Looking for the definition of business casual? Here’s the federal standard(s)

Verdict on ‘short pants’: fashion faux pas

Written by Shawn Musgrave
Edited by Michael Morisy

After February’s leak of the Defense Intelligence Agency presentation advising female workers to avoid the “Plain Jane look” and that makeup “helps make women more attractive,” MuckRock requested office apparel guidelines from a smattering of other agencies. Responses so far include plenty of business casual and Friday jeans.

The National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) within the Department of Homeland Security, for instance, has extended its business casual dress from a summer treat to a year-round standard as of October 2012:

While specific meetings may still require a shirt, tie and jacket, NPPD workers may choose from more relaxed attire for day-to-day meetings. Examples from the October 2012 memo include cotton trousers, polo shirts, dress heels, boots, sports coats or sweaters. However, T-shirts, cutoffs, “beach wear,” spandex and halter tops remain banished from NPPD halls, for now. Furthermore, employees are permitted to “wear jeans on Fridays only.”

The Defense Security Service dress code, which was updated in December 2012, similarly allows for business casual dress on Fridays and even more casual attire on “designated ‘casual dress days.’” The Director may decree a casual dress day as he or she sees fit, or may designate an official authorized to act on his or her behalf to do the same.

DSS casual days

There are, however, clothing items that are unacceptable for DSS employees to wear on any day. These include facial piercings, clothing with offensive slogans and “short pants (‘shorts’).”

DSS inappropriate clothing items

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s dress code as of November 2012 includes its own glossary section to define traditional business, business casual, casual and unauthorized attire:

NGIA clothing glossary

Many of these same agencies are hesitant to allow even cursory peeks into their filing cabinets, so it’s comforting to get a better sense for their wardrobes. We’re still waiting on several agencies to even acknowledge this request, more than seven months later: the CIA, Customs and Border Protection and Secret Service have yet to provide a glimpse into their dress guidelines, just as they are slow to answer requests of more substance on a regular basis.

See the rest of MuckRock’s dress code FOIA requests here.


Image by Nicoli Maege via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0