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Informal wear, also called business wear, corporate/office wear, tenue de ville and (colloquially) dress clothes, is a Western dress code for clothing defined by a dress shirt with necktie, sometimes with a business suit for men, and cocktail dress or pant suit for women. On the scale of formality, it is considered less formal than semi-formal wear but more formal than casual wear, yet retaining availability for more personal expression than semi-formal wear. Thus, informal should not be confused with casual wear such as business casual or smart casual despite that some people may refer loosely to informal dress as "formal" in contrast with merely casual.
The suit originated as leisure wear in the late 19th century but eventually replaced the frock coat as every day wear in the city. After World War I, the suit was established as informal daily wear. Hats, such as fedora or bowler hats, are sometimes worn with informal wear.
Informal wear is commonly applied for office use in professions like politics, academia, law and finance, business, as well as certain events such as job interviews in other sectors. It is a traditional dress code that aims to indicate respect to the situation and not draw attention.
The suit originated in Britain in the 19th-century as a leisurewear. Seeking a casual alternative to the knee-length, heavy frock coats then considered appropriate business dress, men began to wear lighter coats cut just below the seat when not engaged in business.
Standard suit-making fabric is fine combed wool, with the inclusion of cashmere in more expensive fabrics. Middle-price suits are often made of wool-polyester blends, whilst the cheapest are made entirely of polyester fabric.
This business suit (also known as the "sack suit" in North America, commonly by Brooks Brothers) became the standard business daywear for all men who were not engaged in physical labor. The waistcoat (British) or vest (American) was worn regularly with the suit up to World War II, but is rarely seen today, due to central heating in offices and the expense of construction. Until at least the early 1960s it was common to wear a hat.
In general, business suits are characterized by three styles and a fourth fusion style. English suits are noted for having a "touch fit" to the wearer's body shape and carefully made padded shoulders. Italian suits are often slimmer, with higher armholes and highly shaped to complement a slim physique. Traditional American suits have lightly padded shoulders and loose natural fit with minimal shaping. Since the 1960s, designer brands (especially Polo Ralph Lauren) have created fusion style that brings a more shaped European look to the natural American cut.
Suits in Britain were often made in tweed, often with three pieces, and were worn outside the City of London. Tweed is made from uncombed wool, and, like all fabrics from the time, was thick and durable (18-ounce was considered medium-weight in the Edwardian era). A full tweed suit is less common today, with just tweed sports jackets more often worn, but is still used generally as everyday wear by some, and for outdoor sports such as shooting and angling. It is worn with appropriate accompanying clothes, much as any other suit; brown full brogues and wool ties are common items not worn with other types of suit.
Informal attire is today considered a form of dress customarily appropriate for all formal settings, which do not explicitly require white tie or black tie. For instance, it is commonly worn to religious services and funerals, in government offices and schools. Some professions, like law or finance, may require it. At present, informal attire is the typical dress at daytime weddings in the United States, serving as a replacement for the increasingly rare morning dress.
Because of its strong association with the business world, informal attire is also known as international standard business dress, business professional or business formal.
These are usually worn for:
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In the United States, wearing a suit to work daily is often an indication of managerial or professional status. However, when on a job interview or attending business meetings, many men who do not otherwise wear suits will dutifully wear them as a mark of respect and formality. Many how-to books for men recommend wearing a conservatively styled suit to an employment interview even when the man does not expect to ever wear a suit on the job.
In the 1990s, Internet businesses flourished and so did the relaxed dress standards enjoyed by unconventional dot-com businesspeople. A new form of attire had arisen, business casual, which consists of nice trousers, often chinos or khakis, and a polo shirt or short-sleeved shirt. Today this is acceptable and common attire at technically oriented business meetings and in semiprofessional settings, and is continuing to gain ground over traditional business attire.
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. The plain blouse is designated as a long sleeve button down shirt tucked properly into the skirt at the waist. 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 formality of men's suits. Women in "creative" professions, such as advertising, web design, or fashion, can usually dress with more color and flair.
Male business attire is also nuanced. Choice of clothing and accessories proclaims social and financial status. An inexpensive ready-to-wear suit will lack the cachet of a bespoke suit fashioned by a famous tailor. Custom shirts, hand-made leather shoes, fine cuff links and expensive watches may indicate wealth, and in certain professions may effectively amount to a "dress code" (e.g., in investment banking).
Western business wear is standard in many workplaces around the globe, even in countries where the usual daily wear may be a distinctive national clothing.
Some non-Western business-people will wear national clothing nonetheless. A Saudi Arabian sheikh may wear the traditional robes and headdress to an international conference; United Arab Emirates diplomats in particular are noted for attending conventions of the United Nations General Assembly in full keffiyeh and thawb. Diplomats of the People's Republic of China are similarly noted for wearing the Mao suit to international events; Indian leaders often wear Nehru jackets, with Manmohan Singh wearing a suit-like combination including such a jacket with his Sikh turban. Wearing national clothing in such contexts can proclaim national pride, or just extremely high status which allows the wearer to defy convention. Sometimes an element of the national attire such as a hat is combined with a Western business suit; for instance, Yasser Arafat was noted for wearing the aforementioned kaffiyeh with a Western-style military uniform, a derivative of the suit.
The aloha shirt, while considered casual attire in the mainland United States, is considered acceptable business wear in Hawaii, where it is well-suited to that state's warm and humid climate. Similarly, Kariyushi style attire is encouraged in Japan, especially southern locales of Japan, to allow more comfort in the workplace, and to encourage dress that conforms with Cool Biz guidelines. Akihiko Higa, a researcher of Kaiho Soken who has worked on a Kariyushi style project for an Okinawan clothing manufacturer, said, "It (the Kariyushi shirt) is easy-to-wear and highly functional for wearing either in an office situation or in a resort."