International Standard Business Wear Definition: Definitions for the Clothing & Textile Industry
International standard business wear, for men, is a suit -- an ensemble composed of a pair of trousers with a matching jacket. The suit is worn with a long-sleeved shirt and a tie.
Many men do not wear suits to work. They wear uniforms, or they wear inexpensive, sturdy clothing that can be easily laundered. Wearing a suit to work is a proclamation of managerial or professional status. However, when applying for work or attending business meetings, many men who do not otherwise wear suits will don them as a mark of respect and formality.
In the 1990s, Internet businesses flourished and so did the relaxed dress standards flaunted by unconventional dot-com businesspeople. Business casual, consisting of good pants and a polo shirt or short-sleeved shirt, is increasingly acceptable attire at technically-oriented business meetings.
The standard for women is also in flux. In the 1970s, women aspiring to managerial or professional status were advised to "dress for success" by wearing clothing that imitated the male business suit: jacket and matching skirt, worn with a plain blouse and discreet accessories. Some women wore pantsuits, substituting pants for the skirt, but in doing so, they risked the displeasure of many who felt that women should not wear pants.
Now even conservative Western workplaces are more accepting of pants on female employees. However, they may still expect female employees to exhibit the drab, no-nonsense look of mens's suits. Women in "creative" professions, such as advertising or fashion, can usually dress with more color and flair. In fact, their eye for the current fashion is a subtle proclamation of their competence as workers who set the fashion for others.
Male business attire is also nuanced. Choice of clothing and accessories proclaims social and financial status. A cheap suit, purchased off-the-rack at a chain store, does not have the cachet of a bespoke suit tailored in London to one's exact measurements. Custom shirts, hand-made shoes, and Rolex watches shout "money" to the discerning eye.
Western business wear is standard in many workplaces around the globe, even in countries where the usual daily wear may be a distinctive national costume. Western business wear is most often seen on those who often interact with Western businesspeople. It is a declaration that "I too am one of you".
Some non-Western businesspeople will wear national costume nonetheless. A Saudi Arabian sheik may wear the traditional robes and headdress to an international conference. Doing so can proclaim national pride, or just extremely high status. Sometimes an element of the national costume such as a hat is combined with a Western business suit.