama is meeting citizens or drinking beer, he is usually dressed in Smart Casual.
Other conventions appear in different industries. Finance, politics, and law, for example, are more conservative and usually require a suit. But again, ties are extremely rare. Button down collar shirts are generally avoided as they seem too formal. Women in these industries also wear suits, but general forego jackets unless making presentations. Upper management of very large corporations tends to adopt this mode of dress. President Obama is a good example of this style, too. He often wears this style in interviews and casual chats with the media.
The tech industry (software companies, IT, video games, etc), entertainment industry, and any jobs related to the arts and design are decidedly casual. People can generally wear whatever they want to.
At funerals, formal weddings, televised speeches, shareholders meetings, court appearances, and meetings with heads of state, a traditional Formal Style is appropriate – and is probably required by protocol. This means the traditional “suit and tie.” These are probably the only situations in which American men outside of the service industry wear ties. That’s pretty different from Japan, right?
So, Let’s Look At Some Other Countries
The UK tends to be more conservative than the US in terms of dress code, but again, this differs from industry to industry. British office workers tend dress in a range of styles from Smart Casual to Formal Style (outside of the US, fashion tends to be more nuanced). Darker, conservative colours are preferred and dressing too casually is shunned upon. Luxury brands are popular in many industries, particularly in London. Bright, flashy colours that are welcome in American offices are often considered garish in the UK. Many companies have Casual Fridays when workers can wear Smart Casual.
Brazil tends to be conservative, too. Dark suits for men and woman are part of the office culture, but men choose brightly coloured shirts or flashy ties. Many companies are beginning to get rid of ties because the country is hot and ties serve no purpose. White shirts are considered old fashioned for men, but women often opt for conservative white shirts. For women, Japanese business dress work here. For men, Japanese business style works here, too, but you may want to wear flashier shirts and ditch the tie. Casual Fridays have become popular here. The tech industry is spearheading a trend to switch to casual and comfortable here, but overall the culture is conservative yet fashion conscious.
In Dubai, women can only show skin on their face and hands. Loose fitting slacks are preferred over long skirts (which might expose your legs). Likewise, skin tight or form fitting clothes must be avoided. Traditional female garb is also acceptable, but this is more common in rural areas. Men are expected to wear a suit, but ties aren’t necessary in most situations because of the desert heat. Jackets are unnecessary if there is no air conditioning.
So we just looked at how complicated business attire can be in one country and compared it to some other countries. Before you work in another country, do your due diligence. If you do, you’ll be able to fit in perfectly.
Noel Bradshaw is the COO of Rosetta Stone Learning Center and started his career at management consulting firm Accenture. He came to Japan with the JET programme before joining Rosetta Stone Learning Center and has been with the company for 8 years.